We've been proud to be Umbra stockists since we opened in 1999. Well-known for their contemporary and modern designs, we interviewed Matt Carr, Design Director, to find out where the design inspiration comes from and what it is really like to design home products.
What inspired you to get into design?
My father was a landscaper and I worked with him from a young age. I always had input on his sketches and wanted to reposition things on site. From there, I wanted to move into architecture but realised that I didn't have the attention span to work on a project for years at a time. My boss at the time told me about product design and it was a much better fit.
How long have you been at Umbra and how did you come to join the company?
I have been with Umbra for almost 14 years. Going to school in Toronto, I was very aware that Umbra was a leading design company with global reach. It was the first on my list and scored an internship during my senior year.
Tell us how Umbra design came about?
Umbra's co-founder was looking for a decorative alternative to a boring window shade. He applied a graphic to personalise the shade and showed it to Les Mandelbaum who thought it was a viable product to bring to market. Making good design accessible.
What is a typical day like at Umbra?
Everyday is a new challenge. We have around 20 product designers in the studio working on almost 400 designs per year. Needless to say, I jump around most of the day from product reviews, sales and marketing meetings, brainstorm sessions with the design team, and spend time at our store studio in the heart of Toronto.
What do you believe is the signature or special element to Umbra products?
Where do the designers draw their inspiration from?
Our designers are from different disciplines. Some have interior design, some furniture, some fashion so they all drive their inspiration from personal experiences, travel and things they connect with.
Do you have a favourite product in the range? If so, what is it and why?
Front the Umbra Shift collection, the Nest Caddy is one of my favourites as I have been using it since we received the first prototype. I like how it can be used in so many different ways. Its intent is to hold tablets phones but won't become obsolete once we are using something completely different in 5 years.
If you were a crayon, which colour would you be?
From the original 8 count box, definitely green.
You must travel a lot, what is your favourite city on earth?
It's hard to pick but probably somewhere in Asia. Tokyo is a pretty special place where you have food, design, trust and hospitality.
If you could design any product in the world, what would it be?
A shoe would be an interesting project.
Umbra has international success. Do you think there is a secret to a successful business?
Staying ahead of markets through innovation. Not only in design but in business strategy.
What has been the biggest challenge at Umbra so far?
Our goal is to build a global brand. We are in so many categories, which very few companies can compare with. It makes it challenging when we need to be at the top of our game in every single one of those categories in order to be meaningful to the retailer and consumer.
What has been a highlight in your career or what products have you been particularly proud of?
The launch of Umbra Shift earlier this year was important for the brand to be appreciated by retailers and respected by press, peers and the design community. Its something I was involved in since the beginning so hold it pretty close. As for a single product that I have designed, the Postino Mailbox has really stood the test of time. Its one of the first products I designed at Umbra and still plays an important part of the catalogue.
What is the best piece of design advice you have ever been given?
What do you see going forward for Umbra?
We are working with better materials, thinking about more long lasting design and working with great new talent in and outside the Toronto studio. There's a great energy and we are gaining momentum globally.
Can you describe the company in one sentence?
Umbra creates original, modern, casual, affordable and functional product that makes a home more exciting.