It's always a treat when older design houses launch specialty lines. Half the time; they produce things only the most dedicated Skymall shopper could love and we get to gloat, and the other half, they hit pay dirt. Umbra Shift is dirty in the good way. Umbra may be known for cheap plastics, but it turns out that working with elite designers, limiting your number of products, and giving your team a lot of free reign is a decent recipe for good stuff. The housewares heavy-hitter let Design Director Matt Carr take the helm, and he dreamed up a line realized by 8 great designers and the folks at Umbra Studio.
As seen at ICFF, the line is home oriented and form-conscious; straight lines all over with a heavy focus on natural material and traditional production. Matte textures, soft colors, big leafed plants, and all very Table of Contents feeling. It's still a little silly though. My favorite piece, the Coiled Stool, is a lighthearted butt-friendly design spearheaded by Harry Allen. It feels almost like a visual gag, playing on rope as a nonstructural material. With a steel undercarriage it's plenty strong, and not nearly as squishy as I'd have guessed. But its shape is familiar, like a cousin to both metal tractor seats and wooden farm stools of the ages, brought together with traditional Vietnamese basket-weaving. One of its designers admitted that rendering the shape for production involved a lot of bumming around with cardboard clutched to their butts. Serious stuff.
Genesis of a stool
Several other pieces of the collection caught my ICFF-limited attention too. First were the MSDS-designed ribbed terra cotta vase and planter, which bring great texture and shape to a classic material. The the odd stacked-looking Hot/Cold Carafe from Umbra Studio feels unbalanced... but in a nice way. And Hlynur Atlason's traditionally woven color-block floor mats are simple and super-tactile.
The collection also goes straight whimsical: there's Philippe Malouin's modular LED lamp with brick-inspired base, Albert Lee's clock that looks like a wooden spoon and sports a mirror on the back, and weirdly out of place espadrille slippers by Fugitive Glue. In this case, I'm going with weird as a good thing. Check out their Tumblr-friendly collection and maybe you'll have your expectations of Umbra... shifted.