Visionaries

2011
Paul Rowan

Umbra

Paul spends most of his time managing the Umbra design team. That keeps him pretty busy – Umbra launches a new product every day.

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Paul developed his understanding of technology and design while mixing paint and fixing windows in his father’s hardware store. It was here that the seeds were sown for his future calling. He graduated from George Brown College in 1974 with a degree in Graphic Design and upon graduating moved to Ottawa to work in the world’s first digital typography company. While settling into his new digs he was frustrated while trying to find a window treatment that suited his practical and aesthetic needs. Motivated by this design challenge, Rowan solved the problem by designing his own window treatment, a printed-paper window shade. He presented childhood friend and entrepreneur Les Mandelbaum with the shade idea and Umbra (‘shade’ in Latin) was born.

For the past 30 years, Paul, as Vice-President of Design and founding partner at Umbra, has dedicated his career to creating purposeful, intelligently designed products that people want. In his own words, “We create product that we like – not market driven but market aware. We build intelligence into our products and engineer value into them while keeping the price accessible. The people who buy our products are never disappointed by the price and always delighted by the design.”

Paul is a design pioneer in the housewares industry. “We are always trying to explore new materials and technologies. We put a lot of effort into understanding people and their relationship to the objects they use in their homes. Creating products that answer their utilitarian needs and satisfy their aesthetic cravings is our definition of good design.” Using this philosophy, he has created innumerable successful designs, while managing diverse internal and external design teams. Umbra has been able to produce a prolific flow of new product due to the visionary leadership of Paul combined with a highly creative design team. Whether they are working on a soap pump or a trash can, Rowan and his team never lose sight of Umbra’s mantra: Design products that provide style and function for every room in the home.

In 1998, Paul Rowan took home the Best Design Strategy Award from the Design Effectiveness Awards, which is Canada’s only professional, multidisciplinary competition. In addition to sponsoring numerous educational institutions, Paul was awarded the Best collection award from New York’s Accent on Design Show in 1999 and has been the Chairperson of George Brown College’s Design School advisory board since 2000. The year 2000 saw Paul Rowan’s mesh garbage can design being added to the permanent collection of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as well as an Honorable Mention by the City of Toronto Architecture and Urban Design, for Umbra Ltd.’s world headquarters in Toronto. In 2001, he was also granted the Premier’s Award for Outstanding Achievement from the colleges of Ontario. In October of 2002, Paul Rowan was honored for his outstanding contributions in the field of design in the City of Toronto by the TD Centre’s Salute to the City Award program. In the same week, The Fashion Group International presented Paul Rowan with a Tiffany Star for his contribution to Canada’s fashion and design worlds at the Night of Stars event. As of 2006, Paul sits on the Board of Directors on the Design Exchange in Toronto, Canada.

Paul devotes a fair amount of his time to the design community. He speaks regularly to both students and teachers of design. His engaging style ( often accompanied by a harmonica solo ) and wealth of knowledge of today’s international design market and technologies give him insights that educational institutions appreciate. In the recent past he has spoken at Edinborough University, George Brown College, Ontario Economic Summit, Iidex Design Show and the Schulich School, York University.

Umbra is the worldwide leader in casual, contemporary, affordable design for the home. The company’s products are available at over 25,000 retailers in more than 75 countries. Umbra’s award-winning design team – 30 men and women from all over the world that include some of the world’s most renowned designers – create the most recognizable and ubiquitous housewares in the world. After 29 years, they remain the heart and soul of the company.

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