Umbra Concept Store



Exterior shot of the Umbra concept store


ADDRESS:       165 John Street, Toronto, ON
ARCHITECT:  John Shnier of Kohn Shnier Architects
CLIENT:          Paul Rowan and Les Mandelbaum, founders and creators of Umbra.

Umbra is a leading name brand when it comes to home furnishings and industrial design. The company’s work is always exciting and one of a kind. When a decision was made to create the first retail space fully dedicated to the brand, Kohn Shnier Architects were commissioned to produce a building that truly represents the brand as one that focuses on development of ideas and creative talents within the product design realm.

An old building on the corner of Queen St and John St in Toronto, previously used to host mostly restaurants was rejuvenated into an exciting space that stands out even in the centre of the always buzzing Queen Street West. Over 300 polycarbonate panels wrap the building on all three exposed sides, making it nearly impossible to miss. When asked “Why pink plastic?” by The Vancouver Sun Mandelbaum answers “We’re innovators with plastics. Our idea was to raise awareness of what we do. The store had to be a statement about what our brand is. The store also had to be an architectural destination”.  (Vancouver Sun) The architects used the original steel frame of the building but attached a more environmentally friendly envelope system to it, made mostly of glazing and masonry units. (World Architecture News)

The inside of the Umbra building is also beautiful in that its strategic simplicity creates a canvas for all work to be displayed with fairness. The wheelchair accessible facility also eases circulation to the bottom and top floor through two sets of stairs that work together to create flow without competition. The massive landings of the upper staircase are used to showcase some products as well. The floor plates of the original building were cut out to create an open space in the middle, allowing views from and to the floors. The top floor, alongside being a retail space and bookstore is also equipped with a design studio where Umbra artists can be frequently seen at work.


View from top floor showing both staircases.


This concept store is a prototype for retail architecture, where the building is not only designed to house a certain brand but rather made into a marketing strategy, to truly represent what the brand is about. A building as striking as this is bound to attract new customers that were not previously familiar with Umbra, expanding their client base to include any of the thousands of pedestrians that walk through Queen Street west on any given day.


  1. “Umbra Proves Flagship Stores Still Have Their Place.” The Vancouver Sun. CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc., 19 July 2008. Web. 17 Oct. 2010. <;.
  2. “Innovation and Adaptive Design for UMBRA.” World Architecture News. World Architecture News, 3 Jan. 2008. Web. 17 Oct. 2010. <;.
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