By  on June 22, 2007

Umbra home design products are sold in 75 countries, but the company settled in its hometown of Toronto to open its first freestanding store.

The 7,000-square-foot unit launched at 165 John Street — not far from where childhood friends and company founders Les Mandelbaum and Paul Rowan started selling their blinds in 1979. Umbra is the Latin word for "shade."

The store's exterior is wrapped in translucent pink plastic panels, and the interior is sleek, minimal and white to offset the kaleidoscopic products. Umbra recruited Kohn Shnier Architects and the interior design firm Figure 3 for the project. It's the same team that the design company used to develop its award-winning corporate headquarters in Toronto in 2000. Umbra's annual sales are said to be more than $150 million.

Shoppers can leaf through design books in the upstairs bookstore or get a glimpse of Umbra designers at work. In addition, there is a wall covered with notes torn from designers' notebooks and computer renderings. A second-floor lounge area with a multimedia wall will be used for product launches, product development seminars and meetings with international design partners. The work of Umbra photographers and industrial and graphic designers will be displayed in rotating exhibitions. Limited edition Chris Barnes prints of Toronto are now up and for sale.

The Umbra store is not the city's only new eye-catching attraction. Daniel Libeskind has completed a $250 million renovation for the Royal Ontario Museum called the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, known as the ROM Crystal. Contemporary design appears to be catching on in Toronto, which has long attracted tourists to the Hockey Hall of Fame and Canada's National Tower. Frank Gehry is at work on a $254 million makeover for the Art Gallery of Ontario. Looking out a glass wall at the Umbra store, visitors can take in the park below as well as the construction workers hammering away on Gehry's project.

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