Canadian Style Icons is a bi-weekly column authored by Daniel Eckler, the founder of MIJLO -- simple solutions for small spaces.
Necessity is the mother of invention, as the expression goes, and Paul Rowan's story attests to that.
Born and raised in Toronto, Rowan graduated from George Brown in 1974 with a degree in graphic design. As a young man, trying to decorate a new apartment, he couldn't find any blinds that he liked. So he made is own. Problem solved. Necessity begat invention. But then others noticed them, and they liked them. So he made more. Sensing an opportunity, Rowan teamed up with a friend, Les Mandelbaum, and together they founded Umbra.
Thirty years later, Umbra is a design powerhouse, having won numerous design industry awards, and in 2000 their mesh garbage can was added to the permanent collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. One of their designs -- the fish hotel -- was even selected by Oprah as one of her coveted 'favorite things' -- no small feat!
But even after finding so much success and recognition, Rowan hasn't forgotten that young man with a necessity; Umbra proudly supports Canadian design education by partnering with schools such as Carleton University, OCAD, George Brown and Humber colleges. They also create and hold design competitions around the world.
Umbra now sells more than 2,000 home products through 25,000 retailers in 75 countries. All because Rowan's apartment needed some shade. A fact that the company proudly takes to heart: 'Umbra' is Latin for 'shade'.
Read on below for Rowan's thoughts on style:
What is your definition of style? And good style?
I like new style. Fashion is a great leader of style, it's amazing how fashion has been such a leader of style for so many centuries, rather than objects, but now I see more of a convergence. That's why we were able to do so well. People thought that objects around them were just necessary and they put up with them.
Now they're much more critical about things that are around them, they don't want a bunch of junk, and they also don't want to relate to something that's so cookie cutter like IKEA.
I think there is always a contrarian view about anything that's available at mass, they want something that's a little more original. I love bespoke things, we have some concepts here that are quite interesting in terms of random manufacturing. That's the kind of style I like, more original.
How do you describe your style?
Style for me is really personal. I want to be on-brand, living a style that's innovative. My brand is a kind of young brand, I want to be living in a young area. I live in Leslieville now. I live where there are more people younger than me than older.
Most people transition to a place where the age of other people is the same or older. I've gone the reverse, I told my wife -- she said let's move to Rosedale -- I said that's where people go to retire and die. My style, our style at Umbra, it's flexible, open-minded.
Why is style important?
Style's not just style on its own. Style is a reflection of who you are, it's like the objectcation of yourself. There's your spiritual self and style is the physical side. Also, I seek style in support of movements and design.
I support the way this guy hand dyed all his clothing. I support they fact that they take the time to do it. I support different movements in design, I am a symbol of it when I wear it. I live it. People always come up to me and say you have so much style, I'm my own curator of things I see, I like to have fun with it.
What makes someone a style icon?
Differentiation and being contrarian is definitely true, you never notice anybody that's a little bit different or following trend, they just blend right in. But people are attracted to that. There are a lot of unknowns about being attracted to newness -- how do you know you're not being stupid by actually liking something like that because you've never seen anything like it before. You have to have this kind of confidence in it.
There are a lot of reasons why you gain confidence about certain things. There are people that are models for it, particularly entertainers, thats why designers like to entertainers to wear their unusual fashion, because if they just put it on a normal person, it would be hard to believe. But when one of the divas wears one, "oh my god" -- it gives it credibility.
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The Rachel Zoe we've seen on television seems like a real perfectionist. So, we weren't exactly surprised that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/30/rachel-zoe-california-home_n_3839478.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_hplink">her gorgeous California home, designed by one Mr. Jeremiah Brent</a>, is seriously pristine.
In the September issue of Lonny magazine, we're got a sneak peek inside the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/04/jonathan-adler-simon-doonan-apartment_n_3863180.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_hplink">couple's amazing Greenwich Village apartment</a>, and we have to say, it's our new favorite space.
When she wanted to add a Hollywood <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/04/cameron-diaz-home-kelly-wearstler_n_3866981.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_hplink">touch to her West Village</a>, New York apartment, she enlisted the queen of California design, Kelly Wearstler.
Take a look inside this <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/05/gisele-bundchen-tom-brady-california-home_n_3870415.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_hplink">eco-fabulous estate</a>.
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Among the many things we expected to find in her home, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/13/paris-hilton-home-photos_n_3437895.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">pillows of her face</a> were certainly not on the list.
Beyonce's little sister takes us on <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/24/solange-knowles-home_n_3491283.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">a house tour of her Brooklyn space</a>.
Look inside not one, but <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/13/anika-proskurowski-ken-natori-home_n_3436649.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes#slide=2567988" target="_blank"><em>two</em> of their exquisite homes</a>, courtesy of <a href="http://www.lonny.com" target="_blank">Lonny</a>.
Not only is her home beautiful (no surprise there!), but it's eco-friendly to boot! Step inside this Hollywood stunner's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/04/jessica-alba-house_n_3383952.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">amazingly green house</a>.
This right-wing strategist has a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/17/frank-luntz-house_n_3456160.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">pretty awesome house</a>. (Wait until you see his bowling alley...)
Adler shares this Shelter Island, NY home with his partner. And if <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/17/jonathan-adler-simon-doonan-home_n_3456151.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">this doesn't look like paradise</a>, then we don't know what does!
When fashion's chief-of-police isn't busy sounding off on celebrity dos and don'ts, she surprisingly settles down in a quiet neck of the burbs. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/08/joan-rivers-house_n_3401685.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">Click here</a> to find out more about her country escape.
Nascar star Jeff Gordon is putting his <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/13/jeff-gordon-nascar-nyc-apartment_n_3255222.html" target="_blank">stunning New York City three-bedroom residence</a> at 15 Central Park West on the market for $30 million.
Jennifer Aniston's bedroom isn't the only one Architectural Digest had the opportunity to cover. Take a peak at <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/16/celebrity-bedrooms-architectural-digest_n_3286897.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">other A-listers' private spaces</a> in our feature of the magazine's roundup.
The bold wallpaper! The chandeliers! The toilet made to look like a throne! Liberace's home is just <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/22/liberaces-home-palm-springs_n_3320535.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">too fabulous for words</a>.
It looks like Al Pacino doesn't want people visiting his Palisades, N.Y. home as he reportedly just <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/24/al-pacino-sold-house_n_3333551.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">sold his guesthouse for a very hefty price</a>.
Cher recently <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/21/cher-sells-venice-home_n_3314635.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">sold her Venice abode</a> for a fairly reasonable price -- especially for all that it comes with.
It turns out Versace isn't the only fashion personality who's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/15/versace-home-for-sale_n_3280427.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">putting their home on the market</a>.
When <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/02/lea-micheles-house-photos_n_3203731.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">Lea Michele handed her California home</a> over to Domaine's editor-at-large Estee Stanley, she had only two rules: The space had to be cozy and her Barbra Streisand photo collection was off-limits.
According to Estately, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/01/frank-sinatra-house-photos_n_3195157.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes#slide=2400551" target="_blank">Frank Sinatra's house</a>, located overlooking the resort town in nearby Mountain Center, C.A., is on the market for $3,995,000.
Florence Welch, best known as lead singer for indie band Florence + the Machine, has a very distinct sound that's often described as mysterious and romantic. And after getting a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/24/florence-welch-home_n_3149333.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">glimpse of her home in the May issue of Vogue</a>, it's obvious that these traits represent her personal style as well.
This is where Maroon 5's rock star eats his dinner. Head over to our feature of Architectural Digest's feature to see <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/17/celebrity-dining-rooms-architectural-digest_n_3102553.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">nine other celebrity kitchens</a>.
You'll never guess who <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/17/christina-aguilera-house-photos_n_3101029.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">Christina's alleged neighbors</a> are if she really does end up moving here.
These two are enjoying a day out in their California ranch. Head over to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/10/ellen-degeneres-portia-de-rossi-home_n_3052181.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">our story</a> to see even more photos of the couple.
She's "Mad Men's" costume designer. Enough said. Check out what <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/09/janie-bryant-home_n_3045139.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">the rest of her home looks like</a> in our feature of Bryant.
This is where Demi used to take a dip under the summer sun. Check out <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/04/celebrity-pools-architectural-digest_n_3015805.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">six other celebrity pools</a> that will leave you swooning.
Matt Lauer's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/04/matt-lauer-horse-farm_n_3009373.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">horse farm plans</a> in Southampton are reined in. This guy just can't catch a break.
Jack Nicholson is selling his <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/22/actor-jack-nicholson-sell_0_n_2931894.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">historic, Victorian home in Aspen</a>.
Zsa Zsa Gabor's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/07/zsa-zsa-gabor-mansion-house_n_3033542.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">mansion</a> will be her home for the rest of her life.
Bob Marley's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/30/bob-marley-home_n_2984610.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">childhood home</a> was as vibrant as the musician. We're not surprised.
Mariah Carey's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/27/mariah-carey-living-room-home_n_2933114.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">living room in New York</a> (as featured by Architectural Digest) is draped in gold and animal prints.
Gerard Butler prepares his sandwiches <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/20/celebrity-kitchens-architectural-digest_n_2915950.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">in this kitchen</a>. Pretty cool, huh? You should check out the other celebrity kitchens we found.
Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale's former <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/26/gwen-stefani-gavin-rossdale-home_n_2956322.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes" target="_blank">Los Angeles home is on sale</a> -- and it's as cool as they are.
Eva Mendes inspires us to go for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/04/eva-mendes-home-decor_n_2806261.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes">contemporary, clean home decor</a>. This classic-contemporary feel is right up our alley.
Bob Hope's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/04/bob-hopes-palm-springs-on-sale_n_2806531.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes">Palm Springs UFO home</a> is on sale. For a whopping $50 million, that is.
Elizabeth Taylor's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/27/elizabeth-taylor-living-room_n_2765756.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes">over-the-top living room</a> inspires luxurious decor. Could we expect anything less from the icon?
Tommy Lee Jones' <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/26/tommy-lee-jones-home_n_2767595.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes#slide=2157313">ranch-style Florida house</a> is on sale. And it's quite the sprawling estate.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/13/corbin-bernsen-amanda-pays-house-tour_n_2678095.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes">Corbin Bernsen's home</a> in Country Living is anything but celeb. Check out our feature for more details!
Juan Montoya reveals <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/11/juan-montoyas-house-tour_n_2663376.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes">a worldly getaway</a> in New York. The place literally makes us want to dive right in.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/06/john-legend-chrissy-teigen-home-architectural-digest_n_2631211.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes">John Legend and Chrissy Teigen's home</a> evokes house envy in Architectural Digest spread. We're jealous, for sure.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/29/lisa-ling-home-house-photos_n_2568974.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes">Lisa Ling's home</a> holds secrets to stress-free living. We can all learn a few things from her.
Check out <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/18/warren-buffett-home_n_2507179.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes">Warren Buffett's home</a>. What a modest guy!
Kelly Ripa selling <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/11/kelly-ripa-mark-consuelos-home_n_2457503.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes">New York City loft</a> for $24.5 million. Why would they ever want to leave?
Madonna sold her <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/09/madonna-beverly-hills-mansion-selling_n_2439452.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes">Beverly Hills Mansion</a> for $22.5 million. After looking at photos of the place, we think it's worth every penny.
Ronald Reagan's former <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/03/ronald-reagans-former-home-for-sale_n_2402538.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes">Pacific Palisades home</a> is on sale for $4.99 million. For a piece of an American president's property, we'd say the tag isn't bad at all.
Calvin Klein's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/20/calvin-klein-25k-penthouse_n_2339859.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes#slide=1909072">$25k Penthouse</a> rent in New York is an unbelievable way to be displaced following Hurricane Sandy. And if the monthly price tag was enough to stop you in your tracks, you'll be stunned by the interiors.
Rihanna buys massive <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/18/rihanna-12-million-mansion-massive-home-pacific-palisades_n_2324684.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity-homes">home in Pacific Palisades</a>. And she dropped a $12 million dollar pay check to get it. Check out our cover for more photos.
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