If you don’t already have an iconic feather lampshade gracing a room in your home, chances are that you have pinned or screen-shotted at least one interior scheme featuring the EOS feather shade in recent months. The popular, unique design is the biggest seller for Danish design house Umage, who have recently undergone some major changes resulting in a complete rebrand of the company. The most considerable change has been their name - they’ve bravely got rid of their long-standing, well-known name of VITA Copenhagen and are now known as Umage, which means ‘extra effort’.
As well as the new name, they’ve moved offices to a larger space in central Copenhagen. More significantly for the company, they have branched out from lighting to create a full line of furniture. Rather than testing the water with one design, they have released 15 new pieces all in one go. To celebrate this second stage of the company and to present their new range of furniture, Umage asked if I would like to go and visit them in Copenhagen to check out the new products, meet the designers and experience the city in which they work. Oh, go on then Umage, twist my arm why don’t you.
I’ve been a long-standing fan of Umage. I have the mini-EOS feather lamp in my living-room and enjoyed having a play with the Silvia Mini-Create for this blog when it came out a couple of years ago. I’ve always felt they were a really good balance of great Danish design at an affordable price-point. You’d see Umage lighting in high-end styled magazine shots, as well as in real homes on Instagram. I was excited to see their new range of furniture while at the same time I had been sceptical at the name change - VITA Copenhagen was a strong name, well-known and respected - why change it? Going to Copenhagen was a great chance for me to find out the answer, so I took an early morning flight and arrived in Denmark ready to be thrown into the world of Umage....
After a very rainy but fun boat ride around Copenhagen, we headed on over to the Umage showroom to meet the team and take a look at the new furniture pieces first-hand. One of the highlights for me was founder and Chief Creative Developer Søren Ravn Christensen talking about how Umage first started and how the idea for the EOS lightshade came about, upon which he produced the first prototype - a football with some very large, stiff feathers sticking out of it. Safe to say it was a world away from the stunning range of EOS shades dotted around the showroom:
We were then talked through a number of the new key furniture pieces by the people who designed them. Furniture is a completely new angle for Umage, who were previously known as a contemporary lighting company. Now, alongside their lighting ranges, Umage are proud to manufacture two types of armchair, a multi-functional daybed, a cabinet, a desk, amongst other furniture pieces and some home accessories. So, lets have a look shall we?
The largest piece in the collection is this daybed entitled 'Lounge Around'. Umage's focus is to create aesthetically pleasing products with simplicity and functionality and I think this is the product which encapsulates this the most. Turn those cushions over and on the underside is a wooden tray attached to the base of the cushion, meaning that if you are not sitting on that part of the daybed, you instantly have a spot to place your coffee or your laptop. Add-ons for the Lounge Around also include a light fitting, a side table and storage pockets for newspapers and magazines. Most day beds available on the market are metal constructions that are neither visually appealing or well-designed, so the Lounge Around is perfect for those multi-functional rooms at home where the home-office doubles up as the guest room.
Two chairs, 'A Conversation Piece' and 'The Reader' I think will become as iconic for the brand as the EOS shade. They embrace beautiful Danish design while also screaming comfort. Both chairs are wide and slightly lipped at each side, inviting you to curl up in them. They make the perfect 'cosy corner' chair and The Reader especially would make a great nursery chair (and before you flinch at the thought of this, the upholstery on both chairs is easily replaceable with interchangeable cushions).
My personal favourite from the collection is the beautiful 'Audacious' cabinet. It has a very retro, classic feel while still being a contemporary design. The tambour doors are made from fabric and slide all the way around the piece enabling full access to the cabinet, while at the same time letting you display any bits and pieces that you want on show.
With most of us working from home but without the space to host a full workstation, the compact, minimal Ambitions desk has drawers and pull-out sections to hide wires and stationary. It is also only one metre wide, which is amazingly slim and absolutely perfect for small space living.
This was definitely a theme with the Umage furniture range - each piece was really pretty to look at while at the same time compact and very clever. Take a look at the 'Lean On Me' storage rack and 'One More Look' mirror below - both are functional and space saving. The design team at Umage were surprisingly young, some coming straight from Uni, which I think works to the advantage of younger consumers whose homes tend to have minimal space so furniture needs to be functional yet still sexy.
Later in the evening I had a chance to sit down with Søren Ravn Christensen to talk about the new furniture range, Umage as a brand as well as delve deep into the name change...
For me as a consumer, Umage has always been about being able to purchase great Danish design without the hefty price tag. Was this a conscious decision?
Søren: Our first range of lights were made from plastic, which in a lot of markets such as the US, is really looked down upon. Originally we were seen to fit in the lower end of the market so we actually needed to improve our designs to fit more in-line with the other Danish design companies. At the same time, we are still a company selling flat-packs, because it make so much more sense. Why ship a chair in one piece across the world which takes twice as much packaging, twice as much space on the ship, costs twice as much to do and impacts the environment? Flat-packing makes our designs much more affordable for people who could not usually afford Danish design.
As well producing Danish design that is much more affordable, your products are all very interchangable. On your Silvia lamps you could change up the leaves for new colours, and now on the furniture you can change up the upholstery. Is this flexibility for the consumer important to you?
Søren: When we produce a chair, we don't see the purpose of then designing another chair. Instead, we look at how we can change up that design to make it more useful for the person who purchased it. Sometimes we get requests, other times we just want to give our designs an extra dimension as a design piece. Like the side table which you can add onto the Lounge Around that has an inbuilt charger. There are so many chairs on the market that are actually not very good to sit in, let alone have the functionality we need to do the things we do while sitting in that chair. This is why we called ourselves Umage - extra effort - as we try to think of those things that will make the overall design more functional, better.
What does Umage mean to you?
Søren: It means putting in the extra effort with all our designs and the whole journey and process of that piece. It means being clever with packaging so we are not shipping something across the oceans that is 90% air. It's about giving an extra dimension to a design which means the consumer can change it up if it gets damaged or worn after a number of years without the base going to landfill. To us, Umage is designing our way out of these problems. I get annoyed that other designers and manufacturers are not making themselves Umage! As well as the environmental implications, Umage is looking to address the annoying design problems. Everyone hates the kitchen cabinets they cannot reach without ladders! Why not make access to the cabinets part of the design in the first place? Our design ethos is to look at a design and think how can we make this functional? What is annoying about it? Can we solve that? Can we design our way out of that? How can we make the annoying and unattractive, functional and attractive? That's the DNA of us as designers, making the world more beautiful but also more functional and providing a simple way of living.
What does having a young design team contribute to Umage?
Søren: I think having experience can also be a hindrance. It can be a barrier to solving all these questions that I keep asking myself in our designs, such as what could make this work better and what can be annoying about the design. Younger people I have found can provide a great perspective on overcoming these issues.
What is your favourite piece from the new furniture line?
Søren: I am very very happy with the Lounge Around day bed. For me, I initially took the idea to two of my designers and they really didn't like it, I'm not very good with my drawing my ideas, but we worked together on it and now we are so happy with it. When a piece of furniture is produced the designer will get their name on it, but it really is a team effort to get it to where it is when it is ready for manufacture. Now the Lounge Around so far has been the best selling design from the furniture collection.
From talking to Søren I am now completely convinced that the new name Umage is perfect for them. Walking around the showroom being talked through the furniture range, I was constantly remarking 'oh, that is clever!' Everything just had that extra level of thought behind it.
You can purchase the new Umage furniture range now online in a range of colourways. Do also have a go at the 'Try At Home' App - an augmented reality app that will let you see Umage products situated in your own home, which I think is genius.
* I would like to thank Søren and all the Umage team for their time, the lovely tour of Copenhagen and the introduction to Umage. Thank you also to Pure PR for hosting me. All photographs in this post are owned by Umage.