This Is What Happens When Two Modernists Buy a Home
They fell in love over good design—in high school. Now, these entrepreneurs have furnished their home with the modernist details that brought them together.
One of Alicia and Robert Segal’s daughters recently asked to redecorate her purple and white bedroom. (What kid doesn’t ask for a new color every few years, after all?) But Alicia sensed something else. “I think she got inspired going to our company headquarters to see our showroom and photo studio,” Alicia says. “Modern design and products were on her mind.”
They are also in her DNA. Robert and Alicia founded Unison, a modern home goods company based in Chicago. And that’s not all. Robert’s parents are the founders of Crate and Barrel, and Alicia grew up with mid-century modern furniture collected by her mother, an artist, and her father, a landscape architect. “I knew when I was 9 or 10 years old that I was going to work in art in some form,” Alicia says.
Robert echoes her. By age 14, he knew he was going to be “a designer of some sort, be it fashion, product design, furniture or architecture.” Not long after that realization, he met Alicia. The couple attended the same high school in Winnetka, on Chicago’s North Shore. Instead of talking football and prom, the two sparked while discussing the merits of good design, be it Herman Miller furniture or the poppy textiles of Marimekko, the Finnish company where they both worked following college. “It’s why we fell in love,” Alicia says. “We had so much in common and we were eager to get out there and learn new things.”
The Segals’ childhood came full circle when their first daughter was born. The couple wanted to raise their family at home in Winnetka. The neighborhood’s architecture skews traditional, but the Segals lucked into a modernist unicorn designed by Tony Grunsfeld, a prominent Chicago architect known for his clean-line style. Built in 2003 for a family of art collectors, the house had open-plan living areas and tall ceilings and windows. The style (and the abundant natural light) reminded the Segals of the West Loop loft where they had been living.
At first, Robert and Alicia assumed they’d renovate to update details like the dark built-ins and kitchen cabinets. “We were used to light wood and white kitchens,” Alicia says, “and we wondered, ‘Is this too dark and too sophisticated? Will this work?’” But ultimately they held off on big changes.
St. Louis native and influential mid-century designer Charles Eames once said, “The details are not the details. They make the design.” The Segals felt the same way about their new nest. It’s a rare privilege to move into a home so thoughtfully designed, with unifying materials throughout, Robert explains. Instead, they made the home their own with furniture, art and books—and a towering tree house for the kids to dream in out back.
Alicia and Robert Segal’s foyer foreshadows their home’s style with a sleek desk and stool and a burst of artful color.
In the dining room, a pair of Stephen Eichhorn floral collages is the focal point—and also the jumping-off point to furnishing the space. “It was one of the first pieces we bought for the house,” Robert says. The black-stained ash table and bentwood cane chairs (from the couple’s home goods store, Unison) keep a low profile to offset the large-scale art.
The library’s floor-to-ceiling shelves are packed with titles that reflect Alicia and Robert’s passions: art books, design tomes and travel guides. Tall windows wrap around the room, which doubles as a den. Light pours in during the day, but mechanical blackout shades tuck into a recessed pocket in the ceiling for when the family watches TV.
In the living room, gallery walls flank a 13-foot, ceiling-scraping stone fireplace. “We studied art and knew artists, but we weren’t collectors,” Robert says. “We didn’t own art of this scale.” At a local art showing, the couple spotted a series of bold abstracts by Katie Loomis and brought them home. They kept furniture neutral throughout the room (and whole home), but patterned Unison pillows echo the colorful paintings.
A wooded, park-like setting surrounds the cedar-clad house. “There’s really not a front lawn; the yard is mostly in the back,” Robert says. “But the landscaping was integrated cohesively with the windows and lets the outside come in.” A side patio offers serene seating in warmer months, plus a view of the kids’ fab tree house.
Alicia calls the computer corner in her bedroom her “mini happy place.” It’s a quiet escape during the day, and a convenient spot for checking email or shopping at night. “You know, all the things we should not be doing before bed,” she laughs.
The Segals launched their business, Unison, with bedding; the master bed duvet is one of their original products. The pillow covers were made from a photo Alicia snapped of a tree in Wisconsin.
In the playroom, a rotating art wall displays the three kids’ creations. “I’m always surprised more people don’t hang their kids’ art,” Alicia says. “It shows the kids that we value it.” The quilt features vintage Marimekko fabric, a reminder of the couple’s time working for the iconic textile company.
Amid books and soccer trophies on a bedroom shelf, a 1970s paper cut was a special gift from Alicia’s high school art teacher, a collector of Polish folk art who remains a family friend.