HEAR THE NAME Alessandra Branca and the first thing to come to mind might be the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago’s beloved Lake Forest Showhouse & Garden fundraiser. If you’ve visited any of the biennial showcase homes over the last decade, you’ve likely seen her unforgettable take on these designer spaces—often bursting with vibrant color, European fabrics, classical antiques, and timeless elegance.
Branca, who was born in Rome, Italy, and moved to the Chicago area more than 30 years ago to attend school at the former Barat College in Lake Forest, built her international design brand on the concept that living well requires comfort, elegance, and whimsy.
Whether it was the inspired collaboration she did with Mariani Landscape and Lake Forest florist Molly Flavin on a decadent outdoor patio and gardens in 2017 or the lecture she presented on The New Living Room in 2015 (while also serving as honorary chair), Branca’s renowned contributions over the years have helped elevate the status of the fundraiser on a national level.
Now, the next generation of that classical Alessandra Branca aesthetic is coming to a showroom on Chicago’s Gold Coast, where Branca raised her family. Casa Branca, a design atelier run by Branca’s son, Andrew Uihlein, will bring an eclectic new collection of refined textiles, playful prints, textural wallpapers, and one-of-a-kind home accessories to the trade and ultimately, the public.
“Casa Branca allows more people access to our designs. Anyone can buy a piece of ‘la vita Branca’,” explains Branca, who launched the first Casa Branca showrooms in Los Angeles and Palm Beach with a pop-up version in New York City. “We are hoping to be in your primary residence, whether that is loft or house, and then your beach pad or your mountain cabin. The whole point is to offer a range of lifestyles to many and then teach them how to mix them into their existing interiors. Our wool tartans mix with florals and velvets as easily as our linen weaves mix with wool and outdoor textiles. It is all in the fun you can have mixing it up!”
Andrew Uihlein took over the helm of Casa Branca in Los Angeles three years ago to help grow the next chapter of his mother’s iconic brand.
“It’s been an interesting process to figure out how do we ‘distill Alessandra’ for a new generation,” says Andrew, who leads as President while wife, Georgia McElveen, serves as Vice President and Head of Design. “It’s also been interesting learning how we work together as a family.”
Georgia, who says that she and Andrew have known each other since they were 3 years old, was the first to join Casa Branca,
“I was in New York working for an auction house and Andrew was working for U-Line when Alessandra had me sourcing items for her brand. From there, she hired me full-time to do all the Casa Branca collaborations. I was working closely with the people she hired in L.A. to do her patterns and textiles,” says Georgia, adding that it was her idea to bring in Andrew as President as he was finishing his MBA at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business in 2018. “We needed a business mind.”
“And I pretended to be just that person,” laughs Andrew. “I came on board and was just really compelled to take Alessandra’s massive volume of ideas and build them into a collection.”
He says that while Casa Branca’s Chicago showroom is located on the Gold Coast, the family’s ties to the North Shore remain enduring.
“Alessandra’s entry way to the United States was through Barat College, and it was through Barat College that in 1978 she met my father, Steve, who was born in Lake Bluff and went to Lake Forest Country Day School,” Andrew explains. “For me personally and for Georgia, we could not be happier about this Chicago location. Even if it doesn’t make sense on paper to someone who was raised in London or New York, there’s no shortage of taste on the North Shore and Chicago, and we’re going through another design renaissance in the city.”
Alessandra Branca founded her legendary Branca line in Chicago, bringing her own mother, botanical artist Anna Chiara, into the company almost immediately. In that sense, Andrew says he considers himself to be the third generation to join the family business.
“When we designed Casa Branca, we talked about what things are going to be like in 10 years with these very clean, modern spaces with lots of white and almost an aversion of color and pattern. A big part of Casa Branca is championing color and making people feel more comfortable using pattern and color,” Andrew explains. “We are going through a period right now where people want a modern apartment with a modern kitchen but that doesn’t translate into the warmest experience. And on the North Shore, people are more familiar with having your home as a social center, and that’s where we come in. We’re almost a bridge between generations and a bridge between aesthetic styles.”
This modern take on Branca empowers customers to fill their homes with designs and pieces that are more personalized, more inspired, and more unique.
“Especially since the pandemic, people are infusing personal touches into their homes. Design is a reflection of themselves but it’s also aspirational,” adds Andrew. “That aspirational approach to living is richer when it’s paired with interiors and objects that are more personal and filled with color.”
Georgia says it’s been an honor to help fulfill Alessandra’s vision.
“With Casa Branca, she wanted to share the joy of interior design with everyone else—to show how much it can be and how easy it can be,” she says. “Interior design can feel intimidating so that’s why we’re here, to showcase pieces that can easily be mixed and matched for your own take on the classics.”
Alessandra says she finds tremendous joy in working with the next generation through Casa Branca.
“My designs are a way of looking at life and living that is timeless. I believe in great quality mixed with a bit of humor and modernism,” she says. “I have been working with multigenerational families for years doing their homes and now I get to enjoy working with my own family day to day. They have a wonderfully fresh point of view, and it is fun to see the world through their young lenses.”
Casa Branca is located at 5 E. Goethe Street in Chicago. For more information, call 312-787-6123 or visit branca.com.