Two years ago, Alicia Waters was living in Paris with her husband Dan and their two children, Ben (14) and Ruby (11), in a brief overseas stint for her husband’s job. The expat experience marked the first time the marketing executive had ever taken a break from working—she graduated from scooping ice cream in high school to leading marketing efforts for conglomerates like Gap, Inc. and Kraft Foods—and she spent her days embracing the Parisian lifestyle by “drinking wine and eating baguettes,” she says. “It was the time of my life.”
When the family returned to the States in 2019, they bought a house on the North Shore inspired by their time in Paris. The home, Waters says, is one she never would have considered before living abroad, but she has since found inspiration in its original 1906 architecture and details. “It needed a ton of work,” she says. “But we preserved and restored it rather than tearing it down.”
Now, the home features bold prints and patterns, unique elements, vignettes inspired by France and nature-inspired finishes. “I wanted to find ways to bring the outside in, as wellness is important to me,” says Waters. “Design, in my opinion, is about being authentic and true to both yourself and to what you love. Creating a world that is meaningful to me and family is what brings me joy.”
Fittingly, Waters currently leads the marketing team at Northbrook-based home furnishings and décor brand Crate & Barrel across adults, kids, baby, gift registry, and trade, along with sister company Hudson Grace. As chief marketing officer, she works across the entire home—from the kitchen and dining room to the bedroom and living room—to bring fresh and inspirational design to Crate & Barrel customers through tactics like social media, the seasonal catalog, digital, email, and content.
“We are a digital-first brand,” says Waters. “We care deeply about how to inspire our customer in new ways and with new technology. That means my 11-year-old daughter Ruby is currently trying to teach me how to use TikTok.”
Waters has also helped lead Crate & Barrel’s bestselling product collaborations with brands like Shinola, Caraway, and Parachute and with renowned interior designers like Leanne Ford, many of which sell out immediately. Prior to joining the Crate & Barrel team in 2019, she had been VP of marketing for sister brand CB2 until relocating to Paris. While at CB2, she worked on collaborations with brands like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and people like Lenny Kravitz.
The Jane Goodall Institute for Crate & Kids partnership was designed to help kids learn how to celebrate wildlife, nature, and diversity. Waters led the charge to incorporate an element for Crate & Barrel team members, too, in which they were able to take action for the Institute through a series of pledges that brought the partnership to life in a meaningful way.
“I have the same passions as our customers,” says Waters. “Being able to partner with Goop, for example, on a beautiful and inspired collection with a brand as rooted in wellness as I am personally, felt like such an exciting opportunity to take what I love and what our customers love and to create product that lives well in people’s homes.”
The collaborations, Waters explains, are rooted in the marketing insight that customers often live with other brands in their homes, so why not partner with like-minded brands that share the same values and aesthetics as Crate & Barrel?
That’s the kind of analysis one might expect from the child of two psychologists, who had “frequent dinnertime conversations about motivations, feelings, and drivers,” laughs Waters. Now, she’s able to marry her deep-rooted love of human behavior with her lifelong passion for style and design.
This fall, Crate & Kids released a new product collaboration with leading home design authority Domino. The two brands came together to create a line of playful and colorful products designed specifically for children.
“Crate & Kids has become somewhat of a kid activist brand that inspires children and young adults to make change in their community,” says Waters. “We get feedback from parents that not only is the product design-forward and cool but also meaningful. Now more than ever, we want homes that inspire us and make us feel good.”
This fall, the Crate & Barrel team has their eye on textural materials. Think boucles, tweeds, and shearlings. They’re also playing with shapes, using curvy and structural designs. And they continue to pivot toward sustainable sourcing and responsible commerce, highlighting certified woods and organic assortments.
“We have an in-house creative team led by Sebastian Brauer, and I’m so blown away by their taste and innovation,” says Waters. “This last year of product has been particularly incredible, and they are truly heralding our brand into unchartered territory, which is really exciting.”
Coming up is a second collection with Leanne Ford, one that Waters says almost brought her to tears—it’s that good. And the team is looking forward to welcoming the North Shore community to its new state-of-the-art kitchen at the Crate & Barrel headquarters, where they look forward to welcoming and inspiring their community to create delicious meals together.
For now, though, its peak gifting season, so Waters is stocking up on hostess presents. She’s been frequenting Hudson Grace’s new shop in Glencoe for picks like quirky ornaments, serving boards, holiday barware, and candles.
“Hudson Grace is a boutique brand with tons of interesting and high-quality pieces,” says Waters. “One of its founders, Gary, is very discerning when it comes to scent, so their candles are fabulous. I’ll gift those with a Crate & Barrel throw blanket.”
Crate & Barrel also has its own standout ornament collection for the holidays. Waters loves the winter acorn ornament and the porcelain feather ornament, both of which she’ll use as a topper for a chicly wrapped gift. What might that gift be? Well, says Waters, she loves a beautiful Kitchen-Aid stand mixer for the home chef, like a new iteration at Crate & Barrel with a black-studded ceramic bowl that’ll look beautiful within an open concept kitchen.
She also loves to support local brands and is a fan of North Shore-based textile purveyor Merinda Studio, Maggie Meiners art, and wellness sanctuary Sole + Luna. “I might splurge to gift a family member a piece of art from Maggie,” says Waters. “Ultimately, it’s all about creating a home with purpose.”