Alicia Segal still remembers waking up each morning to the painting that hung over her childhood bed. Tinted in hues of pink and blue dye and textured with glue, the abstract painting by her mother Judith was full of feeling. “I loved that painting so much,” Segal recalls. “I used to reach up and touch it, tracing my fingers over the patterns.”
Judith’s paintings, as well as nature photography from Segal’s father Bernard, were displayed throughout the home inspiring Segal and setting a pattern of personal connection to art that would deeply influence her as an adult.
“It’s always been important to me not only to love the artworks that I choose for my home but to have a connection with the artist,” she says. “As a child, it was meaningful to see my parents making things and to feel the value they placed on the things we kids made. I think that’s what propelled me into the world as an artist, collector, and co-founder of Unison, a modern home goods company, with my husband, Robert.”
The couple was surrounded by artists in every medium—from metal arts to performance art, textile arts to painting—while getting degrees at the Rhode Island School of Design and during their five years in Helsinki working for Marimekko. In these fertile environments, Segal was always curious about each artist’s process. “Understanding the time and care it takes to mix the oils, or set up in nature, or design the pattern, or cut the paper … it builds a much greater appreciation for the art,” she says.
This abiding appreciation is apparent as Segal talks about the art that fills her home. Paintings, paper collages, fiber art, sculptures, and drawings animate and brighten every room. Among them, works from artist Katie Loomis welcome guests into the foyer and flank the fireplace in the living room. Intricate paper collages by Stephen Eichhorn are displayed on the ground floor and second level. And a new canvas by Chad Kouri is waiting to be hung.
In each instance, the Segals got to know the artist first and then continued the relationship. This supported the artist and helped the Segals build a better art collection.
“We first met Stephen Eichhorn when he allowed us to do a photo shoot at his home for Unison,” Segal recalls. “We really hit it off and were so struck by the beauty of his work but, at the time, could only afford a small piece.”
Years later, just after moving into their current home in Winnetka, Segal saw a J.Crew catalog prominently featuring Eichhorn’s latest works, “I said, ‘Robert! We have to buy these right away!’” Segal recalls, laughing. “I just didn’t want them to end up in J.Crew headquarters or something.”
The Segals not only bought the two Eichhorn intricate cut-paper collage works, which are now mounted in the dining room, “but we had him bring all of his work to the house and were thrilled to find perfect places for many of the pieces.”
The same thing happened with works from Katie Loomis. “We first found Katie when she was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago and her work was displayed at Lula Café,” says Segal. “Both Robert and I felt that her work was so relaxing and meditative. So, just as we did with Stephen, we invited her to bring all of her work to the house. Five of her pieces were perfect for the living room and foyer.”
Does Segal have any advice for others who are starting to collect art for their homes?
“The work really has to touch you,” Segal offers. “You have to love the scale of the piece, and the colors and have an appreciation for or the desire to learn about how it was made. I say that because works of art are not just compositions, they are alive with the thoughts and process of the person who made them.”
She continues, “Maintaining a connection to the artist also allows you to grow your collection as the artist creates new works. Here in Chicago, there are so many amazing artists, and they’re not all showing in famous galleries or at the Art Institute. I support galleries, but I also think that some of the greatest new work can be found at student exhibitions where artists are at a creative peak but are still very affordable.”
The Segals’ approach to building their home art collection is echoed in their support of artists at Unison. In celebration of its 15th year in 2021, Unison collaborated with many of its artist partners to create limited edition products. They also were chosen by famed British designer Aaron Probyn as the exclusive U.S. retailer for his debut collection of home goods.
For more information about Unison, visit unisonhome.com.