A Feeling of Unity
Unison founders, Robert Segal and Alicia Rosauer, are leading the charge to bring a modern look back to the bedroom. Following the work ethic of Robert’s parents, founders of Crate & Barrel and Foodstuffs, their creativity puts them at the forefront of design.
Photograph by Jon Cancelino
The Unison motto is “Live Well Together.” It’s an appropriate sentiment for a company founded by a husband and wife who were high school sweethearts. The personally designed patterns printed on the bedding, pillows, and throws that make up their product line all convey a philosophy of elegant simplicity. From nature-inspired silhouettes against solid color backgrounds to bold contrasting colors of blocks and stripes, their designs break the decorative form down to its most elemental. They’re minimal, they’re modern, they’re inspired. Unison’s patterns become the focal point of a room and set the tone for their surroundings, re-interpreting the space they occupy. Instead of making statements, they create a feeling—a feeling of unified space.
“We had to call it Unison because we wanted it to speak to the idea that all the products can work with each other or on their own in any space,” says Alicia Rosauer, co-founder of Unison. “And it also reflected the two of us as designers working together.” Alicia and her husband, Robert Segal, have worked together since they met at New Trier High School 16 years ago. They both graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, Alicia with a BA in photography and Robert with an MFA in textiles. They worked together for five years at the influential Marimekko textile company in Helsinki, Finland, before setting out to bring their own designs to life. “Marimekko became a major influence on us in terms of learning the craft, learning what makes a good product, and how to have the design reflect who you are,” says Robert. It’s a lesson they took to the next level. All of their designs reflect their experiences as a couple, patterns evolved from visual details they picked up during their honeymoon in Japan or taken from Alicia’s examination of nature through her photography.
Upon returning to America, they marketed their unique patterns to other product manufacturers as a freelance design team. After getting an inside look at large-scale manufacturing practices as their patterns were applied to bedding by other companies, Robert and Alicia decided there had to be a better way to do it. “There are certain limitations to machine printing,” says Robert. “You won’t be able to get certain patterns, like the large tree silhouette comforter or table cloth. With machine printing that would have to be smaller and repeating, but with screen printing you can exceed those limitations and have these large dramatic patterns.” And that level of attention to detail extends to every facet of their production. Their fabrics are printed domestically, and they work with three sewing shops right here in Chicago. “You can still find textile factories in America, it just has to be utilized,” says Alicia. “We even wanted to work with hand printing. That’s kind of rare.” Their bedding is even Oeko-tex certified to ensure that the use of harmful dyes and chemicals are controlled and that the labor in the factories they utilize are fairly compensated. Robert and Alicia wanted to make sure that their product was the best it could be for the consumer, the environment, and the workers involved.
The values of “evolving a company slowly, getting it right, and doing it well” were instilled in Robert from a young age. He learned how to carefully craft a business under the tutelage of his parents, Gordon and Carol Segal, who founded the first Crate & Barrel on Wells Street in Chicago when they thought others would share their love of Scandinavian home furnishings at affordable prices. He was then able to witness it firsthand when his mother originated Foodstuffs as a venue for importing gourmet food items and teaching cooking classes in Glencoe. But as the demand grew for the prepared foods at Foodstuffs, they realized their niche and captured it. “I’m very proud of [my parents], inspired by them, and encouraged to keep being a creative person,” says Robert.
The same high level of market intuition displayed by Robert’s parents is present in the design and execution of the Unison brand. From the moment they premiered at the 2006 in New York, Unison hit the ground running. “We were a little overwhelmed for a while,” says Alicia. “We had to stop designing and just manage the business.” This was no small feat. A majority of their business comes straight from their website, www.unisonhome.com, which had them packaging and shipping orders, as well. But with a new staff in place to take over some of the day-to-day operations, Robert and Alicia can finally focus on new designs for next year. “It’s not only the market’s expectation but our own expectation,” says Robert. “You have to keep evolving if you want to stay exciting and relevant.” For now, we just have to wait and see what this dynamic design duo comes up with next, but whatever it is, you can be sure it’ll come from both of them—in unison.