sandwich board
Lee Allison in his Chicago home
Lee Allison’s design sensibility includes a fascination with vintage pieces sprung loose from their original contexts. Behind him is a silk screen from the 1940s; an old church pew provides along-the-wall seating; an 80-year-old butcher block (charred in a fire) makes a fine low table.
home of Lee Allison
Lee Allison's home in Chicago

The man: President of the Lee Allison Company, maker of high-end neckties and dress shirts.

The digs: A 4,500-square-foot loft on Webster Avenue that’s creatively-if a tad haphazardly-appointed with oddities and idiosyncratic gems.

How it came to be what it is today: "It’s the disease of having a loft, a limitless stage on which to be reckless with impunity," says Allison.

The driving aesthetic: "Everything in here is visually appealing or simply amusing."

A few of his favorite things: A menu (1) from a New York deli ("with early ’80s pricing") that has followed him for 20 years; a rusty old hand drill that he stuck ("at a jaunty angle") into one of the loft’s support beams; a 12-foot Arts and Crafts library table from Northwestern University.

And, um, a few more: A ceramic vase (2) by uber–industrial designer Karim Rashid depicting someone’s head-Allison’s-doing a 360-degree spin; an assortment of funky wind-up alarm clocks (3) collected on a trip to India; a larger-than-life plaster statuette of a nose (4).

But wait, there’s real art, too: "[Gallery owner] Roy Boyd called me one day and said, ‘Lee, I have a piece for you.’ When I saw it, it was a no-brainer." The three-by-four-foot mixed-media collage by John Fraser features a classic set of instructions for tying a four-in-hand necktie knot. It hangs in Allison’s entryway. Another favorite piece, purchased in Santa Fe ("against the conventional wisdom that says you should never buy art in a tourist town") is a large-scale black-and-white pastel self-portrait (5) by Heidi McFall. "Her eyes are closed, she’s looking up, she’s serene, she’s relaxed. I fell in love."

The downside of having space: "People give you stuff that you don’t need and say, ‘I thought this would look great in your loft.’" Such acquisitions include a rusty outdoor planter that resembles an ostrich and massive red metal letters (6) that spell "PAD."

The gathering place: The "swingers’ lounge," where the base of the glass-topped coffee table is an old dolly laid on its side and where a long contemporary couch (7) faces an unusual black wool settee. The latter two pieces Allison plans to reupholster eventually. He also has a Scandinavian-style teak armchair recently inherited from his parents, who were downsizing.

Hanging from the rafters: A couple of upside-down umbrellas featuring prints reminiscent of an old man’s ties, and several large, faded silk screens (8) from the 1940s depicting scantily clad Baroque women alongside small, frail men hauling oversized strawberries and doing other odd things. "It may be theatrical scenery … or perhaps it’s early feminist art," Allison offers, adding that the screens look very cool backlit at night.

What can be gleaned about a man from his surroundings: "I’ve got too many ideas, bursting at the seams. I try to separate my life and my work, but"-he looks deflatedly at the ties, fabric swatches, and other tools of the trade overflowing from his workspace into his living space-"you can see how I fail."


Photographer: Matthew Gilson