He is one of the city’s most prolific makers—and we’re betting you’ve never heard of him. Meet the visionary behind some of the city’s most notable social spots.
With an imprint on notable projects like Soho House, the Chicago Athletic Association and Roister, the new Grant Achatz project, James Geier, founder of the design, development and fabrication firm 555 International, may be one of the most accomplished yet largely unknown design forces in Chicago.
And don’t expect that to change anytime soon; since getting his start in 1984—among his first projects were retail installations for the likes of Hermès and Armani—Geier has generally preferred to fly a little under the radar. Still, he’s a go-to for contractors. “There are a lot of supertalented people in Chicago doing all kinds of things,” says Geier. “But if there is an impression we’ve been able to make over the years, it’s that 555 International has an ability to create cool custom elements and execute unique projects.”
It’s that ability that has put Geier and his company on the map—they are able to deliver exactly what they’re drawing by manufacturing all the lighting, wood, metal and specialty features at their 300,000-square-foot South Side facility. Be it a restaurant, an office or a high-end retail or stadium shop, Geier wants each space to be a sensory experience that pushes the envelope. “It takes me back to some advice my business partner at Union (the bar Geier once owned back in the ’80s) and I received from an old-time real estate mogul: “Little ideas, little income. Big ideas, big income.”
Geier has a tactile approach to design and encourages his team to step away from the computer and social media and actually draw a concept. Balancing business with creativity is a constant push-pull, but Geier says it all comes back to experience and tackling every project with confidence. “Our environments are made up of parts and pieces of a bunch of ideas, so in my world, I want everyone to understand that everything they do can affect the final outcome.”
And as for that final outcome, Geier reminds us that “every stroke on every piece of paper could turn out to be something wonderful.”
Styling by Chrome city, garments by Billy Reid, hair by Micah Sawinski