Designer crush: Ilse Crawford.

To be honest with you, there’s a reason it has taken me so long to follow up my last designer crush edit. I’ve been struggling to find a designer that resonates in a different way to how Abigail Adhern does. I love the drama Adhern brings to interiors. She has guts and breaks boundaries and I respect that. With Ilse, it is her core values of design I respect. After watching the new Netflix docu-series Abstract: The Art of Design, I came to realise Ilse’s objectives in design are the very reason I decided to enter this industry in the first place. 

I guess you could say her success stemmed from being chosen as launch editor of Elle Decoration, after having worked for the Architect’s Journal. Her early career in journalism and magazines taught her how to communicate her ideas and love of interior design. Eventually, her interest in architecture and passion of how to bring buildings to life over-ruled. She founded StudioIlse in 2001 and since then has worked on some prestigious projects. She is most notably known for her collaboration with Nick Jones, and the expansion of The Soho House Group. She worked on their Club House in New York, their Babington House in Somerset as well as The Electric Cinema in Notting Hill. Despite being designed over 10 years ago, these spaces are still current and progressive in today’s age of interior design. There is an obvious sense of tactility and overt comfort in every room, designed to stimulate our sensory journey.

Soho House NYC

Soho House NYC- Drawing Room.
Soho House NYC-Bedroom.
Soho House NYC- Bedroom.

Soho House- Babington House

Babington House-Bar.
Babington House-Main House Bedroom.
Babington House- Bedroom.

Electric Cinema, Notting Hill.

Electric Cinema, Notting Hill.
StudioIlse also designed the first flagship store for Australian skincare brand, Aesop in 2008. The Grade 2 listed Mayfair shop, translates the Aesop values through a loving restoration of the historic fabric of the space, with modern and clean interventions. Original parquet floors are left raw with patination, fireplaces were reinstated and tall ceilings exposed. However, at it’s heart sits one grand gesture, a large ceramic circular basin. This emphasises the ritual of cleansing and was, in turn, quite a pioneering design statement at the time.

Aesop, Mayfair.
Ilse and her team have recently collaborated with Ikea to produce a value range of around 30 products to appeal to the every day person– from larger furniture pieces such as cork-covered tables and a daybed down to hand-blown glass bottles. They began their collaboration after the appointment of Marcus Engman, the Swedish company’s head of design, who is determined to raise the “design quality” of the brand.

“[IKEA] asked us to work in natural materials, which of course is very appealing to bring the physical quality to our range, which I think they would say themselves is very missing.” said Crawford. “I think they know that their surfaces have become quite flat in the push for perfection.”

It’s not a special collection, it’s very much a part of IKEA’s core line. Cork plays centre stage in this collection, which is a personal plus point in my opinion. It’s used in thin layers for table tops and seats and thicker sections to form tops of jars and bases for lamps. Crawford loves cork for its acoustic properties as well as the fact it working great with glass. She sees it as an important repurposing for the material because “no one wants wine corks anymore!”

Unveiled during Stockholm Design Week February 2015, the range has been available at IKEA stores and online Since August that year.

Sinnerlig Collection-Bamboo lattice concertina pendants. Photo: Felix Odell
Sinnerlig Collection- Cork table tops and stools. Photo: Felix Odell
I have only touched on a few projects Ilse and her team have been involved with over the years. However, I think it’s clear to see, Ilse’s trademark is about the interaction and human need for the space. She’s more focused on life than on style, she says:

“When I look at making spaces, I don’t just look at the visual. I’m much more interested in the sensory thing, in thinking about it from the human context, the primal perspective, the thing that touches you.”

She is attuned to how quality affects life on an everyday basis. This is where her Scandinavian roots are really embedded in her perception of design. The Swedish have the word “Besjala” meaning to animate or put soul into a building, and of course the Danish word about town “Hygge”, which roughly translates well-being. This modern and emotional approach to design places the human being at the centre of everything that her studio does, whether that be product design, furniture, interiors or architecture.

“My interest is in how to make places that enhance our humanity, express our humanity and address our humanity.”

This is what resonates with me as a developing designer. My design decisions should have substance and relevance to people as individuals, I don’t like the superficiality that is often associated with interior design. I want my design proposals to provide promise, practicality and comfort beyond belief.

Ilse Crawford’s values of design are inspirational, not only to me, but to many hundreds of students who choose to study the Man and Well-Being department at the Design Academy in Eindhoven, which she founded in 2000. She will continue to create spaces that respond to our humanity. Her ultimate goal is to create hospitals and health centres, that really use the power of design to positively influence the health and mental well- being for the more vulnerable amongst us. She has the ability to create spaces with soul that relates to people in every situation. She once said:

“We’re not cool, we’re warm.”

This epitomises StudioIlse and this is why I chose her for my (long over-due) Designer Crush. Designers like Ilse will make a difference. Click the link below to find out other projects her and her team have worked on.



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