Ilse Crawford is a designer, academic and creative director with a simple mission to put human needs and desires at the centre of all that she does. She is also a wonderful friend and mentor. Ten years ago Ilse gave our creative director his first real job, but more than that she introduced him to the value of creative thinking in an everyday sense, and the importance of our emotional sensibilities.
Over early mornings in the studio with porridge and coffee, conversations roamed through the arrangement of objects, the emotive power of materials, the relationship of table and chair, the creation of an atmosphere that is more than the sum of its parts. Qualitative and quantitative thinking all coming from a refreshingly grounded, human approach to the design process.
Her selection is a very nice reflection of her approach.
As founder of Studioilse, together with her multi-disciplinary, London-based team, she brings her philosophy to life. This means creating environments where humans feel comfortable; public spaces that make people feel at home and homes that are habitable and make sense for the people who live in them. It means designing furniture and products that support and enhance human behaviour and actions in everyday life. It means restoring the human balance in brands and businesses that have lost their way.
Studioilse is behind a number of projects that have become benchmarks in their field. They worked with the Soho House Group for nearly a decade, developing the DNA across numerous brand extensions that include Cecconi’s, Babington House, Soho House New York, Cowshed and The Electric. They designed Aesop’s first retail store in London. They reimagined hospitality with Ett Hem in Stockholm and the airline lounge concept for Cathay Pacific. They have created a collection of affordable, quality furniture, lighting and accessories in natural materials for IKEA with a mission to bring good, useful design to as many people as possible.
As founder of the department of Man and Wellbeing at the Design Academy Eindhoven, Crawford’s mission extends to nurturing a new generation of students to always question why and how their work improves the reality of life.
Do you have a particular memory of a special gift received in recent years?
A tiny handmade silver spoon. We share it for our morning coffee. Without it our ritual feels as though something important is missing.
“Archetypal and practical. Something to make the normal special and bring some magic to the darkness.”
Do you remember the first gift you gave?
From a very young age I would stay up most of Christmas night making stockings for my brother and parents. Much more interesting than big presents. We didn’t have money but we did have the sense that we could make our own world. The key was orchestrating the sensory journey from top to bottom, creating moments of delight mixed with edibles, surprises (good and bad) and plenty of newspaper for bad deeds (especially for my brother). It was all about knowing what each person really liked plus lots of imagination and secret preparations.
“I have had a horn comb for years and every time I use it, it gives me pleasure. A real material in a primal form, using traditional techniques.”
What makes you feel at home?
To feel at home is to feel safe, grounded and free to be oneself. It is a very particular combination of the unmeasurable and the practical.
“I love this perfect imperfect lump of clay. It is marvellous in its own right and makes everything in or around it look more intensely beautiful.”
“Zanat is a company worth celebrating and supporting, with its goal of both preserving Bosnian woodcarving skills and bringing employment to the region. And the tray more than holds its own on the table — you feel the hand that made it.”
Are there any particular elements or objects you need in a room to feel comfortable and grounded?
For me it is important that the ordinary things we touch every day feel solid and good; that the things we use on a regular basis are considered, generous and heartfelt. We are sensory creatures after all. In the studio, we talk about the ten centimetres around you. Prioritise these. Make a list of the things you touch over a 24-hour period (and how often). Your feeling of home will change if these are made of real, high quality and natural materials. No matter how small. It gives a sense of permanence.
“A lump of solid, real material that can stop things falling down or flying away. Or, speaking as a serial piler, prevent others adding to my very particular piles. One pile is not the same as another!”
Words by Ilse Crawford
Portrait by Leslie Williamson