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    A Day of Good Design with Ilse Crawford

    April 25, 2013

    Everyone that reads my blog or who knows me personally won’t be surprised to know that i love creativity, emotional and intelligent design, slow living, well-being and authentic food. I go on about these often enough!

    I don’t follow groups, religions, trends, am not a groupie and don’t have many role models. There are very few people that i identify with on many levels and who inspire me. One of them is ilse crawford!

    I first came across ilse when i bought my very first issue of elle decoration, back in 1990, a year after she founded the british magazine, hailed as an international decorating bible. Ilse is often credited with teaching the british to love modern interiors.


    My interest was piqued and i started following her career. After a short stint in new york (working for donna karan), she came back to the uk and in 2000 became the editor of a new magazine – ‘bare’, a stylish, but very much ahead of its time, bible to well-being. I loved it but it was short-lived!


    Then came the position of head of department for man and well-being at design academy eindhoven in holland (regarded by many as the best design school in the world) and ilse had also started her own design studio and consultancy: studioilse.

    For those of you who are not familiar with studioilse and its DNA, it’s very much based on the fact that it gives a human perspective to design which is emotional and intelligent. Really quite different to your usual interior design practice. I don’t like calling them that anyway. They are so much more! Studioilse once described their values as:

    “we are fascinated by what drives us, brings us together and ultimately makes us feel alive. The studio manifests this through brand development, concept creation, interiors, furniture and products – design that can provide a frame for life”

    For me they design a blueprint to entire environments, from thinking about the human experience, to creating a unique identity which can then evolve and morph into its own, thus adding meaning to our lives. They’ve done this with soho house, new york, babington house and with every single project undertaken since. Some further examples: high road house, kettner’s in soho, the electric cinema, the olde bell.

    You wouldn’t think that with all this there is much time left to write books. But, hey, we all know women are great at multi-tasking and ilse is a pro at it! I urge everyone of you to obtain a copy of both, the sensual home and home is where the heart is.


    Apart from beautiful, they both illustrate ilse’s philosophical approach of seeking the emotional needs before tackling the design side of an environment or space! This was a huge influence for me when designing my own home. It was more about how i navigate my space, how i like to sit, eat, lounge, entertain, over the pure colour, look or style of a piece of furniture or where to place it so it fits within the design parameters . It’s a philosophy that has enhanced my daily life at home and is contributing to my overall well-being.

    So, i was delighted when i first read that ilse crawford joined the school of life (TSOL) faculty. I’ve been a huge fan and supporter of TSOL since their launch in 2008. I had missed out on the very first ‘a day of good design with ilse crawford’ back in 2011 so was super excited to get on the list for this second event last saturday!

    Our group of 20 people met at her lovely apartment and although i had seen many photographs in magazines, there is nothing really like seeing something in real life and getting that ‘sense’ and ‘feeling’ of it. It’s full of personality and personal touches, lots of keepsakes, invites, postcards and a multitude of books! It is exactly how i imagined it to be. A ‘real’ home lived in by people (ilse and her columbian husband oscar pena angarita) who understand their needs and habits – a truly ‘human’ space. I didn’t take any pictures of the apartment as after brief introductions we went straight up to the studio, but also i didn’t want to intrude in their private space!

    The studio, up one flight of stairs from the apartment is filled with daylight, and has this wonderful ‘creative’ feeling you get in a space where many talented people come together to work on brands, buildings, furniture and products. All white, including the wonderful eames chairs and wästberg lights, it seems as if the plain backdrop helps with the creativity. Colour is introduced through magazines, books and magazine tear sheets, used as mood boards. Sitting there you get a real sense of being part of the outside. It’s quite magical.









    Ilse was incredibly generous with sharing about her business, her design principles, how projects are tackled, the different phases of a project and the good, the bad and the ugly! The main points were that with every new project the team first analyses context, background, history and the surroundings of the building. Then they look at the needs of the people using the space. Now the process begins with getting the client to agree while also liaising with the architects. Studioilse likes to use local tradesmen. Private projects can take between 2-4 years. Commercial ones take less and always need to be rushed. Few clients understand design and the impact it can have. Studioilse prefers to head a project from its initial conception, rather than being called in as an afterthought and often to remedy a project gone wrong!

    Ilse talked us through a recently completed project. Ett hem. They converted a 100-year-old house in stockholm into a boutique hotel. Designed and intended to be used like staying in a friend’s house, ett hem has a number of communal spaces where guests are encouraged to mingle. You can “sit in the kitchen, have a drink in the sitting room, pick up a book in the library or snuggle down by the fireplace.”


    Ilse also introduced us to the precious collection studioilse did for denmark’s biggest design brand georg jensen (see below). My favourite was the mama vase. Watch the video that supports this collection here.

    The collection “brings a renewed sense of ritual to enhance our everyday habits”. Water is a basic need and ilse, as well as consulting on an ongoing exhibition, 1% water is also writing her third book on this subject.


    I was happy to see the studio as they’ll be moving to new premises to accomodate more staff. It was a real honour to have been given the opportunity to see the space where so many wonderful designs have originated from, a really special treat for me!

    We left for our next destination. The wapping project. Although i’ve been there a couple of times before, it’s years since i last went and hence it felt like the first time. Impressive, full of history and depth.This was our destination for lunch and we also got treated to an interesting and uplifting talk by founder and curator jules wright (a personal friend of ilse crawford). I will blog separately about jules and the wapping project as it’s such an amazing story and she’s an incredible woman.

    Suffice to say, lunch was superb! The food at the wapping project is simple, delicious and fuss-free. Ingredients are carefully sourced and the service was outstanding!








    From there we went on to the garden museum, based in the deconsecrated parish church of st mary-at-lambeth adjacent to lambeth palace.  The museums main gallery is the main space for their collection of tools, prints, photographs and library. You’ll find insight into the social history of gardening as well as the practical aspects of the subject. The museum covers the whole range of gardening, from royal gardens to allotments. In the early 1980s, a 17th century style ‘knot garden’ was created in the churchyard, planted with authentic plants of the period.

    We stopped off for afternoon tea and a talk by alun jones of dow and jones architect.



    Alun jones talked to us about their award-winning design in transforming the museum into a centre for exhibitions and events through the construction of contemporary gallery spaces.

    ” The garden museum is housed in a listed former church. We designed a two-storey structure that wraps around the aisles of the existing building. The new structure creates new galleries for the permanent collection and for temporary exhibitions, and an education room”

    They are about to go into phase 2, where they’ll double the space for display of the permanent collection, 95% of which is in store, and create extra space for schools and community outreach work, in addition to a bigger café and modern visitor services.







    From there, we took a short stroll along the river to vauxhall where our next stop was lassco, brunswick house. I blogged about it here and here. This was a perfect ending to our day. A great space that had nothing done to it and yet it lives and breathes through the fantastic objects and artefacts it sells. It’s success comes from the ever changing unique stock and the way it gets displayed and moved around. Every time you walk in there you feel as if you’re in a different space. It’s like an aladdin’s cave.



    We all had a rummage around and then congregated in the café for a drink, a little chat and our good-byes.



    For me, it was the perfect day. The sun was shining and i got to spend time in the company of a woman who’s been a great influence on my own design and well-being philosophy. There is so much more i could have asked ilse.

    More importantly, she is even nicer than i expected. Warm, unassuming, intelligent, softly spoken, thought-provoking, vulnerable, strong, generous and very wise. She has an incredibly calm aura and what struck me most were her impeccable communication skills.

    “Ilse is also an influential author, international public speaker and has been named one of britain’s most influential women.” MONOCLE

    Yes, all of these are true, but ilse understands that people and teams are at the core of the most wonderful visions and without them very little of any significance can be achieved. Having met phil and janis on the day, it is evident that ilse leads with heart and mind, empowering her staff and allowing them to flourish in their own rights. Ilse is definitely the face for studioilse but i think in her mind it’s all about the people around her, her brood, her (maybe) biggest achievement to date.

    Thank you to clemmy and mary (TSOL) for organising this wonderful day!

    This post will stay up till next thursday.

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