Real Life Lessons from Great Designers: Ilse Crawford

Real Life Lessons from Great Designers: Ilse Crawford

Eleanor Büsing
Jun 18, 2015

As a designer, I'm always looking for inspiration from professionals in my field, from household names to lesser-known individuals. One of my all-time favourite designers in the former category is London-based Ilse Crawford. Founder of multi-disciplinary design studio STUDIOILSE, Crawford has been responsible for some of the most iconic hotels, inspiring public spaces, and beautiful private homes of our time.

Though it's been said that Crawford's work has not a signature style but a signature feeling, I believe there are consistent aesthetic threads linking much of what she does, and lessons to be learned from following them. Here are four takeaways I've found through following Crawford and STUDIOILSE over the years...

The Power of a Quiet Color Scheme
Notice I said quiet, as Crawford's color schemes are not necessarily monochrome or neutral, but instead have a restrained quality to them. Tricks to achieve this include a limited palette, painting the trim (and sometimes ceiling) in a space the same color as the walls, and keeping the value (ie, the lightness/darkness) of a scheme low-contrast, even if there is variation of hue within it.

All this means Crawford's spaces feel intrinsically relaxing, and where the application of bright color does occur, it's all the more intentional.

Texture Trumps All
Another of Crawford's design hallmarks is a rich interplay of texture. Beyond loving herself some matte-paint-with-shiny-hardware, this designer places tactile, natural textures at the forefront of her work.

From raw wood next to cool lacquer in Hong Kong members' club Duddels, to London restaurant Kettner's wood-leather-and-wicker combo all in the same rich cognac shade, there is both variety and restraint at play here. I especially love the humorous terry-covered chair in Stockholm's Ett Hem hotel, which looks just so next to a smooth marble bathtub.

Connection Is Key
Crawford herself has said that above all, her designs seek to put the human user at the centre of the experience. After all, interiors are meant to be interacted with, enjoyed, lived in.

In a rural family home, the kitchen has room for play, with humorous touches such as an oversized floor lamp and bright art. In the designer's own loft, the space is adaptable, with sliding panels and hidden storage. And in a Copenhagen gallery called The Apartment, home-like touches exist everywhere, blurring the lines between domestic and commercial.

A Sense of Time and Place
A final thing I notice about Crawford's designs is that the location and history of a space, be it a hotel in Stockholm or a family home in England, always inform the design. Everything exists within a wider context, and it's obvious Crawford believes, acknowledges, and respects that.

For example, the modern encaustic tiles used in London's High Road House are a riff on what would have been original to the type of building. Similarly, the Ercol chairs used in the English country inn The Crown have been handmade nearby since 1920. This approach doesn't just apply to period properties: a new-build residential development in Hong Kong feels utterly zen and modern, tying the residents to their location in the cultural center of the city.

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