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Ilse Crawford

On the Sofa with Ilse Crawford

Although she is now based in London, Ilse Crawford has not forgotten her Scandinavian roots. Their influence can be felt in her warm interiors, steeped in modernity and humanity.

Ilse began her career as a journalist and was the founding editor-in-chief of ELLE Decoration. Years of working in the industry inspired her mission to put the needs and desires of people at the heart of design, and she founded the multidisciplinary practice Studioilse in 2001. Coining design as a ‘frame for life’, she takes a sensitivity-driven approach, creating environments and spaces which are both comfortable and user-friendly.

  1. What was your inspiration behind the Ilse Sofa and Ilse Ottoman?
    The original was designed for my own studio apartment in South London because we couldn’t find one that worked in the open space. We wanted a high back and box shape so it would be like a room within a room. A place to settle in, sprawl out or curl up while feeling safe and protected. And with dimensions that mean it can double up as a cosy spare bed.
    Over the years it’s found its way into our projects or the homes of friends. The dimensions have been honed and refined and the design adapted based on these different contexts as well as my own experience of living with it.
  2. Why did you choose to collaborate with George Smith to make the pieces?
    When we decided to officially launch it as a product, George Smith was a natural choice. As a historic British furniture maker with specialist hand made upholstery skills, we can feel confident each sofa will be produced with the same high level of care.
  3. What trends do you predict in the coming months?
    I believe it’s a mistake to think of trends in design. We should be working towards creating things and spaces that are as timeless as possible – things that don’t fall out of fashion or date too quickly.A sofa in particular should be a quiet background piece that works in terms of comfort, dimensions, quality, relevance. It’s a piece that should be able to be updated by the things around it, that should be well made and repairable. That way expensive is cheap in terms of longevity and value over time, and the investment is justified.
  4. What is your advice to add a touch of modernity to a Victorian home?
    Choose colours and the base material palette (flooring, curtains, upholstery fabric for the big pieces etc) so that they create a harmonious and quiet ‘frame’ that can act as a background to more outspoken pieces that can be the focus.
  5. What’s the cosiest place in your house to curl up?
    We’re in-between apartments at the moment and lacking a good corner to curl up. The original Ilse sofa made 15 years ago has been relocated to the studio, and still looks as good as new. I often find myself hiding there to catch up on my calls.
  6. What’s the first thing you do on a new project?
    Before you start to design you need to understand the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ before you can address the ‘how’. So the first thing we do is ask questions, and lots of them. As designers we make places or products that become instruments for the daily life of the people who use them. This requires a realistic understanding of how people will use a space, how this changes throughout the day and the different activities that will take place there. If you don’t listen or observe how people behave, you can make mistakes.
  7. What’s a popular Scandinavian hospitality practice that we don’t do in England?
    ‘Hygge’ is Danish word that is hard to translate to English. Essentially it is how to take care to make everyday moments matter, bringing genuine human warmth to what can otherwise be mundane or ordinary.

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