Design Inspiration: Ilse Crawford

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Natural Colours and Materials at Embassy House

Ilse Crawford is known for using natural materials and her design philosophy of catering to the senses – a human approach. She was the launch editor for Elle Decoration back in 1989 and her influence continues as the subject of episode 8 (Interior Design) of the Netflix documentary series Abstract: The Art of Design. In September 2016 she was named Maison&Objet Designer of the Year and has designed numerous high profile interiors such as Soho House Club in New York and IKEA.

What draws me to her style is it’s versatility and timelessness. Her ideas are simple and at first glance we have seen them before. The skill is in the attention to detail and the way the space feels to be in. When planning don’t just think about looks, imagine lighting at different times of day and the smell of materials (woven baskets, a pile of logs, or a sheepskin rug all have different aromas). Suitably inspired? Here are some ways to recreate a bit of it at home.

Ilse-Chalet (Switzerland, 2015)
‘Hygge’ at the Chalet in Switzerland, 2015

This Swiss chalet feels warm and inviting through lighting with large windows, open fire, candles and soft lamps. While you may not have wall to wall-to-wall windows, if you have a nice view, try swapping heavy curtains for a simple blind that can be rolled up to invite the outside in. Light your room with a dimmer switch and lamps with low watt bulbs to create a softer feel and add some candles for those cosy evenings.

Ilse-Apartment Residency (Copenhagen, 2014)
Apartment Residency (Copenhagen , 2014)

Okay so I’m not saying we all need an indoor hammock (though I must confess after seeing this I want one). This room in Copenhagen makes you want to grab a book and find a seat. The varied options (the shaggy rug, low bench and hammock) all invite you to try them. The plants give a freshness and oxygenate the air. Take inspiration by looking at your space, how you use it and imagining the possibilities rather than going straight for traditional furniture choices.

Ilse-226 Development (Hong Kong, 2010)
226 Development (Hong Kong, 2010)

I see where the Citizen M hotel in Amsterdam got its inspiration! These chunky open shelves are perfect for dividing space (if you have this much), though they would also work well against all wall. Small fiddly items will get lost so take inspiration and go for large books placed both vertically and horizontally and ornaments with strong shapes that fill the space.

Ilse-Duddell's Arts Club (Hong Kong, 2016)
Duddell’s Arts Club (Hong Kong, 2016)

I love the lushness of this garden. It feels like a Victorian greenhouse. This look would work for small gardens or balconies alike. Go for decking or patio for low maintenance. The plants are varied in height, leaf shape and colour and are all in pots for easy maintenance. Speak to the garden centre to ensure that your pots are big enough for root growth, that your space is light enough (remember they will block light from each other) and that they are hardy enough to handle outdoor temperatures. The mismatched furniture and trendy string of white bulbs gives some edge so don’t be afraid to be adventurous.

If you want to pick up an affordable piece by Ilse check out the Sinnerlig range at IKEA. Ultimately her style is thinking consciously about how spaces make you feel and accentuating that emotion. Does your living room beg you to curl up and unwind with a book? Does your work space energise and inspire? Is your bathroom luxuriously clean and pampering? Is your garden bright with energy and life? These are the tricks to truly capturing the Ilse look.

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All of the pictures are of Ilse Crawford interiors, were not taken by me and are not owned by me. Check out the references below for more on Ilse Crawford and her style.

  • Sensual Home: Liberate Your Senses and Change Your Life Photographed by Martyn Thompson(1997, Quadrille publishing, ISBN 978-1899988174)
  • Home is Where the Heart is? Photographed by Martyn Thompson (2009, Quadrille publishing, ISBN 978-1844006052)
  • A Frame for Life: The Designs of StudioIlse (2014, Rizzoli International Publications, ISBN 978-0847838578)
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How to Plan Your Home Like a Professional

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IKEA kitchen design

I often gaze longingly at the pages of magazines and wish that my home looked as perfect. So what is it that makes a room look like it was designed by a professional interior decorator?  What is that perfect finishing touch that elevates the ordinary to the extraordinary?

When I was researching this piece I found that I kept coming back to one of my favourite vintage DIY books: The Complete Home Handywoman by Dawn Marsden and Alan Morgan (1977). I’ve included a couple of diagrams from the book to help you. Old vintage guides like this are a great resource for decorating ideas and techniques and can be picked up for pennies in secondhand book shops.

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The Complete Home Handywoman by Dawn Marsden and Alan Morgan (1977).

Note: I say decorator rather than designer because an interior designer works during the planning stage, often in conjunction with an architect, while an interior decorator approaches the already constructed room to decorate it in a pleasing way.

Step 1. Observe the Building

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Country Cottage / Victorian Townhouse / Twentieth Century Modern

Step back for a moment and look at you home as a piece of architecture. Is its interior in keeping with the building? The three interiors above are of very different styles. The first is a country cottage with original beams, the second a Victorian townhouse with original floor and doors, and the third is a twentieth century build with feature steps and ceiling. These buildings are beautiful in their own way but are treated differently. If you have a modern open plan house but are striving for a Victorian replica then you face an uphill struggle. Yes, it is certainly possible to follow any style in any building, however the result is better if you work with the building on its own terms.

Observe the time period, size, ceiling height, original features and finishes of your home and consider how to incorporate them into your plans. By starting with what is already there as an intrinsic part of the building you can begin to create a harmonious design that feels natural and authentic to itself. You will also make the most of any original features saving yourself time and money.

Step 2. Analyse Function

Once you have listened to the building, it is time to listen to those who live in it.img_0573-2 I once lived in a rented flat where the toilet was in a room so narrow that you had to sit sideways on it because you couldn’t fit yours knees in the gap between the bowl and the wall. This utter lack of interest in how the room would function resulted in it being both a constant annoyance and an eye sore.

These two diagrams are from The Complete Home Handywoman (1977). Here function is
paramount. The authors understand that the most beautiful kitchen in the world that is difficult to use is of no good to anyone. You can use similar thought processes to think through how you use your bathroom, bedroom/ dressing space or living room and design the room accordingly.

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Using Kitchen Work Flow in Kitchen Design.

Step 3. Think of Creative Solutions

Having done a lot of thinking about what is already there and what you need from the IMG_0582.JPGspace it is time to come up with some ideas. If you’ve ever watched any of those decorator programs on TV you know that the best rooms are those created specifically for the people who live in them. They  work fluidly around their users. Brainstorm how you want to use the room by listing needs in one column and solutions in the other.

For example, if you are designing a bedroom for a 10-year-old girl you want a space that can adapt and grow as she does. The desk below from The Container Store fits together with runners and brackets so that the height and layout can be adjusted as her needs change. In this picture the desk has been accessorised to make it look bright and colourful for a child, though it could just as easily be changed in line with more grownup teenage tastes. Rather than the three drawers on the left, a double height bin for keeping a school bag in may be more practical.

 

A desk that can be changed is perfect for a growing child or teenager. This freestanding adjustable Elfa System is from The Container Store.

Step 4. Map it Out

Now that you have a tonne of ideas about what you can do, get some construction paper (or an app) and start planning. You may want to go back and forth between steps 4 and 5 as you assemble your room. Don’t be afraid to have light fixtures and plug sockets moved by an electrician as it can really make a room work, though good planning is essential. In lieu of an electrician, try using lamps or dimmer smart-bulbs to adjust the lighting and zones of a room. The diagram below shows a living room with multiple zones marked out by different lighting. The grid helps create balance in the room by allowing easy alignment and planning.

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Living room planned out using a grid. The orange lines are light fixtures and directions. Note how distinct zones, each with a specific function, are created.

Step 5. Style, Colour and Texture

Now that we have a rough sketch of the room it is time to fill in the details. Look at interiors magazines, blogs, Pinterest and Polyvore for ideas. If there are any items of furniture or artwork that you know will be in the room then use  them as the starting point. Remember that furniture can be repainted, recovered or upcycled to give it a fresh look. Avoid using more than three colours in your colour palette to keep the room from getting too busy. One bold colour with two neutral tends to work well.

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Step 6. Home Cohesion

Having focused on an individual home we now go back to looking at the house as a whole. Good design should flow through the house. Try opening all of the doors and looking at the view that you get from one room into another. Ideally the rooms should invite you from one to another. Revisit your ideas board and see how it fits into the home. If it works off your observations of the house from step 1 then this itself will be a subtle theme running through the house. You can create this sense by repeating subtle features such as flooring or cornice throughout the building.

Step 7. Dressing (and Staging)

Every magazine or blog post image you see has been staged. What that means is that someone looked at it and tweaked it until it became the perfect shot. There is no reason why you can’t follow the same idea with your home. The trick is not to over clutter. Also grids. Grids underpin all design to one degree or another. The eye picks up on these small elements of alignment so they are worth the effort. In the image below grids are used to plan the arrangement of pictures on a wall and in the one below it furniture and lighting is planned using a grid.

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Picture layouts from The Complete Home Handywoman (1977).

Try looking at the advertising shots from your favourite stores for further inspiration. The image below is from Anthropology and though everything in it is fabulously expensive we can learn a lot. The large framed image leaning against the wall on top of a piece of furniture is very trendy right now. The bottle vase (thrift shops have these by the dozen) with two flowers is also easy to recreate. The stylist has repeated the gold touches from the furniture in the gold frame hanging on the wall to the left. The scene avoids looking cluttered by keeping the floor clear – there is no waste paper bin though this is a desk cabinet. Equally the colours in the decorations – gold, white, green and blue/ grey are taken directly from the palette of the walls, floor and furniture.

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Anthropology advertising shot.

When you see an image like this that catches you eye analyse it. What are the shapes? The colours? The textures? How are objects arranged? These scenes can be recreated with a little inventiveness and attention to detail.

Conclusion: Get Creative!

Pick a direction that you want to take a room and go for it. If you can’t find what you need to finish your room then make it yourself. Whether it be fuzzy cushion covers from thrift shop jumpers, or some home made wall art those personal touches make all the difference.

If you enjoyed this post then please subscribe and share it! Let me know in the comments below how you planned your home’s style.