For Studioilse, the design partnership led by celebrated British designer Ilse Crawford and her husband, industrial designer Oscar Peña, every collaboration draws strength from the couple’s complementary ethos.
“We have a different approach to design,” Crawford explains. “Mine is very focused on the human experience and how that manifests through interior architecture and design in residential and commercial projects. Oscar is more focused on the products themselves, how they function, the materiality, and how this all works together in the bigger system of manufacturing.”
Peña agrees. “Ilse is keen on how things feel and work within a space. I focus on functionality, manufacturability, and how things are made,” he says. “I find great joy from being in factories.”
Crawford’s approach evolved from her experience as a design journalist. After a stint at the Architect’s Journal, Crawford became the founding editor of ELLE Decoration in 1989. She met Peña when she joined the Design Academy Eindhoven, where he led the Man of Activity curriculum; Crawford founded and led the Man and Wellbeing programme.
Before joining Studioilse full-time in 2015, Colombian-born Peña was the Global Senior Creative Director at Philips Design Lighting. His interest in product design stems back to his early 20s when he took a summer internship with longtime Herman Miller collaborator, Bill Stumpf. “Bill taught me how to see design,” Peña reminisces. Through Stumpf, Peña learned to experience the materiality and physicality of objects “by feeling them and making them and really understanding their behaviour”.
Crawford and Peña’s shared respect for the human experience is at the front and centre of every project Studioilse takes on. “Ultimately, design is a tool to enhance our humanity,” Crawford says. “The things and spaces we make shape our culture, our character and our behaviours. They are three-dimensional stories.” Together with their London-based team, Studioilse supports and enhances people’s lives and behaviours by facilitating human connection and bringing people together.
Studioilse seeks to balance commission-based projects with those that include a social dimension. On the one hand, clients include Ett Hem Hotel in Sweden; the Pier First and Business Class Airline Lounge in Hong Kong; Soho House, New York; Wästberg; and a sustainable collection for Ikea. And on the other, Studioilse’s focus on bringing beauty and dignity to the social care sector is put into practice at the community kitchen, Refettorio Felix, at St. Cuthbert’s Centre in London – a space that addresses those who experience isolation and homelessness.
“Ultimately, design is a tool to enhance our humanity.”
- Ilse Crawford