Ilse Crawford answers a few questions on interior design, inspiration, and process—using her thumbs.
Job description: Creative director, designer, brand maker, writer, teacher
Current projects: A new restaurant for the Grand Hotel, in Stockholm; a wellness hotel in Germany; working with the charity Notting Hill Housing to make affordable housing better; a reinvention of the inn for a client in Britain; an identity and carpets for a Turkish company
First step on a project: Listening for the core of the project
Last step on a project: Watching people be happy with it
How do you break a creative block? Sometimes you can be kind of stuck, and you just scan the library and think, Aha!
Why do you do what you do? I love to see the effect design has when it engages people.
Education: My parents: a radical economist (left brain) and an artist (right brain)
Mentors: People who have put the human being in the center of design: from Josef Frank to Lidewij Edelkoort (not a designer, but an amazing person) and Peter Zumthor.
World-saving mission: We can only address what’s immediately around us, and if everybody did that well, it would already be progress.
First act as “design czar”: I think it’s a pretty horrendous idea.
Dream team: I’m working with my dream team really. I’m also very lucky because I have a design department at Eindhoven, so I get to develop individuals and then hire them.
Office chair: We have some incredibly comfortable Soft Pads and some very hard chairs, and I end up sitting in the hard chairs more often than not. There’s obviously something going on subconsciously—it must be the Protestant inside me.
Office sound track: Laughter. I think happiness is a habit.
Favorite tchotchke: A small ring my mother gave me when I was sixteen. I never take it off in case I break the spell.
Most useful tool: Empathy—not just with the client but also with the purpose of the project. The Soho House, in New York, for example: How could you turn that building into a narrative, a special world?
Best place to think: I run as often as I can, in the mornings by the river.
Current read: Bernard Rudofsky, the study on him that came out just now. He’s fascinating because he was a Modernist but was very uncomfortable with what he saw as the stylistic solution of the Bauhaus—and what became the International Style: if it looked functional, it was functional—whereas his feeling was that architecture and design are really about improving the quality of daily life.
Old standby: A great floor: it’s the one thing we touch all the time, and it’s not considered enough in projects. It’s something you have a strong sensual contact with.
Something new: I went to this extraordinary theater experience a couple of weeks ago by a company called Punchdrunk. You get thrown into an environment where you have to discover the set and the actors. In fact, you have to discover the plot.
Guilty pleasure: I’m not really a guilty sort, actually.
Favorite space: The Pantheon, in Rome, where you have that amazing connection to the outside. I love the Schindler house, in Los Angeles, with the sleeping decks on the roof. And, of course, home: Vincent Van Duysen did the architecture, and the rest was done by me.
Overrated: You can overwhelm something with too much information.
Learned the hard way: Walking away from projects when the quality’s not there
Command-Z (undo): Packaging. The thing itself is nearly always ten times better looking than the thing that is applied to it.
Dream job: I have some pretty good ones.