A portrait of designer Ilse Crawford, sitting on the armrest of a grey armchair, surrounded by books, decorations and plants.

Ilse on timeless design for a sustainable life at home

A candle holder, a vase, or a plant pot is all about their utility for many people. And quite often, we don’t think too much about them. But then how about having a candle holder, a vase or a plant pot that not only serves its purpose but is also so beautiful that we never want to replace it. We sat down with British designer Ilse Crawford to know more about her new creations in collaboration with IKEA, which promise to be timeless, beautiful and reflect who we are.

Can a vase make the flowers we put into it more beautiful? Or can the fragrance of a candle become your gateway into your own cosy world? Ilse believes so. And that’s really what she is trying to design and create through her latest collaboration with IKEA. With this long-term collaboration, Ilse will be creating a range of functional, beautiful, and timeless home accessories, such as candle holders and scented candles, vases, and plant pots – to help turn our four walls into individual comfort zones. Her mission is to create products so elegant that one never wants to part ways with them.
“The inside of a building is where we live. We change and shift over time, but there are always things one might want to keep or reuse or that might have other lives on the second-hand market because they still have value,” says Ilse, who is also an academician and Creative Director of Studioilse in London.
Ilse Crawford in her studio.  

Ilse is speaking from experience. In 2015, IKEA launched SINNERLIG – the first-ever designer collaboration. The SINNERLIG pendant lamp is still in production and has become an icon product and continues to be a popular part of the IKEA range.

“Ilse Crawford challenges us as IKEA and as a team. Inspired by her design principles and aesthetics, together we can create something meaningful, that’s why we collaborate,” says Karin Gustavsson, Range and Design Leader at IKEA.

Create a world of your own

Creating things for the life at home has been Ilse’s talent since she was a child. She calls her childhood the first “school of arts”. Growing up with five siblings in England, Ilse’s says her mother encouraged her to make things with her own hands and create a world of her own.

“It was always our default. She was a very creative person, always making things. And that’s how we grew up making things. I grew up believing that if we wanted new wallpaper, we could paint them on our own. It’s always open to us to make our world,” says Ilse.

The SINNERLIG pendant lamp.

The accessories that she is creating with IKEA now are meant to help us personalize our homes – our own little world – with small bits designed in a classic, sustainable, and timeless way that are affordable too.

“Through our products, we aspire to make everyday life at home special. We tend to focus a lot on materiality and tactility and create products that are so appealing that you wouldn’t want to throw them away,” she adds.

Centre around human needs

Ilse’s designs centre around human needs and the meaning of things. For example, when designing for a home, she and her team at Studioilse focus on the everyday activities, no matter how small, of the people using that space. So, if one loves flowers, the new collection has vases that will elevate the flowers. But without the flowers too, the vase will continue to be equally aesthetically appealing because it is designed so beautifully.

“Design is a way of embedding values, not a price tag. I love those things that when you show them to people, they wouldn’t know whether it costs £5 or £50. I love that moment when they get a bit confused because, in the end, design is universal.”

Sustainability is also a consideration in the products Ilse is designing together with IKEA, not just their life span. Ilse aims to use responsible and sustainable materials while marrying them with high-quality designs.

“We are proud of the fact that 50 per cent of the range is in recycled glass and unglazed terracotta, both fully sustainable materials, for vases and candle holders, and plant pots” says Ilse.

To be sure, her studio had several of them on the day we met her digitally.

“Both IKEA and Ilse Crawford strive for creating more sustainable products. For IKEA, sustainability is one of the five dimensions of Democratic Design – the way we develop products as IKEA – which makes it an integrated part of product development. One concrete example from the upcoming range is the beautiful vases, where we worked with recycled glass from the glass industry,” says Karin.



What makes for a good interior design, according to you?

“In my view, good interiors are well-lived-in spaces because they reflect and support the people who live there. Our role is often to help people understand how they live and sometimes even to figure out how the life of a family or the couple fits into a space together in a way that makes sense. Sometimes it’s advantageous to have somebody to get you thinking – how do you live in your home, or what are the things you touch or use every day? Sometimes things don’t add up because we aren’t honest with ourselves about how we really live and the things that matter to us,” says Ilse.

Designer products have a bit of exclusivity. How will you marry that with the IKEA value of ‘for the many people’?

“I feel it’s unfortunate that that design has been treated as a synonym for exclusivity. I don’t think that’s what it is. I think of design as an approach. It’s a verb, not a noun. We have done many projects – community kitchen, health centre, extremely high-end projects – but our approach never changes. The context and the budgets vary, but our approach is the design methodology and our desire to embed humanity in all our work.

With IKEA, we have shared values, a humanistic approach, and a passion for design. IKEA brings economies of scale. If something is made in ones and twos, they would be prohibitively expensive. But with IKEA, it is interesting to see how we can create affordable, useful, beautiful, timeless things at a large scale and sustainably. It is possible,” says Ilse.

How does sustainability fit into your designs?

“We are trying to ensure that these products are not just better in terms of aesthetics, usability and elevate interiors but are also superior in terms of the materials and sustainability. Alongside responsible materials and manufacturing, design is what will make the difference. If people want to keep these products and love them, that is sustainable. Disposability is a mindset,” says Ilse.

The first results from this collaboration will be in stores in October 2021. IKEA will launch more products over time.