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Frame for life

Thoughts on interior design


One of the most widely cited definitions of wellbeing is as follows: “wellbeing can be understood as how people feel and how they function both on a personal and social level, and how they evaluate their lives as a whole.”  Read more

I learned as a child that design was a potent, magical thing.
My mother was a gynaecologist, and I spent a lot of time in her hospital after school, observing the significant impact the hospital's design had on all its inhabitants—not only the patients but also, just as importantly, the visitors and staff. In big, factory-like wards, everyone felt like a stranger. People weren't themselves in such a context. With carefully design, this hospital could have been a different story: it could bring out the best in us, be convivial, ground us, and slow us down. I've never understood why interior design is often so underestimated and misunderstood.

Twenty years later, I discovered one of the most influential interior designers Ilse Crawford. I am not only inspired by her projects for IKEA, Aesop, and Ett Hem, but also by her design principles and approach, which fundamentally changed me as a designer: "Good interior design is always about more than the way things look; it's about ensuring that the human experience is prioritised when we build. It's about human happiness and well-being. It's about making life better. After all, inside buildings is where we live."


Ett Hem, Situated on Östermalm. At Ett Hem spaces are inhabited by objects and art with real stories and histories, that frame moments in a life.


Over the last decades, through her work with Studioilse and teaching, she has developed an agenda of working to create design that is a frame for life, a design that starts with human experience, to address sustainability from a practical standpoint rather than as an add-on. This means building projects with longevity, making sure the work can be easily adapted for change of use.

The studio manifests this through design that makes buildings, spaces, brands and furniture that are warm, not “cool”. They are interested in how design affects us, integrating design with human behaviour, starting from the point of view of the individual. The studio looks at a project from physical and emotional perspectives, practical and poetic, individual and social before creating a design that engages us emotionally, subliminally and sensorially, as to make a place that enhances life and enables us to thrive. A place that people love. You can design the most incredible place and yet it requires people to make it a reality.

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“When we first approach a project we always hold off what our opinion is, so we ask questions, we watch a lot, we listen. ”

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A home

Tasked with converting an Arts and Crafts era house in the Larkstaden district of Stockholm into a hotel. Studioilse’s starting point was to bring life back to the building as a home, rather than as a hotel.

Ett Hem is in the build built in 1913, which was a really important time in Swedish architectural history because the home became the focus for arts and life. The everyday was something that was celebrated and delightful. So one of the core principles was moving away from opulent luxury to a notion that luxury is attention, it’s care. It’s actually making the ordinary extraordinary .

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Ett Hem, Situated on Östermalm.

“Typically, a building process is a sequence of decisions, we wanted to integrate the experience of the place with the design from the very beginning. To make a place where the minute you walked in, you just felt relaxed and as though you belonged.
A home.”

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It’s more about the things you do, rather than the way things look, and how to create a proper focus for those. Those are the moment that make it all worthwhile. In Denmark, they call that hygge. To focus on the moment, on making the ordinary extraordinary, making the normal special. But what happens when we do that is it makes us much more open to each other and much closer. And it’s a really interesting way of building community. Caring about the details, thinking about how people will experience the place. People understand the care that’s gone into that.


Design that
can be smelt
heard and felt

One of the qualities that distinguishes Ilse’s work from other interior designers is that how we experience a room and how we ourselves feel in a room to satisfy the subconscious.

For Aesop’s first store in UK, Ilse was tasked with communicating the values of this Australian skincare brand into a retail concept that also made sense in the location.

“The founder said the thing about skin care that made the difference was not just what was in the product, but the ritual of daily maintenance. So we put a sink in the middle of the store. The notion of taking care of yourself elevated through design.”

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The Mount Street entrance under wraps

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 The Aesop store was conceived at a time when physical retail was being challenged by the convenience of online shopping. As such, providing an experience for the shopper was more crucial than ever. The shop needed to connect with the customer on subliminal and sensorial level. The design had to carry these qualities through to the other four senses, succinctly underwriting the brand values of Aesop while at the same time elevating the experience to something beyond simply shopping

“I really do want well-being, in the sense of physical and emotional health, to affect as many people as possible, which is why I write the book and why I teach, I hope that it’s contagious.”

Design Academy Eindhoven in Eindhoven, Netherlands.


The department of Man and Well-being, which Ilse founded at the design Academy Eindhoven in 2000 has a startlingly simple mission - look at design as something that can improve the sum of human happiness on an individual and social scale. How design can affect us as human beings, which means considering such issues as awareness, the senses, design that connect us to each other or that helps us to be active and so on.

“We don’t indoctrinate our students, we nurture them to think for themselves. A well-being student is able to see things, places and experiences that need change and then design with a cool head and a warm heart - that is, combining reason with empathy.

“It’s really about having these lively dialogues and then giving them the tool kits to be able to develop their own voice. Wellbeing is now a philosophy that’s permeating a lot of design. My fundamental hope is that everybody starts to think in terms of putting people first and that’s something can be done on an individual basis. When you prioritise the human needs within a space, design can have a profound impact. I hope that we can add to the sum of human happiness, to leave the world a better place.”

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The End


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