Oscar Peña and Ilse Crawford at their Bermondsey studio.
In the run up to the Milan Salone 2022, SCP's Editor Duncan Riches visited StudioIlse to talk furniture and working lives with Ilse Crawford & Oscar Peña.
On a blustery day in early April, I take a cycle ride down to Bermondsey to make my way to StudioIlse. It’s situated in an old industrial building, just at the end of the street where SCP’s warehouse used to be. Up on the third floor, in a large main space with windows on all sides the quiet work of the studio is going on.
It has a workshop feel, with samples and a workbench at one end of the space, a library at the other, and a kitchen and main working table in between. Off to the sides are two meeting rooms, one formal, one less so, it is in the latter that I sit down to talk over coffee with Ilse and Oscar.
View from the east side of the studio.
Somewhere to sit by a window.
Can you tell me about the studio, how did you come to be here?
“What’s nice about the studio is that it’s really a workshop. We’ve got a presentation coming up in a few weeks, and it’s like, okay, we’ll take the table out, we’ll put all the samples here, we kind of build it up and take it down. Which is great, we’ve got lots of space to roll our sleeves up. We’ve been in this building a very long time, originally on the ground floor. And essentially we are in this building because I fell in love with this building walking by. We saw a for sale sign, and followed it up, and sure enough, it was indeed for sale and had been for a very long time.”
I understand that you moved to this space upstairs during lockdown. Is that right?
“Yes. Life moved on and Covid came, and the previous incumbent of this place (upstairs) was an old masters restoration studio, and they had been here since the 70s. And he retired and asked us if we wanted to take it on. And we said yes. We needed something that was more workshop based. So now we have a hybrid way of working. We were thinking about it before Covid, and that really reinforced it. So that’s really turned our working processes, not inside out, because we’ve always been very hands on, very materials driven, but elbowing out the monitors and making the physical aspect of what we do, not just with materials, but with each other, the purpose of our studio. And it’s lovely. And it means when people are here, they are really here together. The other days it’s more head downs stuff.”
"We're elbowing out the monitors and making the physical aspect of what we do, not just with materials, but with each other, the purpose of our studio. And it's lovely."
Part of the reading library.
Part of the materials library.
Is there a particular rhythm to the week?
“Yes, Monday, Friday is head down day. It doesn’t mean there is no heads down on the other days, but when we are all together that is when we have all our catch-ups and work on presentations, this is on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.”
“It’s kind of mandatory to come in on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.”
“Creativity is not only a solo act, it’s a collective act, and when you are building big projects, it’s important. It’s amazing how fast you go when you are together. But go faster when you are together, means you need that time apart. It’s both. And we find that it’s perhaps the happiest the studio has ever been.”
“We always have lunch together on Wednesdays.”
"Creativity is not only a solo act, it's a collective act, and when you are building big projects, it's important."
Is it more social now?
“Yes, there are things like we don’t have headphones in the studio anymore. We’ve got a soundproofed room for video meetings, which is great, because it makes a big difference. When you’ve got big project teams on a call, it used to slightly take over the whole space. And we have here (a small separate meeting room with two armchairs and a couple of chairs, nice windows, a work bench), which means we can have chats. It’s magic this room.”
“Before we didn’t really have a private space. We had a kind of conference room made out of glass, but then there were times when in there you couldn’t really have comfortable conversations, people in the studio could see inside.”
Are there any more plans for the studio now?
“This is the plan.”
“Life is what happens when you are making other plans. I think the plan is to make this work really well, which it is. So it’s built on this. It’s just interesting how the world is reshaping, and how projects are working. I am really happy with the 3/2 split, it means I get the things I have to do out of the way, it’s not my favourite bit, but at least it is done and not hanging over us. But it also means potentially on Friday’s we can run some kind of workshops in the studio. Which is a great opportunity. I have been thinking about it and there are a whole gamut of people I would love to invite to come in. Not just for the studio, but it could be just a nice moment to host good discussions around things, and it’s a great location. We are now working out how to make the most of what we have. That’s my kind of mindset.”
Bruno armchairs, "sofas for one".
The Bruno chair has now been further developed and is being presented at the Milan Salone as part of SCP’s 2022 Collection. Can you explain what updates there have been to the chair since it was launched as a prototype in 2021.
“One kind of important adjustment was the seating, the seat was too soft. You were feeling some of the front structure of the chair. So we added some more padding in the seat, just to make sure it was a little more tense, so you have a nice kind of curvature as well. It will sink less, it will make it more firm. Also a feature of the back we wanted to adjust was that it was too straight, we wanted to make it a little more soft, and also on the side there are some transfers parts which we wanted to put a radius on to make it softer. There are just minor details, but the overall dimensions pretty much stayed the same.”
"It's not a chair to look at, it's a chair to sit on."
Can you explain the fabric choices you made for the Milan pieces?
“For Milan we selected some new fabrics, well for the exhibition, but also partly just trying to think through what this chair might be in a space. We don’t necessarily see it as a super visible chair. You know, the “pop of colour” idea is not relevant here. It’s really a colour that in some way accentuates its curves, but we do see it more as not a background piece exactly, but not a hero piece. It’s not a chair to look at, it’s a chair to sit on.”
The Bruno chair, photography by Beth Evans, styling by Sania Pell.
A big thank you to Ilse and Oscar for welcoming us to their studio and taking the time to talk.