After a history degree at Bedford College, London University, she worked in an architects firm and for the Architects Journal before being chosen as the launch editor of Elle Decoration and then the short-lived Bare magazine. In 1998, she left to work for Donna Karan soon moving on to designing interiors, and setting up her own design studio, StudioIlse, in London in 2001. In 2000, Crawford founded the Man and Well-Being department at the Design Academy in the Netherlands. In 2003, she established the interiors firm Studio Ilse, which designed the Soho House club in New York, Babington House, the Electric Cinema, and the Hong Kong restaurant Duddell’s, as well as pieces for Georg Jensen and IKEA. She worked on the Soho House in collaboration with Harman Jablin Architects. While keeping the exterior and backbones of the 45,000 square foot building, Crawford worked to redesign the warehouse into a funky club, with 24 hotel rooms, a restaurant, three bars, a private screening room and more. The Soho House was featured on Sex and the City. Crawford was profiled in the first season of the Netflix docu-series Abstract: The Art of Design.
Crawford strives to infuse design—in both the visible and physical sense—with what she calls emotional values. She's more focused on life than on style, she says: "When I look at making spaces, I don't just look at the visual. I'm much more interested in the sensory thing, in thinking about it from the human context, the primal perspective, the thing that touches you." She is also attuned to how quality affects life on an everyday basis.
lIse Crawford advocates the view that in order to dwell within a space it must embody a true sense of home. A home should have soul, something metaphorically akin to an embrace. Humans are emotional and intelligent beings and as such need to connect with their spaces. Crawford sees the functional as significant, but it is not the driver in her thinking on design. Her work encompasses life elements such as warmth, food, tactility, adaptability and emotion. She observes: “It’s important that a space works with people, that it’s flexible. I don’t like spaces that are so perfect that you can’t adapt to them”