Ilse Crawford’s Bermondsey and beyond

The founding editor of Elle Decoration in the UK now heads Studio Ilse, the award-winning design company behind interiors for Soho House Group, Cecconi’s and Duddell’s in Hong Kong

Image: Steve Double

My husband Oscar works in the Netherlands during the week and comes home on Friday night. We have a Saturday-morning ritual: we make coffee on the stove and spend time trying to make sense of our diaries. We travel an absurd amount, so we plan ahead. We might suddenly discover we’ll both be in Shanghai at the same time.

After coffee, we’ll head out to the local markets. I have lived in Bermondsey, in what I think of as the real old city of London, for 12 years and the area still has the smell, if you like, of the theatres and bear pits, the prisons and prostitutes. It used to be the larder of London and the markets maintain that connection.

If we have been doing a lot of long-haul flying, we might go for a massage. I don’t go in for pampering spa treatments; we head to the Borough Market Therapy Rooms for an appointment with Mustafa Baygun, who is more of a sports masseur. He really unknots you; it’s twist-your-knee-behind-your-head stuff.

Then we’ll shop for groceries. We’ll go to Wild Beef at Borough Market for meat and Chegworth Valley [pictured] for fruit. We head to the Maltby Street area, which is changing fast, but there’s a nice energy. It’s been colonised by the next generation: Coleman Coffee Roasters is fantastic and Jack Coleman, who runs it, grew up above Monmouth Coffee. There’s a wine bar, 40 Maltby Street, co-owned by Raef Hodgson, whose parents run Neal’s Yard Dairy and also Monmouth Coffee. It’s one of my favourite places in the world. It’s not fine dining, but the food is sophisticated and always delicious – there might be a chicken pie or celeriac with mustard leaves. The chef, Steve Williams, used to work in Michelin-starred kitchens before cooking from this railway arch.


In the afternoon, we might go into Soho to see Oscar’s friend, the tailor John Pearse; Oscar hasn’t bought anything off the peg for 10 years. I love the atmosphere: the fabric swatches and books and the beautiful materials. I almost never buy clothes in London, but sometimes John will run up something for me; recently, it was a wonderful dress coat.

Then we’ll go home to watch television. Oscar has an inexplicable love of old cowboy movies, which I pretend not to watch. Later, we’ll have people round for dinner. It is never very organised – it’s about friends bringing friends, and Oscar always cooks. When we got married he brought all his saucepans with him and told me that mine were inferior. I’m responsible for greens, though.

Sundays are my favourite day in the city. I like to get up and go for a run along the river and clockwise around Southwark Park, which is usually empty. It’s stunning, with a delightful old bandstand. Then I’ll come home, scrub up and we’ll go to local galleries. White Cube is amazing: it’s like an alien spacecraft has dropped into the street and it has made Londoners realise that Bermondsey isn’t as far away as they thought. The recent Darren Almond show there was fantastic. I also like the South London Gallery in Peckham, which is very beautiful, with a lovely café and excellent exhibitions.

For lunch, we might go to Zucca with friends. I like the tapas bar José, too, also on Bermondsey Street. It’s a small but robust and authentic place, with a chalkboard menu and list of sherries.


The evening is often set aside to catch up on the phone with people around the world. But there is more and more going on in London on a Sunday night: I recently went to the Secret Yoga Club, a pop-up class in different locations around the city. This one was at the RA – it’s a wonderful experience to see a show through your legs.

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