London design: Top drawer

Design queen Ilse Crawford reveals her favourite London haunts, from quirky shops and markets to a brasserie with seats ‘stolen’ from a Sydney train.

British designer Ilse Crawford knows a thing or two about shopping in London. As the founding editor of UK magazine Elle Decoration and former vice president of Donna Karan Home in New York, Crawford has always had an unerring eye for the beautiful – whether an exquisite antique piece spotted in an old train station or a bright, bold and new design. Now she’s heading up her own company, Studioilse, which specialises in ‘modern and emotional design’. Crawford has clocked up an impressive CV – mostly hotel and restaurant interiors, including those belonging to the Soho House group, such as Soho House New York (yes, the hotel with that rooftop pool featured in Sex and the City), Babington House near Bath, and Cecconi’s, a famous London restaurant dating back to 1978. She’s constantly on the lookout for striking pieces to bring her designs to life, and has a handful of secret stores in the capital where she seeks them out. Here, Crawford reveals her London top 10 – from her favourite shopping haunts and restaurants to local markets and personal hangouts. Studioilse, 4th Floor, 41 Great Guildford St, London, +44 20 7928 0550,

Ilse’s London top 10

  1. Labour and Wait

Cheshire Street, just off Brick Lane in the East End, has gone through waves of refugees, from the French Huguenots who built the houses there to Jewish refugees, then the Bengalis. The area is a curious mix of Bengali and cool, and just raw enough to give things a go. This shop is a particular vision of a hardware store, selling things from enamel dustpans to wooden pencil boxes. If you’ve ever fantasised about hardware stores (and I do), this is a nice interpretation of hardware updated, and done sexy. The look is very British and utility, which I like, too. It’s that make-do-and-mend-thing where your uncle might have balls of string in the shed, just in case.

18 Cheshire St, London, +44 20 7729 6253,, open Sat-Sun.

  1. **Borderline

**It’s in a horrific place – Chelsea Harbour Design Centre – but Sally Baring, the woman who runs Borderline, sells wonderful handmade block prints, including designs by Enid Marx and fabulous Australian designer Florence Broadhurst. I find Broadhurst’s story amazing – that she went from being a singer in China in the 20s to a wallpaper designer before being murdered mysteriously. I really like her bold, geometric designs and she’s produced a formidable range which has become quite iconic. I’ve used her designs in New York at Soho House. You’ve probably seen them, her fabric and wallpapers are very popular now and Borderline is a great place to view them – they still look very fresh. Unit 12, 3rd Floor, Chelsea Harbour Design Centre, London, +44 20 7823 3567,

  1. **Caravan

**This is a little shop built into the rejuvenated Old Spitalfields Market. It’s run by an English art school student-turned-shopkeeper called Emily Chalmers, who’s also an interior designer. She’s done incredibly well selling clothes and homewares, and is always wearing amazing self-made clothes – dresses made of parachute silk, for example, with an ‘I just ran it up out the back’ kind of look, which I love. There are lots of fun objects for sale, such as plastic Chinese birds that sing, tea sets and chandeliers. It’s Portobello Market in a way, but moved on: inventive, funny and beautiful all at the same time. 11 Lamb St, London, +44 20 7247 6467,

  1. **SCP

**This furniture showroom is owned by manufacturer Sheridan Coakley, who always does modern English with great integrity. He deserves special mention because the modern furniture industry is dominated by Italian manufacturers, with notable mentions for a few Swedes and Finns. Coakley concentrates on British design and was the first to work with designers such as Jasper Morrison and Matthew Hilton. Today he has pieces by Russell Pinch. He took risks, which very few companies in Britain have done. He has also worked with Bute Fabrics from Scotland and repositioned their traditional fabrics as perfect for modern upholstery. This helped change perceptions of a generations-old Scottish family fabric company and encouraged people to use British fabrics. 135-139 Curtain Rd, London, +44 20 7739 1869,

  1. **High Road House

**I designed this latest brasserie, bar, club and hotel for the Soho House group. Australian commuters may find the seats familiar; I was in Sydney a while ago working on a project for an old railwaymen’s club institute, but then the funding fell through so it never happened. In the process, I took lots of photos of old trains piled up everywhere at the Sydney train depot. I particularly liked the train seat design and copied it to use in the brasserie. The lights were made by the same people who do the lights for the Greek church in London’s Bayswater, the tiles came from Belgium and the other chairs are a German café design. High Road House, 162-164 Chiswick High Rd, London, +44 20 8742 1717,

  1. Brindisa and El Vergel

My husband, Oscar Peña, is Colombian, so we both love eating Colombian food, which has a strong Spanish influence. I like to shop at Brindisa, which sells fine Spanish goods at Borough Market. They sell wonderful chorizo, those little Padrón peppers that you pop under the grill and lots of chickpeas, too. For eating out, we go to a tiny Chilean café, El Vergel, near us – it’s one of the best in London. The food tastes like it’s from a family kitchen. The daily dish at El Vergel is the best thing – you might get chicken on Mondays, black beans and rice on Tuesdays or pastel de choclo (a traditional Chilean baked dish of layered spicy mince, roast chicken and corn) on Fridays. The empanadas are delicious – real conquistador stuff with pine nuts and sultanas. The rest of the menu includes variations on corn, re-fried beans and very fresh salads. It’s incredibly simple, just a kitchen with a few tables, and is very affordable. It’s run by Stella de Garcia and she opens and shuts when she feels like it.

Brindisa, Borough Market, +44 20 7407 1036,

El Vergel, 8 Lant St, London, +44 20 7357 0057,

  1. **Wapping Food

**This former power station in east London has been lightly restored by its loving owner, Jules Wright, into a smart restaurant called Wapping Food. She’s done it up as little as possible, keeping the rawness and history of the building, but also adding modern furniture. It’s a huge empty space. In England people tend to think something is either traditional or modern, and forget that time is a line and there isn’t a wall between old and new. I’m more interested in examining identity as a way of looking at things. Buildings and objects have a past and a future, and I think Wapping Food represents this very well. It’s a really interesting space and they serve modern Antipodean-influenced food. The wine list is Australian, too, with bottles that can be bought to take away. Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, Wapping Wall, London, +44 20 7680 2080.

  1. Borough Market

For all its trendiness, this leading food market is still dark and Dickensian. Rumour has it the pickpockets are as busy as ever – these days they’re girls on Vespas run by a blind Fagin-like granny. It’s a good technique because girls burrow around in their bags all the time and never get questioned, and everyone here carries cash. So beware. But it’s worth it. I do my weekly shop at Fern Verrow Vegetables. It’s a biodynamic farm in Herefordshire and its stall looks like a chunk of transplanted meadow. The growers are into all that picking-by-moonlight Dr Hauschka stuff, which must work because everything tastes great. As it’s all seasonal, in the winter they don’t have much except potatoes. 8 Southwark St, London, +44 20 7407 1002,, open Thu 11am-5pm, Fri noon-6pm, Sat 9am-4pm.

  1. Petersham Nurseries

This maverick nursery with a restaurant attached from Aussie chef Skye Gyngell is a dreamy place that serves really delicious food. I don’t drive, so I get the train to Richmond, then take a beautiful 20-minute walk along the River Thames. I like everything about these nurseries, partly because I like the idea of taking something which is already great and then dropping something new into place. It’s an old plant nursery that has been regenerated under new owners, a wealthy couple, as a hobby. It is hugely atmospheric and has a restaurant/cafe in the greenhouse where you can eat all year round; a lot of it is organic and some of it is even grown there. I love everything about it, from the unpretentious tables to the sky and the plants. It’s incredibly thought through, but in such a way that you don’t notice. Off Petersham Rd, Richmond, +44 20 8605 3627,

  1. The River Thames

I like places that make London London. Even now I still get a thrill from walking along the Embankment or crossing Waterloo Bridge. There is no green on my south side of the river – I live in Borough – so I think of the river as my park. It changes all the time; it’s a moody beast. I love the string of light bulbs along the riverside too – you can’t decorate a city better. And the benches on the Embankment are quite beautiful. They all have cast-iron legs designed to look like camel legs and are spectacular. I’m a runner, so I regularly run from home to the Houses of Parliament and back again; the pavements are surprisingly quiet. That particular bit is so pretty and, with the views, it is also so very London.

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