Q&A with Ilse Crawford on her First Class creation, The Pier

As the London-based design royal behind StudioIlse, Ilse Crawford talks us through her latest creation, Cathay Pacific’s new First Class airline lounge in Hong Kong, The Pier


How would you sum up the design of The Pier in a nutshell?

We took a domestic approach with our concept, dividing different areas into rooms, each accessible off a central hallway, as you might find in an apartment.

We wanted people to feel at home here.


What are your favourite features of The Pier?

Working with small, brilliant furniture and lighting companies that are experts in their fields was a real honour and gave us much more scope to produce interesting features.

We were able to create quality pieces that don’t just look and feel great, but will last and in some cases even improve over time.

The day suites for instance are a special thing – private timber-clad couchettes with thick linen curtains and views over the runway. Our idea was to provide a moment of privacy, quiet and calm allowing travellers to slow down.

We also designed these wooden side tables for the lounge area with integrated USB plugs and sockets so you can easily recharge your devices. One of my pet hates in airports (and so many public spaces) is having to scrabble around on your knees to find a socket. I think this is a tidy, helpful solution.


What aspects of other airport lounges were you trying to avoid?

There’s been a tendency in lounge design – and so many public space design – to think of luxury experiences as something aesthetic.

They tend to have wow factor in broad strokes but rarely do they address human needs and feel as good in reality as they look.

We wanted to make people feel as good as humanly possible in The Pier. We wanted to make them feel healthy with good fresh food and to ground them in rooms with natural materials, considered lighting, lots of plants and beautiful, comfortable furniture.

Above all we wanted to create somewhere that didn’t just take airport lounges as benchmarks; we wanted to create somewhere that was high quality whatever its context – airport, city centre, hotel, restaurant, wherever.


What were some of the biggest obstacles you had to overcome when planning The Pier?

Building in an airport is tricky because of all the added rules and regulations. Trying to create somewhere that feels high quality, filled with natural materials, in an environment that is extremely functional and cold (and really rather unnatural) is a challenge too.

The lounge also has a very high footfall, so trying to create spaces that feel friendly and comfortable but are super robust and easy to operate, was crucial. We really didn’t want to design a lounge that feels transitory or institutional.


As a guest, not a designer, what were the highlights of the experience for you?

Seeing passengers inhabit it as we hoped they would. The feedback we have had from so many people has been heartwarming.

When we finish a project it is really just the start of its life and you always hope as a designer that it has life breathed into it by the people who use it – to put it bluntly: that it works.


Any plans to design future additions, renovations or other lounge openings?

Prior to The Pier First Class, we worked on Cathay’s lounges in Tokyo Haneda, Bangkok and Manila.

We are now working on The Pier Business Class, Heathrow in London, Vancouver and Taipei.