The Evolving Public Space

Oct. 16, 2017

As interiors+sources takes a look at the growing role of public spaces in today’s design sphere, the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) provides perspective with the help of one of our interior designer members. Elizabeth Von Lehe, Allied ASID, is director of Strategy and Concept Design at ICRAVE, where she and her team have worked on public space projects ranging from airports to our own ASID NeoCon experience. We talked to Von Lehe about the most important public space features, where the sector is headed, and her favorite project features.

ASID: Tell us a little about yourself and your history with the design world and ASID.Elizabeth Von Lehe (EVL): I’ve been in the design world since 2005, when I started in product design for Target. In 2010, I moved into the interiors world and started with ICRAVE (and joined ASID) shortly after that. At ICRAVE, we think of ourselves as experience designers who combine physical, digital, and even operational touch points, all of which play particularly well into public spaces. 

ASID: What are some of the more challenging public spaces you worked on, and what design approaches did you take to overcome any difficulties?EVL: We’ve worked on quite a few airports and they always present an interesting challenge full of difficult design decisions. Airports are utilitarian spaces but they are such massive public areas that they allow interior designers to affect probably the greatest volume of people out of all of their projects. Thinking about this mass of users really inspired us to change the paradigm of what a public space could be. For example, for the Delta terminal at LaGuardia Airport in New York, we thought about the feelings associated with flying—the anxiety, the stress, the crowds—and used design to shift this. Therefore, instead of feeling packed with all of your fellow travelers into a single eating area in the terminal, you can order a mimosa from an iPad steps from your gate. 

ASID: You also partnered with ASID for our experiential space at NeoCon 2017. What was your approach to designing that sort of “pop-up” public space?EVL: NeoCon is such a crazy experience, so for the ASID booth I tried to create a stop for people to relax, gather, and have meaningful conversations—a place where they could step aside from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the show. In addition, a current trend in public spaces is setting up that “Instagrammable moment,” so we worked with local Chicago artisans to create the “Design Impacts Lives” neon sign that really drew people in as they walked by and encouraged them to interact with the space. 

ASID: Speaking of themes, what are you noticing in public spaces today, and where do you see them headed in the future?EVL: Beyond the design community, I think developers are really grasping the importance of public spaces and are engaging designers earlier in the process to make for an effective building strategy. Many buildings, particularly in urban settings, were designed for a workforce that doesn’t exist anymore. Now, developers are employing designers from the start to think about what these new amenities look like and how existing spaces can be retrofitted to meet these modern demands. In general, public spaces hold a different meaning nowadays because of the way we’re living. People’s lives happen between workplaces and public spaces; they are using them as an extension of their own spaces. It’s up to us as designers to, in the words of ASID, make design impact lives. Public spaces are not meant to be looked at; they are meant to be lived in. I think that stretches beyond trends into a new way of living and designing. 

Tim Schelfe, FASID, CID, CAPS, is the 2017-18 chair of the American Society of Interior Designers Board of Directors. He is also a managing partner, co-owner, and director of interior design for JDavis, a multidisciplinary design firm serving the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions. Learn more about ASID at

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