Elish Warlop

U.S.A. (1977)
From as far back as she can recall, Elish Warlop wanted to be an architect. “I always loved art – mostly drawing, building blocks – and making forts for my sister and me.” When she was 10, her family built a new house. “My father had a booklet an inch thick on how he wanted it done,” she says. “I remember meeting with an architect, seeing the plans, watching the construction. I think that definitely influenced me in later life.”

She was born Elizabeth Frances Warlop, after her two grandmothers, but her nickname soon became “Elish” (pronounced like “delish” without the “d”), a shortened form of “Eilish,” Gaelic for Elizabeth. Growing up in North Smithfield, Rhode Island, the family lived only a dozen miles or so from the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. Encouraged by her mother and father, a high-school teacher and a large-equipment salesman, respectively, she took art classes there each summer and gradually assembled a portfolio that would take her to Cornell University, where in 2000 she earned her bachelor’s degree in architecture.

At that point, she seemed headed for a career in architecture, but circumstances would shift the focus. After six years working first in a small residential construction company in Colorado and then in a large commercial firm in New York City, Warlop took what was planned to be a one-week vacation to volunteer in Biloxi, Mississippi, after Hurricane Katrina. She ended up staying nine months. “It was a transformative experience – from the people I met to the kind of work I got to do.” Part of that work was in construction management, which she continued at her next stop, Connecticut, working for a small company on a medical building.

Before long, she was running her own company, managing construction of a 15,000-square-foot bank in Westport from a trailer. “Being out on the job site instilled the importance of seeing things come together, understanding a process, and I think contributed to me becoming a better architect and designer.”

In 2014, she established her design studio, in keeping with an M.F.A. she earned from Rhode Island School of Design with an emphasis on lighting. ”Light can be both sculptural and functional. I think my work lives somewhere between those two places, between art and industrial design. Light can be both practical and poetic, and that is something I would like to push even further with my work.”
Elish Warlop