The Beyoğlu district is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Istanbul, but for centuries, it’s been the Turkish cultural capital’s most modern quarter as well. Beyoğlu got telephone lines, electricity, and a funicular early on; new technologies, fashion, and the arts have always flourished there. So it’s fitting that the creative firm helping to spearhead the growth of modern design in Turkey has all but grown up on Beyoğlu’s cobbled streets. Headed by Seyhan Özdemir and Sefer Çağlar — an architect and interior designer who met as students in the late 1990s — Autoban is housed in a half-baroque, mid-19th-century Italianate building, but inside, the studio is almost seamlessly modern: high-ceilinged and open plan, lined with white marble and fixtureless white cabinets. The only nod to the past comes in the form of old wooden sills that unfurl around the windows of the partners’ offices.
When I visited Autoban this summer, Özdemir was slender and tan following her recent wedding to a Turkish restaurateur in glamorously retro Ravello. Now 36, the designer grew up along Istanbul’s picturesque Bosphorus waterfront and in the winding streets of Ortakoy, and she met Cağlar, two years her senior, while studying architecture at Mimar Sinan University. The pair graduated in 1998, at a time when the country’s modern design industry was emerging and amorphous. But rather than emigrate to a more design-centric European capital, like Milan or Paris, they decided to stake a claim in their hometown, founding Autoban in 2003. Almost immediately, their pared-down but lush signature aesthetic — which often reinterprets the ancient typologies and interiors Istanbul is known for through the use of modern fixtures crafted in marble, wood, and glass — earned them international press and turned them into the go-to designers for most of the city’s major modern design projects. Over the past several years, they’ve become particularly well-known for the look and feel of the virally expanding House Café and Hotel empire (in which one of Özdemir’s sisters is a partner), preserving the architectural details of historical local buildings and then stripping everything away and adding only the simplest “accessories” to create a warm, glossy modernism, as if the architecture were a piece of couture.
Özdemir and Çağlar describe their approach to design as narrative: They develop a storyline for each space in which the furnishings become characters, and every space has its own history. Each project begins with a specific inspiration, and as is true of most designers, Özdemir is constantly collecting objects, images, and ideas and filing them away for later projects. “You have to see everything around you; it’s not about looking at one thing,” says the designer. “It can be anything from a person on the street to a stone on the beach.” We asked Özdemir to share some of the things that she’s been collecting over the years and then pulling out of the library of her mind to make each of Autoban’s design so handsomely legible.
Growing up in Birmingham, England, Lee Broom had dreams of becoming an actor. So it doesn't come as a shock to learn that his first proper job was in the office of Vivienne Westwood, the dramatic doyenne of women’s fashion. What’s surprising is how he got there — at age 17, no less: “I was in theater school at the time, and I was into design as a hobby,” explains Broom. “Somehow I decided to enter a fashion design competition judged by Vivienne Westwood, and I won. At the event, I asked Vivienne for her autograph; she wrote her phone number instead and asked if I wanted to spend a couple of days at her studio. I hopped on a train to London and literally spent two days, just Vivienne and myself in her office, while she talked me through her work. I showed her a portfolio of around 100 outfits I had designed, and she said I could stay on as an intern. I ended up being there for seven months.” Broom’s career since then — though wildly divergent from both of those original paths — has been full of moments like these, where by some alchemic mixture of doggedness, talent, and sheer pluck, he has managed to end up in the exact right place at the right time, sending his career spinning into another unplanned yet deeply satisfying trajectory.
Does the world really need another beanbag chair? That was the question that presented itself to the Stockholm-based trio Form Us With Love when they visited the factory of Swedish furniture manufacturer Voice in the summer of 2009. “We were led on a tour of the facilities by the managing director,” they say. “Upon arrival at a production line of beanbags, the director stopped. The facility, once churning out bags by the minute, now stood motionless. Trend and low-quality copies had severely stunted production. The brief was concise — design a piece of furniture that would make the machines run again.” The group — made up of Jonas Pettersson, John Löfgren, and Petrus Palmer, who met as students in the first-year design program at Kalmer University — responded the only way they know how: By stripping the beanbag of its passé, dorm-room connotations, and using a powder-coated wire frame and a sophisticated color palette to recast it not as a piece of childhood ephemera but as a contemporary take on the easy chair, fit for any modern-day living room.
There’s a lot that’s hard for Westerners to understand about Adriaan Hugo and Katy Taplin, the husband and wife who make up the South African furniture and fashion duo Dokter and Misses. First, there’s the fact that they hail from Johannesburg, a city whose art scene has held sway in the international market for years but whose few industrial designers are hardly household names. Then there are their references, which remain resolutely sub-equatorial: In our interview, we talked about game reserves, braais (the South African term for barbecue), a Nigerian dancehall/reggae musician named Dr. Alban, and an artist who uses the techniques of the Ndebele tribe, from the Mpumalanga region of the country. Perhaps most confounding is their name, which mixes English and Dutch honorifics and calls to mind everything from sci-fi movies to secretaries — and which the two refuse to explain. It’s lucky, then, that their work is so instantly likable and wonderfully easy to grasp.