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.
It’s possible you’ve spent hours foraging flea markets, wondering how a Russel Wright pitcher or an Eames shell chair or a Jens Risom credenza might fit into your home décor. But did you ever stop to wonder how those pieces may have figured into the homes of their own makers? Leslie Williamson, a San Francisco–based photographer, did — and the result is Handcrafted Modern, a new book that offers an intimate glimpse inside the houses of 14 of America’s most beloved mid-century designers.
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.
Had Jakub Zak and Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte met and not formed a partnership, it might have seemed almost sacrilegious, a kind of fuck-you to the gods of fate. After simultaneously studying design in their native Canada, and then again at the very same university in Berlin together, the pair only became aware of one another's existence once they'd both moved to Milan to start their professional lives — Lecompte as a roving member of the Montreal-based Samare studio and Zak as a designer for Patricia Urquiola. As if the shared condition of being the only two Canadians they knew who were actively working in the Milanese design scene weren't enough, they happened to meet at the precise moment in each of their careers where they were yearning to try something independent, experimental, and new. Samare was three years old and growing quite successful, but its physical manifestation was way across the Atlantic, and it maintained a relatively narrow focus on Canadian crafts and heritage; Zak was — and still is — working full time for Urquiola, "which is pretty demanding," he says. "You reach a stage where you want to start doing projects of your own. Oeuffice is a research-minded collaboration where Nicolas and I can play with new techniques and materials in ways we might not have the opportunity to otherwise."