Traveling to Istanbul and Bodrum, I got eyeball-deep in the centuries of Byzantine and Ottoman history, innovation and design responsible for some of the most magnificent architectural masterpieces in the world, including the Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque, famed for the more than 20,000 legendary blue Iznik tiles that grace the inside of its walls. Visiting these iconic designs immediately got me thinking about how I could bring some of that inspiration home.
My search for the best home decor offerings in Istanbul starts with the most obvious destination, the Grand Bazaar. In this 33-acre shopping mecca, ancient pathways are lined with more than 4,500 shops selling everything from jewelry to scarves to silver.
Our first stop is the Sisko Osman (named after its famed proprietor), where we see a parade of the finest vintage and antique Turkish carpets and kilims. Sisko’s son Nurullah pulls out a selection of wool pieces that are in the range of my desired size, color and price point. Many of the rugs shared with us are so old and fine (several have been loaned to museums in the United States) that they aren’tfor sale. Rugs and kilims from this part of the world are usually hand-woven; made of wool, silk, cotton or some combination thereof; and tend to be rich in color and pattern.
Anxious to see what else the bazaar has to offer, I’m guided to the finest lighting vendor who supplies to top notch hotels throughout Istanbul and the world. Influenced by ancient patterns and lines, these new lighting creations manage to be simultaneously traditional and contemporary, making them easy to accommodate in many environments. The intricate metalwork is lace-like and is either elegantly backlit through opaque glass or projecting exotic shadows and patterns onto nearby walls. I often say that a pendant is a great way to have a floating piece of art in your room, and there are a dizzying array of them to select from here.
Right outside the Grand Bazaar is a must see of another sort. Translated as “gift,” Armaggan is a contemporary four-story shop stocking original, luxury home decor creations made with the finest materials and crafted by top-notch artisans. This place is set up like a pristine museum (and the prices are almost untouchable), but it’s worthwhile and free to go see how contemporary Turkish designers are taking their rich and deep culture and translating it into extraordinary modern masterpieces.
Everywhere you go in Istanbul, the blending of elements to create balance is evident. The Turkish design aesthetic is not only about East meeting West but also about geometric meeting organic, rough juxtaposing against smooth, and antique sitting next to modern. The result is balanced, rich, diverse and timeless.
Istanbul’s European side, no doubt, gets the bulk of tourists and holds many of the famed sites, but the more residential Asian side is charming, full of character and loaded with great interior decor shops showcasing the best Turkish towels, sheets and upholstery fabric targeted to local affluent Turks instead of just at visitors.
The textile industry is huge in Turkey, with cotton, linen and silk widely known as some of the finest worldwide. My guide, Neslihahn, introduces me to Turkish fashion retailer Vakko, where top-quality home textiles can be had at reasonable prices — without haggling. Beautifully designed throw pillows, lush Turkish cotton towels cuffed in tiered linen and sheets with the intricately embroidered details are some of the items not easily found to this extent outside of this country.
Having spent three days pounding the Istanbul pavement, I am ready for design inspiration in a more bucolic setting, and I hop on a plane for a 45-minute flight south to the blue waters of the Mediterranean coast. Right outside of Bodrum is the Amanruya resort, perched on a peninsula and woven into an ancient pine forest and olive grove.
Located just two hours from the ancient city of Ephesus, this resort is an abstracted blending of Mediterranean and Ottoman architecture that produces a result that is peaceful, calm, dreamlike and uniquely Turkish.
At Amanruya, that Turkish signature of balance is artfully evident through the confluence of opposing elements. Dark Acajou wood against white Turkish marble, natural boulders stacked into neat walls with tops sawn level and smooth, and raw nature seen through geometric openings offer up a more modern take on the classic Turkish aesthetic. Many of these materials are the same ones that have been used as far back as Ephesus.
Conveniently, an on-site shop is heavy on Turkish home decor, carrying the finest examples of regional craftsmanship in one location. Renowned designer Rifat Ozbek’s reversible silk throw pillows, antique copper bowls from local villages adorned with intricate patterning, and finely crafted backgammon and chess sets made with olive, walnut and ebony wood are all stocked here at relatively affordable prices that make it unnecessary to dig through the souvenir shops that populate Bodrum proper. I got my holiday shopping done in one fell swoop.
Harmoniously balancing opposites and celebrating differences is a real way of life in Turkey that’s been embedded in its culture for thousands of years. This is a country that reveres the old while managing to create the new.
Bring some empty luggage when you visit Turkey so that you can hunt for your own embroidered sheets, linen-cuffed towels, inlaid wood backgammon sets and hand-stitched throw pillows. Of course, you’ll likely have to ship that antique rug and exotic pendant fixture, but it will all be worth it when your home feels as perfectly balanced as this country.
Yip is an interior designer and star of HGTV’s “Design Star” and “Bang For Your Buck.” Originally from McLean, Yip is based in Atlanta and New York. Follow him on Facebook (VernYipDesigns) and Twitter (@VernYipDesigns). His column appears regularly in The Post.