Istanbul has never ceased to fascinate me. I’ve been writing about this city since 2012, even having authored my own guidebook, The 500 Hidden Secrets of Istanbul. And yet, there is still so much to discover, so much to be inspired by. Just this year, the giant Galataport project launched as the world’s first underground cruise ship terminal, opening up the waterfront as a boardwalk with endless shops and restaurants. The Ataturk Cultural Center, which had been closed for years, was brought back to life, capable of accommodating performances of international stature. Tersane, the former Ottoman imperial shipyard, is becoming an urban transformation project with cultural landmarks, luxury hotels and private residences. The Atlas Cinema, a nostalgic neoclassical beauty from the 19th century, was renovated and now houses the Istanbul Cinema Museum. And across the Bosphorus, in Kadıköy, the former Ottoman gasworks complex has been converted into Gazhane, a museum and cultural center with exhibition halls and stages for performances.
Yet apart from the city’s architectural rejuvenation, which often steals the limelight, it is Istanbul’s young creatives that inspire me the most. Young designers such as Begum Khan, whose endearingly ostentatious jewelry collections have made it all the way to Bergdorf’s, Selfridges and Saks Fifth Avenue. Jülide Konukoğlu, whose brand Kutnia preserves Gaziantep’s prized traditional fabric of kutnu, was recently featured on the Dior Men Spring 2023 runway. Or Şansım Adalı, a new-gen fashion designer whose brand Sudi Etuz is really redefining and celebrating what it means to be young, Turkish and bold.
It is the constant and relentless wave of new and exciting openings that also fascinates me. Cafes like Casa Cooklife, representative of the aesthetic and philosophy of slow living. Fine dining behemoths like TURK by Fatih Tutak, exploring the vast and ancient world of Anatolia’s gastronomy through modern tasting menus. And wine bars such as Foxy, showcasing Turkey’s thriving boutique vineyard scene with every glass, sipped and enjoyed late into the Autumn nights. It is Istanbul’s capacity to reinvent itself, to flourish despite its imperfections, to inspire a new generation of creatives with its history and its beauty. A city of opposites, a city of indefatigable energy.
Read on to discover what inspires three design artisans who live and work here.
Omar Baban of Omar Baban Design
After having worked in the private sector for many years, Omar Baban decided to pursue his true passion, launching the Omar Baban Design project in 2016. Inspired by his travels and his avid interest in history. Baban’s ever-growing selection of contemporary home goods possess an ethnic flair that cherishes tradition and true hand craftsmanship.
Istanbul is an extraordinary city not only for me but for the whole world. It is the only city that is located on the two continents Asia and Europe, where East meets West, and where the past links with the future. It has it all; over 2500 years of history, a mix of cultures and traditions, amazing natural and manmade landmarks, a vibrant energy, and breathtaking views. Former capital of the Roman, Latin, Byzantine and lastly the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul’s history is very rich, and the remains of each of these pasts can still be witnessed—this fact on its own fascinates me!
Istanbul is my home where I grew up far away from, and the one I have decided to settle in after traveling all across the world for so long. Just like what Napoleon had said, for me it is the capital of the world! The bond I can establish between the past, present, and future in this city makes it quite special for me. As the creative director of Omar Baban Design, Istanbul is an endless source of inspiration in my work too. Most of my collections draw a detail from something or someplace very unique to the city.
One of my favorite places in this magnificent city is, with its humble and refined elegance, the Topkapı Palace. My favorite sections of the palace, which I visit with the same excitement and admiration every time, are the Fruit Room (Yemiş Odası) and Baghdad Kiosk.
For shopping in old Istanbul, of course there is no other place but the Grand Bazaar! The fabrics shop by Sivaslı Istanbul Yazmacısı Murat Haşhaş, the rug shop Dhoku and the section called Bedesten, which is considered the core of the bazaar, offer a wide and satisfactory scale with their product variety.
The 600-year-old Rüstem Paşa Mosque, one of the structures that make up the silhouette of Istanbul, is a must see with its 66 different tulips and 45 different carnation motif tiles—it is one of my treasured places that has also inspired one of my collections.
Located inside the Spice Market, the turquoise tiled, almost 100 year-old Pandeli is a great Turkish restaurant that I enjoy visiting particularly at lunch time with my foreign guests. Having hosted countless names such as Queen Elizabeth II and Audrey Hepburn, this restaurant is always a good option to try some traditional local tastes. And yet my all time favorite place for dinner is Karaköy Restaurant. You have to try their always freshly prepared mezzes, calamari hash browns, and their liver delicacy with a side of toasted warm bread. You’ll be a fan of one of their cocktails called ‘TekTek’ too.
One cannot imagine Istanbul without its baths. The Galatasaray Hamam, which has been providing a warm service since 1481, is a peaceful bath that I enjoy going to. But don’t think you should only go to hamam during the winter months; you should also book a session at the beginning and end of the summer if you want to have an even tan all throughout the year.
Finally, you should go to Büyükada, the largest of the Princes’ Islands located at the southeast of Istanbul in the Sea of Marmara, and spend a day (and night!) at the Splendid Palace. The 114 year-old hotel offers a magnificent experience no matter the season and you can have a nice drink and enjoy the view of the city’s Asian coast. With its historical architecture and carefully selected stylish details, it is one of the places where I feel the best.
Bilge Can of Anatolian Craft
It was a pair of heritage slippers from her childhood that inspired Bilge Can to launch Anatolian Craft in 2016, a slow fashion collection of 100% handmade and hand-embroidered shoes that are more akin to wearable art. The former architect and mother of three runs the brand with her daughter Begüm, taking care to empower local women artisans in Anatolia with their custom-made products built-to-order.
I have a great respect and curiosity for crafts and craftsmanship. Istanbul is a city where, despite the current age of technology, I can still come across coppersmiths, knife grinders, quilt makers, mother-of-pearl artisans and gramophone repairmen. I love living in this city because it always manages to surprise me. The city has a very unique identity due to its turmoil, history, heritage and strait. All the peoples and cultures that coexisted here and continue to do so. There’s an endless fusion of cultures in this city. The East is here and the West. It’s a synthesis that makes this geography very special.
The Kup Griye dessert, which I always ate as a child at Balyan Patisserie whenever my mother and I were in Kadıköy, is one of the most memorable tastes from my childhood. I always think that places, objects, tastes and even smells have a very important place in memories. This Kup Griye ritual, which I fondly shared with my mother, is now something I’ve continued with my own children.
For me, the Galata and Pera neighborhoods are some of Istanbul’s most special areas. When I went to parent meetings at the Sankt Georg Austrian High School for my daughter and the St. Pulcherie French High School for my sons, I always took the ferry from Kadiköy to Karaköy and often walked up the historic Kamondo Stairs on Bankalar Avenue. For me, these steps are one of Istanbul’s most aesthetically forward structures. If I have time, I love to stop by SALT Galata. On some days I stroll by the Galata Tower and down Istiklal Avenue to the Pera Museum where I love to while away for hours. I can’t get enough of looking at the old Istanbul by the Ottoman court painter Fausto Zonaro. For a much-needed break I head to Pera Café and always smile when I see the piano that once belonged to Maria Callas, which reminds me of the novel ‘Piyano’ by my favorite writer Yiğit Okur.
There’s nothing like a lunchtime feast at Kanaat Lokantası and I always go there whenever I’m in Üsküdar. The personnel and the interior haven’t changed in years, just like the excellent taste of the dishes. Everything they serve is delicious, but the ciğer sarma is my favorite. If it’s winter, make sure to try the ekmek kadayıfı dessert with clotted cream. In the summer, the sahlep and clotted cream ice cream are a must. They also have Istanbul’s best aşure.
I go to the Grand Bazaar a lot. For custom made jewelry, the first name that comes to mind is Garbis Kürkçü. There’s nothing like having a chat with him in his little shop. He is one of the Bazaar’s most valuable artisans due to his sincerity and the trust he instills in his customers. Another important stop for me is the Sivas Tokat Pazarı where I obtain all the kutnu fabric for Anatolian Craft. I try hard not to get lost in this whirlwind of colors. The custom made kutnu fabrics from Gaziantep are essential for the designs of Anatolian Craft. Our designs are handcrafted one-by-one by female craftsmen on embroidery frames on these precious hand-woven kutnu fabrics, later taking their final form in our handcrafted shoe atelier.
I love to host guests at Borsa Lokantası in Kandilli inside the Adile Sultan Palace, an essential for me, not only because of the food, but also the Bosphorus view. I always order the kuzu tandır. Of course, every time I’m in the Adile Sultan Palace, I fondly remember how happy I was and how much I danced at my daughter’s wedding.
Aslı Bilgin of Homemade Aromaterapi
It was a deep interest in aromatherapy that propelled Aslı Bilgin to open her own shop to bring the power of nature into people’s homes and self-care routines. Homemade Aromaterapi has the feel of a classic apothecary, which carries 100% natural and handcrafted beauty products, from essential oils to soaps, balms, sprays, scrubs and so much more to heal and balance body, mind and spirit.
Apart from being the city where I was born and raised, Istanbul seems magical to me with its chaos and crowds, streets that suddenly open up to the sea, the Bosphorus, the eating and drinking culture and its connection of two continents.
One of my prime preferences in terms of restaurants is Karaköy Lokantası, which has always been consistent in its quality. The more casual lunch menu as well as the more upscale evening menu here are both excellent. The fine dining restaurant Neolokal by celebrity chef Maksut Aşkar is another one of my favorites and is a great place to host guests or to celebrate a special occasion. Kandilli Suna is a no-frills fish restaurant right by the Bosphorus that I’ve been frequenting since I was a child. I really like the friendly personnel and the way they greet their guests as if they were part of the family.
For shopping, I love to visit Fey, an elegant women’s clothing boutique with vintage accessories all hand-selected by its owner Fatoş Yalın, Turkey’s first fashion editor. Misela, the luxury handbag brand from Istanbul founded by Serra Türker, is a boutique I love to visit often. Lug von Siga is another favorite, a womenswear brand created by Gül Ağış known for its playful and colorful prints and embroidery. For home goods, I always go to the courtyard of the historic Arifpaşa Apartments, where two of my favorite shops are located right next to each other. The beautiful hand-printed linens of Nauna Linen, and the striking one-of-a-kind handmade ceramics of Touline Ceramics. For unique and specially selected antique objects and furniture that you won’t find anywhere else, I always visit Dada Kuzguncuk.
Three Top Spots
Sakıp Sabancı Museum
The former Bosphorus villa and garden of the wealthy Sabancı family is now a lesser-known private art museum that has hosted the likes of Picasso, Rodin, Miro and Ai Weiwei, to name a few.
A true neighborhood restaurant, where locals like to meet up, share modern meze dishes, sip on wine and talk until the late hours at a table in the lively outdoor terrace.
Sofa Art and Antiques
Kaşif Gündoğdu is one of the city’s most respected collectors of art and antiques and anyone who enters his shop is bound to leave with something very special.
Where to Stay
Six Senses Kocataş Mansions
Inside two heritage mansions from the Ottoman era overlooking the Bosphorus, the Six Senses rooms and suites are understated in their elegance with small touches of traditional craftsmanship and historic architectural details. Not to mention the spa with private Turkish bath services.
Adahan DeCamondo Pera
A former city mansion, built in 1874 by the Camondo family, was restored to house this luxurious hotel by the Autograph Collection. The all-day dining rooftop restaurant and cocktail bar with a fantastic city view, are perfect to start or end the day (or both).
Çırağan Palace Kempinski
One of Istanbul’s most coveted accommodations looks out over the Bosphorus from inside a lavish Ottoman-era imperial palace. Most notable is the 400 sqm Sultan Suite, one of the world’s most expensive suites, with its floor-to-ceiling views and elegant antique furnishings.
The Istanbul property of the international luxury hotel chain occupies one of the four stunning towers of Zorlu Center, the city’s most upscale shopping center. The generous panorama spans Istanbul and beyond, while hand-blown chandeliers, sculptures, objects trouvés and floral arrangements set the elevated mood.
British Airways High Life Magazine, November-December 2022