Seyhan Özdemir is one half of the brains behind Turkish design prodigies Autoban. She talks to LOFT about getting their first break and making their mark on Hong Kong’s interior design scene.
How did you come to establish Autoban – and how did you settle on the name?
Sefer and I met when as students at Mimar Sinan University in Turkey. After we graduated in 1998 we worked in different companies for a while, but we continued to work on projects together. Eventually we decided to set up our own company and in 2003, Autoban was born. The name comes from the German word ‘Autobahn’ and the Turkish word ‘Otoban’ – which both mean ‘highway’. Traveling along a highway has become our philosophy; it gives us the feeling of being in the fast lane, on a route that is constantly changing with many choices to make along the way. Similarly in life, it is the choices along the way that define one’s identity.
What do you feel was the break through moment for Autoban?
The most important break through moment was the decision I made with Sefer Çağlar to establish Autoban. I would say our second was being selected us as one of the Top 5 young designers in the world for Wallpaper* Best Young Designers Award in 2004.
Do you think Autoban speaks with ‘one voice’ or is it more a case of two very distinctive personalities?
Naturally we have different professional backgrounds – I studied as an architect while Sefer as an interior designer – yet we share a connection and its effects are highlighted in our work.Sefer and I both have the same attitude in life; we make similar choices and share similar tastes. The most amazing thing is that we have really different personalities, but we will always agree on a common point. You could say we are a very good team and never like to work alone. If Sefer has a bright idea, I’ll add something to the blend and together we come up with a final outcome. We do have some contrasts but it is a gift more than a problem or polemic. These differences enrich our designs.
What was your inspiration for the Nest Lounge Chair which received the ‘Superior Design Award’ at the Design Turkey Awards 2010?
The aim was to establish a design that could not preserve the privacy of the user even in very crowded locations, but also prevent the user from feeling alienated from the crowd. We drew inspiration from the feeling of the nest and a bird cage, as the name of the design implies. The Nest Lounge Chair creates a genuine homely atmosphere with its shell-like structure – protecting the user from the harsh reality of life but at the same time allowing the user to communicate openly.
In 2010, you designed the interiors for Hong Kong’s own 208 Duecento Otto bar and restaurant – what were your influences?
With 208 Duecento Otto the idea was to create an ambience that reflected the story of Italian chef Vinny Lauria: a New York native whose passion for food came from his Italian grandfather, moving to Hong Kong to work in a restaurant designed by a Turkish firm. We took inspiration from the district surrounding ‘208’ and the New York-styled Italian menu to create the design story within the space. There is also a fresh, Bohemian energy that comes from the galleries and shops in the surrounding area that we tried to encapsulate. Raw materials feature throughout the interiors; steel pillars, marble tabletops, solid walnut ceiling and floors, giving the venue a more natural and honest feel.
How did you get involved with the project?
Yenn Wong, founder of JIA Boutique Hotels and owner of 208 Duecento Otto, first discovered Autoban through our furniture designs and followed our development from there. She selects leading up-and-coming designers to create the unique interiors for her projects – so it was a huge compliment that she contacted us for the ‘208’ project. She believes that ‘fresh design’ is a critical element in boutique hospitality so our quirky and fun design concepts were a natural choice for her.
What inspires you?
We love chaotic places, and Istanbul one that is very colorful and full of surprises that can inspire you in the most unexpected ways. It represents different aspects of Turkey; a place where you can experience diversity in a great harmony. We also try to implement elements of the 1950’s modern design movement, as well as nature, street life and our own experiences into each project.
Any further projects planned for Asia?
We do have two new hotel projects abroad; one in St. Petersburg and other in Zurich, but most of the major projects we are currently undertaking are in Istanbul; Nef Flats 163, The House Hotel Ortakoy, Coca Cola’s office and the interiors for Demiroren Shopping Mall. Aside from these, we have twenty five ongoing projects and as you know we are also working on various furniture and lighting designs.