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Autoban and their House Hotel

Seyhan Özdemir and Sefer Çağlar are the principals behind the Istanbul–based design house Autoban. Their work incorporates the rich history of the city perfectly with its emerging modern movements. Those designs—buildings, residences, hotels, furniture—are stark yet warm, mixing modern and traditional elements and materials. I became interested in their work after staying at The House Hotel Nisantasi while in Istanbul earlier this month. I tracked down Seyhan Özdemir to find out more about their background, projects, and inspirations.

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How was Autoban started?
Seyhan Özdemir: We met when were students at Mimar Sinan University. I studied Architecture and Sefer studied interior design. After we graduated in 1998, we worked in different companies for a while. Since we continued working on projects together, we decided to set up our own company, a new brand named “Autoban” in 2003.<br /><br /> The name Autoban is formed by the German word "Autobahn” and the Turkish word "Otoban". Since we are on a constantly altering fast-paced road and since we were also targeting the foreign market, we named our company “Autoban” instead of Otoban.
Your House Hotel and Cafes are stunning. How did you start that collaboration?
We were introduced to the House Café in 2005 at the House Café Corner in Beyoglu Tunel. Today, our relationship continues—of the ten of the House Café chains and three of the House Hotels, two are opened, one in Galatasaray and one in Nisantasi. The next one will open in 2011 in Ortaköy, Istanbul.  

One of the many House Cafes designed by Autoban.
One of the many House Cafes designed by Autoban.

Tell us about your line with De La Espada.
We have been collaborating with De La Espada since 2007, and we consider them to be a world leader of contemporary furniture design. Autoban maintains creative control while De La Espada realizes the designs through premium materials and expert craftsmanship.
What are you currently working on?
We are working on many different projects—hotels, offices, cafes and restaurants, retail, entertainment and residences. Currently, some of the major projects we have are Nef Flats 163, The House Hotel Ortakoy, Istanbul, the Coca-Cola Boardroom Istanbul, Tres Encinas Restaurant, Madrid, Kitchenette Restaurant, Istanbul, Demiroren Shopping Mall, and a brand new hotel project in St. Petersburg and another in the old part of Istanbul, in front of Hagia Sophia. At the same time, we are also working on various furniture and lighting designs.
The House Hotel Nisantasi&#039;s lobby is filled with books, walnut detailing, and birdcage chairs.
The House Hotel Nisantasi's lobby is filled with books, walnut detailing, and birdcage chairs.

The glass cafe—another of the House Cafe projects.
The glass cafe—another of the House Cafe projects.
Which Turkish designers should we be watching?

Aziz Sarıyer, Defne Koz, Can Yalma, İnci Mutlu, and Erdem Akan.
How does Istanbul inspire your work?
Istanbul is very colorful, and full of surprises; it can inspire you in the most unexpected ways. It's not only about East and West meeting, there's also a great and more complex cultural mix stemming from the earliest civilizations. This cultural richness and heritage combines with memories, unexpectedness, speed, incompleteness, chaos and contrast. It culminates in a great energy within the city.

We characterize our style as modern, distinctive and pleasant. Our aim is to design emotionally expressive, visually inspiring and enjoyable objects with timeless quality.
Your firm features architecture, interior, and product design. How many people work for Autoban?
Autoban was established in 2003 and we now have a team of 35. We work out of a historic building from the 1830s in Beyoglu Tunel.

The Tulip Lamp, with a base of metal rods, was designed in 2007.
The Tulip Lamp, with a base of metal rods, was designed in 2007.

What's your favorite building in Istanbul? The world?
In Istanbul, the regions that possess the historical textures of the city are my favorites. In the vicinity of my office—Galata, Tunel, Beyolu. In addition to that, the buildings built by Levantine architects in the 19th century, the wooden houses along the Bosphorus coast, and the examples of 1960s modern.<br /><br /> In the world, some of my favorite buildings are Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavillion, Frank Lloyd Wright's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York,  Le Corbusier's Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut, Shigeru Ban's Nomadic Museum, Herzog & de Meuron's Caixa Forum, the Vitra House, and Louis Kahn's First Unitarian Church in New York.
The living and dining room of a recent residential project, featuring a Castiglioni lamp and a mirrored bar.
The living and dining room of a recent residential project, featuring a Castiglioni lamp and a mirrored bar.
Of all Autoban's projects, which was the most rewarding? The most challenging?

The projects in which our clients believe in our work and respect our choices are the ones most rewarding. The House Café chain is the most enjoyable, as they let us be as flexible as possible. Our challenge is to meet the needs properly. We need to be creative and at the same time we need to craft the world we want to realize by meeting the brief that we have been given with the right timing and accurate budgeting.
Who are your design heroes?
Charles and Ray Eames, Jasper Morrison, Poul Henningsen, Le Corbusier, Ingo Maurer, and Jean Prouvé.

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