In our inaugural 2004 design awards we singled out the Turkish design duo, Seyhan Ozdemir and Sefer Caglar, otherwise known as Autoban, as Best Newcomers after spotting their debut collection in a small corner at Maison in 2003. From small beginnings Autoban has gone on to great things and we stopped by their new office near Taksim square in Istanbul to say hello and find out what they're up to and how the designscape has changed in Turkey since they started out.
In just six years the team of two has become a team of 30, hence the need to upscale to the new HQ - a former Union France bank, built in the 1830s - which has been gutted, leaving just the original facade and wooden window frames intact. The marble-floored office is peppered with Autoban's signature designs, against a whitewashed backdrop. The ornate wooden windows and heavy, inlaid wooden desks are in stark contrast to the contemporary office space, reminders that this is a Turkish firm in Turkey's finest city, not just another creative agency in downtown Manhattan.
And this contrast is what attracted us to Autoban's work in the first place. The clean, reassuringly domestic designs, made interesting by details and instances of character, showed a confident balance of new and old, tradition and innovation, international and local. It's a winning formula and one that has seen the studio form a partnership with De La Espada - who has produced their domestic designs for five years - and go on to become Turkey's most sought after interior architects.
"Turkish people have always wanted to buy designs from international brands," says Ozdemir, "when we started there was no awareness of contemporary Turkish design. Hence we understood the importance of starting abroad, getting recognition from an international crowd so Turkish people would see us in an international context."
This canny tactic paid off and as luxury hotels, retail emporia, restaurants, bars and nightclubs opened the length and breadth of Turkey, Autoban were perfectly positioned - the homegrown talent with the international reputation and everyone wanted them on board. They've since completed well over 50 commercial interior design commissions in Turkey, from the glittering Istanbul Suites Hotel to the Vakko luxury department stores, the entire identity of Komsu Firin, a new luxury bakery chain, to the redesign of Angelique nightclub.
"We like to work with brands to create experiences," says Ozdemir. "Our goal is to improve every element of lifestyle that we can in Turkey. We want to create somewhere that we would like to go for coffee, shop in, eat in, stay, party." It's not an overstatement to say they're Turkey's foremost arbiters of taste and given their level of demand, their influence is immense. There's no corner of Istanbul or city in Turkey where the Autoban stamp can't be found.
With the job all but done at home (though many projects are still in the pipeline) next on the agenda is unsurprisingly abroad and they're currently working on two projects, one in Madrid and one in Hong Kong. Pleasingly though, they're still designing furniture and their beautiful showroom is just across the street from the office. Recently they launched the Wired King lamp, the Deco sofa, The Holy table, the Nest chairs and the Reedy bookcase, a strong collection that continues the spirit at the core of their brand identity.
"As designers we never want to say 'this is it - we've arrived'" says Ozdemir. "Our designs are a constant process of improvement for us and it's how many people are initially introduced to us and what we do, so it's like a signature. Sefer and I decided on the name Autoban six years ago because we wanted to convey this sense that we are taking the highway - creating a lifestyle that takes people with us." It's been a very fast journey and they've covered much ground but there's no doubt Autoban will go a lot further yet.