February 5, 2010


What better way to start this blog and to start this New Year than with a glimpse into where I was in early January: Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul, also known throughout history as Byzantium and Constantinople, shows evidence of settlements as early as 667 BC. The city has served as the capital city for the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Latin Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. So as you can imagine, a city that straddles both the European and Asian continents was awe-inspiring. As a designer (and one who studied art history) to walk the cobbled streets and bear witness to the history, the architecture, the culture...well, the wheels of inspiration were turning.

Throughout the city, the most evident example of Turkish decorative arts are the Iznik tiles. Iznik, the modern name for the ancient city of Nicea, is a walled town located on....you guessed it, Lake Iznik. The Fritware, a technique of firing silica and glass at low temperatures, rose to elite status during the Byzantine Empire as potters began making less jugs, plates and bowls and instead began to develop the wall tiles that would be used to cover the interiors of palaces, mosques, and other monumental buildings.

The Topkapi Palace which served as the hub of the Ottoman Empire for over three centuries, is by far one of the most regal installations of the Iznik Tile. The harem, which served as the private residence for the sultan, the sultan's mother, his wives and his concubines provides illustrious layers of tiles on the walls, the ceilings, the windows, the floors...a true 360 experience culminating in the Royal Receiving Room.

The Sultan Ahmet Mosque more widely known as the Blue Mosque was built from 1609 to 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I and still operates as a religious mosque today. I quickly had to walk through as we were close to prayer time and only practicing Muslims are allowed inside during the prayer, but the few minutes I had were in complete awe: the interior has over 21,000 Iznik tiles depicting over 50 designs of tulips, pomegranates, and other graphic imagery.

While it's hard to imagine the grandeur of the palace and the mosque working within a private residence that most of us are familiar with, the concept of using tiles for decorative embellishment is endless.

One of my favorite applications is as a fireplace surround:

Bunny Williams installed tile beautifully as a wainscoting detail in a residential entry:

Finally, for purchasing Iznik tiles, there is an abundance available in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul; however, to keep the process more "stateside" Ann Sacks has a beautiful collection of Iznik inspired tiles:

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