HBA creates dream-like interiors for Raffles Istanbul Hotel using Turkey’s historical legacy

Raffles Istanbul Hotel by Hirsch Bedner Associates has recently opened at the city’s Zorlu Centre and boasts an interior suited for a modern-day emperor.

Designed by global leader of hospitality interior design Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA), the Raffles Istanbul Hotel maintains a dreamlike atmosphere inspired by Turkey’s historical legacy and rich culture.

While three HBA offices from around the world came together to work on the 181-room hotel, which is romantically situated on one of the seven hills of Istanbul, they partnered with companies Canvas and Illuminate to develop the hotel’s art collection and custom lighting.

The Zorlu Centre, home to the hotel, is considered a next-generation bazaar, where fashion, performance and art meet—an ideal community for the latest Raffles hotel.

The projects lead designer Sandra Cortner from HBA explains that the overall brief was to design a luxurious hotel that boasts a connection to the fashion world as well as reference the famous Byzantine Empire.

Cortner says: “During the Byzantine era, it was common law that all free men were permitted to wear gold, but only the emperor and empress could wear precious jewels. These jewel tones are referenced throughout the hotel as details in the palette and selected artworks. Mosaic tiles, a popular decorative element used extensively in Byzantium, are also used as details throughout the hotel.”

Upon entering Raffles Istanbul, guests are greeted with a number of inspiring commissioned artwork by French realist Jean-Francois Rauzier. And throughout the hotel, nearly 200 pieces of art are featured with at least 90% being commissioned specifically for the hotel itself.

Matthew Whitaker, director of Canvas Atlanta explains that creating a ‘sense of place’ was an important part of the design team’s philosophy.

Whitaker adds: “In order to achieve this, we seek to liaise with artists and artisans from the local community wherever a project is located. This helps us to imbue the collection with familiar or recognisable subject matter and artistic technique, and offers us the opportunity to collaborate on a local and regional level.

Further, our goal always is to create an international collection. So in addition to works by these local and regional artists, the Raffles collection also features works from the US and Canada, England, France, Australia and the Netherlands.”

Whitaker notes that the success of a developing art program depends on the collection’s ability to contribute to and enhance the interior design of a space. For the hotel, the collection was developed around the designers’ concept of ‘Dream of Istanbul’. The concept, Dream of Istanbul refers to a sense of place that blurs the lines between the reality of history and place and a dream of what that could be.

“So we made selections and commissioned works that help to transport the guest into a mystical and exotic experiential journey,” explains Whitaker. “In the lobby, there are two large-scale commissions. The first, a rich and fantastical photographic composition, was created by [Rauzier] as a way to introduce hotel guests to the ‘Dream of Istanbul’.

“He created his dream composition by incorporating photographic details from the interior and exterior, and then stitched the details together using digital technology. He has literally transformed reality, launching the viewer into a dream journey of historic legend and modern fantasy.”

Complementing the commissioned artwork in the lobby are glorious chandeliers that evoke ruffed collars, and a reception area that resembles a jewel box due to the mosaic tiling.

According to Cortner, the chandeliers are references to fashion while the gold mosaic detailing is an homage to the Byzantine Empire, as the use of gold was prominent in those times. The tile work can be seen on the entry vestibule as well as on the columns.

“The footprint for the lobby was already in place when HBA was awarded the project,” explains Cortner. “We added the pools that form the surrounding for the lobby lounge to create a more intimate space. We also added some drama to the space through the artwork which serves as the backdrop for the lounge as does the large bronze sculpture, Lavinia [designed by Martin Dawe].”

Throughout the many public areas, the main materials include marble and stone which are used interchangeably for the floors, walls and columns. According to Cortner, the materials were chosen to accentuate the grandeur of the various spaces. However, as the spaces become more intimate and private, wood is introduced as the main architectural material because the designers considered it to be a softer and warmer choice than stone.

The project’s colour palette maintains a soft, primarily neautral range with pops of colour subtly integrated throughout. The colours used reflect the jewel and gold tones prevalent during the Byzantine era. Additionally, much of the artwork uses strong colours which fuses with the space quite fluidly.

An expansive and gradually winding staircase leads visitors and guests from the lobby and social area to the hotel’s Grand Ballroom, as a number of hand-blown glass lighting pendants designed by Preciosa light up the way.

Under the starry night, the staircase ends in the Ballroom Prefunction, which houses three cast glass and woven metal mesh Kaftans designed by Turkish artist Yasemin Aslan Bakiri. Inside the Ballroom, the starry-night theme continues as a darkened Istanbul sky is resembled by the 2,000 lighting pieces. The pleated, upholstered walls faintly ties in the art of fashion.

Michal Gabaj, managing director for Preciosa’s Russia, CIS and Turkey offices, explains that the ballroom lighting was meant to decorate the mirrored ceiling, with crystal, light amber and amber toned ‘stars’ suspended from the ceiling in several layers to “create a feeling of a stellar atmosphere. The walls of the ballroom are decorated with 12 beautiful sconces of 2m length each.”

Cortner lists the winding staircase as one of the challenges faced by the design team. She also notes that Lavinia, the bronze sculpture that welcomes guests in the lobby of the hotel, proved to be a difficult task in regards to making it feel intimate. Hence, the team added shallow pools to surround the piece and provide it with a sense of its own space.

While HBA worked with Canvas and Illuminate to bring the project together, the major lighting supplier was Preciosa. HITT was the interior fit-out contractor for the public areas, while MOB was the interior fit-out contractor for the different guest areas.

The interior design scheme of Raffles Istanbul is a stunning example of modernising cultural references without appearing cartoonish.

The Byzantine era is reflected in the colours and materials, while the artwork ties in the local and international culture today. Bringing the space together are the many different lighting displays that evoke starry nights under which generations and generations have enjoyed the twirling dervishes.

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