Homeware And Jewelery As Art - An Interview With Özlem Tuna

Apartment 51 is very proud to collaborate with a brand that is true to its inspirational qualities. The brand presents authenticity of origin and design, from production to completion all items created by Özlem are homemade. Özlem's work offers authentic sculptural aesthetics, reminiscent of works of art.

Just recently, Özlem Tuna will celebrated 15 years since the launch of her brand. Since she was a little girl, Özlem was always making things with her hands, whether her material of chose was mud, dough or traditional pen and paper Özlem knew her future would be filled with creativity. We met with Özlem herself at the Apartment 51 concession in Galeries Layfette, Dubai Mall for a coffee to get to know her and to learn all about how she turned her creative passion into an internationally acclaimed homeware and jewelry brand.

Apartment 51: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Özlem Tuna: Everything inspires me. If I had to choose my biggest inspiration it would be the city of Istanbul. I simply adore the culture and experience of the city. I love the beauty of opposites Istanbul offers from poverty to extreme richness, the clean and the unclean, and the dramatic mix of qualities of life that together live in harmony. The city is a buzzing transcontinental beauty spot. I am hugely inspired by people and cultures which is transmitted into the production and designs of my work.

I live by Oliver Sacks' quote, “My religion is nature. That's what arouses those feelings of wonder and mysticism and gratitude in me.”

My jewellery collection is inspired by books. I choose one writer a year and I read all their books. For instance, last year I read Paul Auster, a Jewish American author. Paul Auster’s novel, titled Moon Palace inspired my ‘Journey to the Moon’ collection.

It is a beautiful thing to understand the inner workings of an artist. Who is your customer, do you think they see the same beauty that goes into your work?

Usually my customers understand the design and the quality that goes into my pieces. They understand and appreciate the homemade products and they recognise the importance of staying away from mass production. I like to concentrate on being affordable for my customers, but I don’t believe in mass production and I won’t agree to produce my items outside of Turkey. I want to give back to my heritage, my country and the people of Turkey. All my pieces are locally designed, produced and from local ingredients. Authenticity is very close to my heart. I have to support local sustainability, fair trade and the people around me. I feel this is simply being human. My brand is appealing to those that are nature-friendly and human-friendly.

Özlem Tuna Byzantium Cappuccino Set, DubaiÖzlem Tuna drop eye copper bowl, DubaiÖzlem Tuna, Mosaic Turkish coffee set, Dubai

This is truly inspirational. Have you always been this creative with the same values?

I remember where I grew up in a little town with a garden, I use to play with mud and when in the kitchen I would play with dough. I use to help my granddad who was a chef and a baker. I would form the dough and make shaped bread, and desserts.  I’ve always been interested in moulding and shaping things.

Your homeware and jewelry items present innovation in terms of their production and style. How have you maintained these qualities?

I enjoy observing people and how they go about their lives. I watch their behaviours, movement and how they use their hands. I inject those production observations and techniques into my products. Modernity is moving at such a rapid rate, and therefore we need to move with it in order to keep things fresh and interesting. While the world changes, so will my products. As mentioned previously, my designs teach and tell stories which keep the brand alive and new.

What are your plans for new products?

I have been reading books on our Byzantium period and I have fallen in love with the story and Empress Theodora’ Life. I will be launching a new collection inspired by the subject. The collection will not be about the Byzantium time or jewellery – it is just the inspiration behind the collection. Like the creation of a film, it is all the items together that tell a story. You end up with a beautiful item that presents all the experience that has been felt in its creation.

What are your favourite items?

I don’t have a favourite – it’s the journey I take that I hold close to my heart. I find it difficult when a creation comes to an end but I understand that I need to channel this passion and concentrate on the next creation. It’s the next idea and nature that keeps you alive.

How did you transform your concept into a reality?

I graduated from Art School in Ozlem in ceramic and design in 1993 in Istanbul. In 1996, I focused on designing jewellery and started a role at Urart Company. This is the time in which a dramatic change occurred in my life.

I was sat in a meeting and listening to a new product collection strategy. I realized, right there and then that I didn’t believe in the strategy. I was surprised how the need to communicate my true feelings on the subject overcome me like an unexpected ocean wave that consumed all of me. I had to be plainly honest and so, in that same meeting I informed everyone that I did not believe the strategy. I ended my role the same day. From here, I was liberated and began to think it was the time to do something on my own. 2 months later I began thinking about it seriously and opened a small studio. 

Özlem Tuna Turkish coffee set from Apartment 51, UAEÖzlem Tuna boxes, homeware from Apartment 51Özlem Tuna vase, homeware from Apartment 51, UAE

I didn’t have a clue how or where to begin. I spent 5 years learning about business. I focused on building great relationships and later opened a shop near Grand Bazaar. Soon after, a magnificent lady come in and brought everything. The shop was empty. This special customer whilst purchasing my items gave me great advice. She told me that the pieces she liked the most, were the pieces I liked the least, such as the traditional use of the Turkish evil eye. Because I had grown up around traditional Turkish design, I wanted to move away from it, but I learnt that customers wanted to see more of my culture and the patterns from my heritage and thus I began incorporating the inspirations in my work.

Proceeding this, I began taking my work to fairs. I later signed a large coffee cup supplier deal with the W Hotel, as well as the Rixos Hotel Dubai. And today, I am working with the beautiful home concept store, Apartment 51.

Looking towards the future of the brand, I would love to venture into the food business using organic products all sourced locally.

You can find Özlem Tuna’s homeware items online or visit Apartment 51 at Galeries Lafayette located in Dubai Mall

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