With its lush swaths of deep reds and rich blues, all bathed by natural light from windows overlooking Istanbul, the Marmara Taksim hotel is a lavish journey into contemporary design that moves toward the future while keeping a respectful eye on the past. The 20-year-old property is under renovation by interior design firm Wilson Associates, which is completing the building in phases. Work on the ambitious project started in 2010, beginning with the ballroom, business center, lobby and reception area, and lobby-level Tuti restaurant. The next phase included additional ballrooms, executive lounge and top-floor restaurants; the final phase, now in progress, is the guest rooms.
The Marmara Taksim is Wilson Associates’ first project in Turkey, but it was a perfect fit, as the company’s senior vice president and executive design director, Dan Kwan, had visited Istanbul on holiday. “I loved the city, and being a bit of a student of architectural history, I spent a lot of time in Turkey and studied the Ottoman and Holy Roman empires,” he recalls. “I’m very interested in history, so working on the hotel was a bit of a stroke of luck. The owners knew of our work, so we came to this project through our reputation. When we met, there was immediate chemistry. They’re fantastic owners and very forward-thinking.”
The hotel has been passed on from father to daughter, and with the business now in the hands of a younger generation, Kwan had very specific goals in mind—namely, updating the hotel to appeal to its new, hip clientele, while at the same time holding on to Turkish traditions. Rather than do so through architecture, Kwan looked into the fabric—the literal fabric—of the culture.
“I think the glue of any society is the people, and how culture or stories are translated through people led me to the idea of it being woven into the cloth,” Kwan says. “I started looking at kaftans, beautiful pieces of ceremonial clothing, and I looked very seriously at how the fabric, the physical cloth, would tell the story of a culture. I landed on the kaftan and began looking at the weave. The interior design [of the hotel], the lines, the patterns are all basically the weave of the cloth, supersized. We took the kaftan and made it a physical space. The way it was woven, the geometry of the patterns, is all Istanbul or Turkish, so that is how I reached the look that you see today.”
Kwan describes the hotel as an oasis in the city, and in turn he wanted to capture the essence of Istanbul via colors and proportions. This was accomplished with the whirling dervish revolving glass chandelier in the main lobby. “The chandelier revolves every time the revolving door moves,” says Kwan, “to represent the fluidity of the dervish of Turkey. It flies through space and time, much like the weave of the cloth.”
As for the specific colors used throughout the project, blue was chosen for the meeting and dining spaces to project dignity and calmness. Red, the color of both the Turkish flag and passion, is “the common color of blood that links all human beings,” says Kwan, and it can be found most vividly in the lobby.
To create balance, the executive lounge is green, which Kwan likens to watching the sky change colors at different times of the day. The 18th floor lounge also has green in its décor, which complements the gray cast of the city’s buildings as seen through its immense windows. The guest rooms are renovated in shades of brown, “chocolates and tobaccos for the setting sun and shimmering sea at dusk,” says Kwan. “They’re dusky colors because the room is meant for rest.”
"We took a kaftan and made it a physical space. The way it was woven, the geometry of the patterns, is all Istanbul or Turkish," says Dan Kwan.
Even Kwan finds the progress to be inspiring. When he first saw the Marmara Taksim, he admits, “I wanted to run away! It was so dated and piecemeal. Over the years, they’d do something here and add something there. It became a mishmash.” He presented his vision to the owners, who embraced his ideas and gave him free reign.
Renovations were made within the original structure, with careful planning for space and ambience. The lobby area, for example, was fully renovated to convey a more modern feel. “In the old days you had a huge reception area and desk, which felt very dated,” says Kwan. “We made the area a bit smaller and more intimate, so that you’re closer to the staff that serve you.”
The lines between lounge, bar and restaurant were re-planned and blurred, and the Tuti restaurant was gutted and redone. It now features browns and golds, mixed with warm natural wood furniture, and an elaborate Turkish motif partition with whimsical blue glazed pendent fixtures overhead. The fixtures were fashioned after the millions of indigo and yellow evil eyes that have become the icons of Istanbul, and are thought to provide good fortune when grouped together.
Turkish marble, stone and natural woods were used throughout the project, and lighting fixtures were locally manufactured. Initially, Kwan hoped to use all recycled materials, but budget constraints made it difficult to fulfill that wish. He did locate a Turkish manufacturer that recycles ceramic tiles, some of which were implemented in the renovation process, along with some recycled wood.
“The big step,” he says, “is that we managed to change the hotel to a complete LED, low-energy solution, which is wonderful. We hardly do that outside of the United States. It’s very important in today’s world to be totally sustainable, and I think Turkey in general is moving in the right direction by way of legislature or thinking outside of the box, because we can’t afford oil anymore and our resources are very limited. Owners in general are being forced to think in that direction now, which is great for the planet.”