Özlem Tuna, Istanbul: dreams made out of mud and dough // DESIGN

Posted on: 2. September 2020

© Serhat Özşen // Özlem Tuna

An interview by Nina Prehofer from THE Stylemate

Özlem Tuna is a designer in Istanbul, where she takes inspiration from the city, its crafts, its materials, life on the historic peninsula, and the hustle and bustle of the Grand Bazaar. But it all started in her home town by the sea in Anatolia, where dreams of the future were shaped out of mud and dough.

We would have been only too happy to meet Özlem Tuna in person in Istanbul, to visit her studio and her shop, drink coffee in her favourite traditional coffee house, Çorlu Ali Paşa Medresesi, look over the shoulders of artisans at work, and find peace on the banks of the Bosphorus. That is what Özlem Tuna’s gaze is always drawn to when she wanders through Istanbul.

And so it became an exchange via email and Zoom – nice in a different way, as it was a glimpse from the home office into the life of someone else, with whom you find a new affinity because of the restrictions on public life imposed around the world. It’s a view from the living room in Vienna of a stunning studio on a small street that in normal times would be teeming with life.


© Serhat Özşen

Özlem Tuna comes from the town of Burhaniye on the Aegean coast, south of Istanbul. For her, it was the perfect place to grow up because there was endless inspiration for an “adventurous young girl”. Surrounded by a large garden and very close to the sea, she loved to discover everything.

“I was so lucky to grow up in a beautiful bay on the sea with olive groves.”


Özlem is convinced that we find our balance in life during our childhood, and our origins and roots are very influential in determining the person we become later in life. She used to play with mud in the garden and whip up remarkable mud kitchen creations. That was the first sign of what would become her love of producing pots out of clay. Her relationship with her father shaped who she is today.

After graduating from a school specialising in cuisine and cooking, Özlem Tuna was encouraged by her father to attend art school and study ceramics. The first item she crafted was a small vase. She didn’t use any tools to make it, only her hands to help form the shape. Just as prominent in her memory is experimenting with the cultivation of different types of yeast when she was a student making her own bread at home.


I always prefer working with my hands in order to make something. For me, clay is still a good material with which to express my thoughts.




I see cooking and product design as the same thing.


Her first job after finishing university was as a jewellery designer on the historic peninsula of Istanbul. To be a female designer in Turkey is normal these days, but when Özlem started out 20 years ago, it was difficult to be a woman working in the city’s jewellery quarter. It was very traditional, and the route to becoming a master required many years of training that had to be completed there. Men learnt entire processes and worked as a closed group, while there were very few women.

In 2003, Özlem founded her own brand and design studio in Turkey’s cultural centre, as she considers Istanbul to be the best location for design and manufacturing, with traditional methods being combined with modern technology. That’s what she sees as the heart of the historic centre of Istanbul, which is home to such a rich variety of studios. Since setting up the studio, she has had success with her own product line, as well as with her studio, working for companies both large and small, national and international. Sleek yet powerful design paired with perfectly executed handwork is what turns Özlem’s work into highly sought-after objects, renowned as far away as New York and sold in Bloomingdale’s.


© Serhat Özşen


Her materials of choice are porcelain and ceramic, wood, fabric, glass, brass, copper and steel, as well as gold, silver and precious and semi-precious gemstones. The collections carry names such as Mosaic, Sage and Credo Istanbul. If she had to pick out one object, she would choose a coffee cup.


Even as a young child I loved coffee. We weren’t yet allowed to drink it but I used to secretly pinch coffee beans and chew on them.

She has expressed this passion for coffee for many years in the form of incredibly refined and elegant cups and mugs made out of porcelain.



SAGE” Series

© Serhat Özşen


This handmade porcelain series is inspired by the leaves of the sage.The special matt glaze creates a unique range of colors between different shades of gray, white, pink and green. The color play is unique for each piece. The golden decor applied on the glaze, flows almost mystically over the bowls, cups and mugs.


I live today and can create something that benefits me and my environment. That is worthwhile and will have to do for now in terms of optimism.


Özlem Tuna’s 8 hot spots in Istanbul

1. The traditional ÇORLU ALI PAŞA MEDRESESI coffee house (Mollafenari, Yeniçeriler Cd. No:38, 34120 Fatih/İstanbul).
2. The PATIKA KITABEVI bookshop (Abdi İpekçi Caddesi, Milli Reasürans Çarşısı 43–57 G Blok, D:39 Teşvikiye, 34365 Şişli/İstanbul, @patikakitabevi).
3. Visit GÜLHANE PARK (Cankurtaran, Kennedy Cd., 34122 Fatih/İstanbul).
5. Everything around the GRAND BAZAAR.
6. KARAKÖY, the fish market and a cool area with many bars.
7. Take the FERRY between Europe and Asia.
8. KADIKÖY, the fish market and with many surrounding restaurants.



THE Stylemate