Talking Shop

Setting the Scene

Design Miami

Designer Merve Kahraman on creating spaces and objects to inspire

Merve Kahraman didn’t always want to be a designer. In fact, growing up, the Turkish talent was particularly interested in film; she found herself constantly drawn to visual storytelling. It was a chance sighting of a poster for Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan on the wall of her high school in Istanbul that drew her in. “I just followed my instincts,” she says.

Merve Kahraman; Photo courtesy of Beril Gulcan

It was a good move. After her interior design studies in Milan, Kahraman earned her master’s degree in product design at Central Saint Martins in London. Along the way, she worked for several renowned designers, including Tom Dixon and Tord Boontje, ultimately launching her own studio in 2012. 

Today, Kahraman spends most of her time in New York, and makes frequent visits to Istanbul to oversee production of her furniture line, which is produced by expert Turkish artisans. And her practice—known for chic, personality-driven objects and interiors—is all about telling stories through design. Kahraman sees spaces and objects as opportunities for self expression, “extensions to one’s personality,” and she takes great pride in creating work that celebrates the people she encounters—even frequently naming furniture pieces after some of her favorites.

Dining room in Kahraman’s own Soho apartment; Kahraman’s Cassini lamp, inspired by the Cassini–Huygens space mission; Photos courtesy of the designer

Her eclectic portfolio is marked by gorgeous color combinations and visual surprises, and she mixes and remixes elements from some of design’s history’s most delicious eras—midcentury Italian, Memphis, and more—often with a dose of humor. In every case, she explains, “There is a fictional concept in my mind. I try to harmonize the space and the objects within this story. I almost see it as designing a set for a play or a movie.”

Dining corner inside an apartment in Istanbul’s trendy Bebek neighborhood; Photo courtesy of Ozan Bal

In a recently completed pied-á-terre in Istanbul’s super hip Bebek neighborhood, for example, Kahraman’s design included a colorful, cafe-inspired dining area—complete with custom pink banquette—as well as a “special escape” in the back of the apartment, a French-inspired red, white, and blue nook, designed to evoke a holiday-like vibe at home. Throughout the apartment, Kahraman combined “vibrant, energetic colors” and “comfortable furniture and lighting,” almost all of which she designed, in combination with vintage furniture finds and contemporary accessories.

A holiday-inspired nook inside an Istanbul apartment; Photos courtesy of Merve Kahraman

In another occasional home for a young family on the Upper East Side, Kahraman wanted to offer her clients the sensation of staying at an ultra-cozy hotel. She went with a delightful color palette—one that feels equal parts sunset- and candy-shop-inspired—and the results are refined but relaxed. 

 An Upper East Side family apartment by Kahraman; Photos courtesy of Allyson Lubow

Asked for her go-to design advice, Kahraman says simply, Always use empathy—and a bit of humor. She believes it’s crucial to never take oneself too seriously, and that storytelling is key in connecting clients to their homes. So unexpected visuals—bold colorways, holiday-inspired settings, or even a chair with antlers—are playful tools that help set the stage for her clients to really enjoy their objects and spaces. Ultimately, shes creating work for the home, a place where people live out their own stories, so her aim is to inspire: “I want to create a personal bond between my work and the users.”◆