Iksel Decorative Arts and Design is a company known for their opulent prints and designs, which bring an elegant or exotic touch to any interior. To call their product simply wallpaper would not do it justice, for their creations, which are printed on nonwoven paper, look more like hand-painted frescos. Iksel Decorative Arts was founded in 1988 by husband-and-wife team Mehmet and Dimonah Iksel. Based in Paris for many years, the Iksels decided to make Istanbul their second home in 2010, and now split their time between the two cities.
Both Mehmet and Dimonah come from very cosmopolitan backgrounds: Mehmet is the son of a Turkish diplomat who settled in Paris, while Dimonah is of mixed Hungarian and Iraqi heritage and grew up in the Middle East, Europe, and Canada. They met while traveling through India, where they fell in love with the country and each other. At the time, Dimonah was a jewelry designer living in New York, while Mehmet was a stage director living in Paris, who was in India buying the artwork for a friend’s hotel in Bodrum. Falling in love fast and hard, they decided to drop everything and embark on a project together. While Mehmet was looking for Indian silk miniature paintings, they were both amazed by the quality and speed of the local craftsmanship. They decided to take this talent for painting and apply it to walls, starting their business.
They rented a huge studio space in the city of Jaipur, and hired 80 local artisans to paint by hand. The Iksels immediately enjoyed success and had a number of high-profile clients, including Rajamata Gayatri Devi, the rajmata (princess) of Jaipur. The rajmata was very supportive of their work, and loved that they were fusing traditional Indian miniature paintings with their vision of interior decoration, and they decorated several rooms in her famous residence, known as Lilypool. It was not just the rajmata who referred clients to them, but also the legendary Gem Palace, which specializes in lavish jewelry. Gem Palace was at the heart of the Jaipur social scene, a place where you could meet aristocrats, rock stars, and royalty. Between the Kasliwals, who own Gem Palace, and the rajmata, many future clients discovered the Iksels’ work.
Iksel’s reputation quickly spread through word-of-mouth, and they received many commissions for custom hand-painted rooms. Mrs. Iksel points out that they have been very lucky with the press, receiving a lot of positive coverage right from the start, and have been fortunate to work on many amazing interiors.
For the first 15 years of their business, everything that was delivered to their clients was designed by the Iksels before being hand-painted and gold-leafed in their studio in India. Then, ten years ago, their business took a major leap with digital technology. They purchased a scanner so high-tech it had just recently been declassified by NASA. Taking advantage of its incredibly high-resolution capabilities, they started scanning their own paintings, and, recently, antique wallpapers as well. This level of technology, combined with hand-painting allowed them even more freedom in their designs, coloration, and sizing.
This level of technology has allowed them great creative liberty, such as the ability to create paintings from their own collages or directly scan the walls of chateaus in France and edit the results in Photoshop. When creating their designs, they try to find documents that are original and unknown, and often look in public libraries, museums, and bookshops, taking elements and re-manipulating them. They began creating a special archival collection after the renowned interior designer Mica Ertegün, who admired their work, visited them in Paris with her assistant. Through Ertegün, they met a couple who collect antique wallpaper and allowed the Iksels to scan their collection. They have also recently introduced a standard collection, which is available in standard sizing and limited colors, from their Garden Design range. They created this line, which they sell for half the price of customized panels, because they wanted to make their work more accessible. Most of their orders are still for custom printing, however.
Today, their designs are still hand-painted, then scanned and printed according to the size and color needed. In fact, they can print a piece up to eight meters high without any loss of definition. They can custom-print panels, or clients can place an order from a standard catalog. They also still offer hand-painted and gold-leafed rooms for clients who are willing to pay for such work, but most designers are more than happy with the effect and price point of their printed panels.
I had the chance to sit down with Dimonah and discuss her view of Istanbul, now that she is a resident.
What was your first impression of Istanbul when you moved here? Did it surprise you?
I had visited Istanbul many times before, but we made the decision to live here because we found it to be the perfect compromise between India and Paris. This city is exotic and has a throbbing heart, yet it also has the practicality and conveniences you would find in a European city. Another reason we wanted to move here was because we wanted to give our son a sense of his Turkish heritage. I was so taken with the beauty of the city and the various views of the Bosphorus that I decided to write a book about it with my husband, The Terraces of Istanbul.
Has that impression changed significantly since you started living here?
I was more than surprised by Istanbul – I was thrilled by it, and by its genuine and honest people. The average person on the street is so polite! I have been very touched by Istanbul, both aesthetically and by the humanity. For such a huge metropolis with so many people, there is so much kindness.
What do you like most about the city?
The Bosphorus, for its beauty.
What do you least like?
The rampant concrete buildings and copy/paste architecture that you see everywhere today.
What are your favorite neighborhoods or areas in Istanbul?
Bebek and Arnavutköy, because of the huge concentration of old wooden houses. But also Sultanahmet, Eminönü, Mahmutpaşa, Tahtakale, and Kandilli.
What is your favorite view in the city?
The view from Adile Sultan Palace in Kandilli, but there are so many, which is why I decided to write a subjective guide on the gorgeous views from Istanbul’s many terraces.
What are your favorite Turkish foods?
Where do you start? I love the whole cuisine, but particularly zeytinyağlı (olive oil) dishes, and other traditional dishes, such as pilav and dolma, when they are made with love.
What are your favorite restaurants?
Zuma, Matbah, Changa, Kıyı, Chilai, and so many great fish restaurants.
What is your favorite museum or historical site in Istanbul?
The Aya Sofya is extraordinary. As for museums, the archeology museum, the Museum for Turkish and Islamic Arts, the Sadberk Hanım Museum, and the Sakıp Sabancı Museum all have great exhibitions.