The Çukurcuma neighborhood isn’t a heavy hitter in the minds of many who either visit or live in Istanbul, a bizzare feat to maintain given its location; hemmed in by Cihangir, Tophane, and Galatasaray. This camoflauging act may be coming to an end as people take more and more notice of everything the neighborhood has to offer. Throughout the years, Çukurcuma has maintained the quiet hum of its reputation, as it boasts a wide variety of antique shops, which house anything and everything from the quaint and quirky to the refined and well-designed. If you happen to take a stroll and get lost, enjoy it, and drop by these antique and design shops while you’re there for some really enjoyable finds.
We start with a shop that houses truly ‘antique’ items as one might classically think of them. The collection at Modern Tarih retains a distinctly exotic flair, as you will find wonderful art pieces from as far afield as China, Russia, Africa, and Mongolia - many of which are over 200 years old. There is plenty here to satisfy any culture enthusiast, such as gorgeous tapestries, impressively-carved wooden doors, stone gates and regal statues. The space fits the material; the store is lit and arranged thoughtfully, rather than a simple amassing of collectibles as you are likely to find in similarly conceived shops. Altogether, these qualities lend the earth-toned showroom museum-like, reputable feel.
Wandering the space for this antique dealer is almost as enjoyable as browsing the antiques themselves. Set up in an old house in the neighborhood, the collection spills out into the garden to the front and side of the building, where most of the store’s beautiful marble statues are aptly placed. Karadeniz Antik houses a respectable collection of paintings and other memorabilia from the Anatolian peninsula and Europe reaching back as far as 100 years. Perhaps one of the more delightful and giddy discoveries on hand is an original, highly delicate, and ornate glassware set from the days of the Ottoman Empire, a perfectly appropriate entry-point to start learning about the history that dominates this region.
A La Turca
This antique store in a gorgeous four-story house. Owner Erkal Aksoy clearly has an excellent eye for all the finer things in life. As well as a vast array of kilims and carpets, A la Turca carries a refined collection of furniture, accessories, and antique textiles.
Şamdan stocks a range of traditional items, such as china, glassware, and pieces of ornamental calligraphy, and specializes in Ottoman and Art Deco pieces.
Galeri Alfa was one of the first stores to open in this area, is a unique shop specializing in antique maps, engravings, and a collection of toy soldiers. In fact, this is the only place where you can find a collection of lead alloy toy soldier sets of the Ottoman Royal Army and the Janissary corps, each piece hand-painted with historically-accurate costumes. Visiting this shop is a real treat for children and sophisticated collectors alike.
Müstamel Eşya Evi
This shop is like a feast for the eyes; bright colors abound and bold patterns define the items they are laced onto. Müstamel Eşya Evi owner Aslı Kendiroğlu shows a certain fondness for items (furniture especially) that feature decorative and geometric patterns and shapes. Plenty of mature, retro lamps boasting vibrant hues can also be found. The furniture on hand is generally from the 1950’s and 60’s, both original and refurbished.
Onsekiz LTD is a yet another vintage store in Çukurcuma that pursues industrial lighting and factory lamps. Despite the shared ‘retro’ feel, it is unique in the area, a feeling you sense quite immediately after passing through the arched doorway. Onsekiz's products (which generally originate from the US and UK) date from the 1930s to the 1970s. Some furniture pieces can also be found, like clunky yet charming metal chairs and shelves. More aesthetic might be the aged, hand-painted store signs, which are painstakingly reproduced by the shop owner Selçuk Arıkan. Beyond this, a fine collection of hood ornaments from a variety of different car models bring to mind nostalgic memories of the road. This store definitely exudes that feeling of ‘the find,’ which is exactly what one comes to the neighborhood for.
The Works: ‘Objects of Desire’
This extraordinary shop is a veritable cave of bizarre and sometimes quite disturbing wonders. The Works 'Objects of Desire' is something like an antique shop, as its stock is in the main collected and treasured from generations past, but it also sells things you would never find in any self-respecting antique shop, including a sizable erotica section. It is an absolute hoard, and is stocked so delicately and closely that you have to take care while walking through the store not to brush, bump, or otherwise break the pieces that ring your passage. Vintage clothes, including brands like Donna Karan as well as unbranded items, are piled away among collections of books, toys and what can only be described as miscellaneous pieces (a wooden margarine box, an elaborate cigarette dispenser and a mysterious "general electric mechanical object" among the mix). A must-see for the spectacle of it all, even if you have no intention of buying anything.
A tastefully cluttered antique shop, Ayşe Örbek specializes in a range of antiques, including pottery, silverware, and heavy, marble bowls. The shop also houses a great selection of lamps, tea sets, and beautifully worn, 100 year old encyclopedias and other books. You can find a number of Arabic calligraphy paintings that are delicately inscribed to their canvas, or similarly, engraved into heavy stone stelae from the early days of the Turkish Republish and the end of the Ottoman Empire.
Furniture and Design Shops
Located just a stone’s throw from Karadeniz Antik, Hakan Ezer focuses in a more traditional style of décor. Having decorated the homes of some of the most prominent Istanbulites, Ezer is also known to provide interior design services. The tables and lighting fixtures inhabit a style that you might encounter in the 1960’s, though they keep a sort of modern vibe as well. Art enthusiasts who keep their ear to the ground will delight in the showroom also, as it features paintings by contemporary Turkish artists, including Volkan Diyaroğlu, Selma Gürbüz, and Fikret Mualla. The store hasn’t entirely abandoned the antique area, however, as on display are a number of ancient artifacts from 15th Century China and statues from the Ottoman Empire.
Nahide Büyükkaymacı is a storied Istanbul-based designer that has put her stylistic touch on many areas of Istanbul and areas abroad. Her interior design flourishes can be found in restaurants in London, The Les Ottomans Lux Hotel here in Istanbul, and in the newly-built Şakirin Mosque in Üsküdar. Following a more artist-centered design approach, her showroom in Çukurcuma boasts newly created pieces rather than antiques. Her hand is evident in the woks that line the walls, such as unqiue leather tapestries with special motifs hand or lazer-cut into the fabric. On display are a number of other notable Turkish artists’ works, including Gulsin Ergil, an electrical engineer turned artist, who crafts unique tables and chairs entirely from reclaimed wood. Another of note is Tayfun Erdoğmuş, a still-active fine arts professor at Marmara University, who creates gorgeous mirrors and glass tables by laying intricate designs in gold and silver paint over reflective surfaces.
Christopher Hall is an interior designer specializing mostly in furniture and lighting. Beyond furniture, there is a wealth of great objects on hand – decorative design pieces to adorn any room. His self-proclaimed love of meshing the antique with the modern comes through in his work. This hybridization allows him to explore cultural influences as well, which are reflected in his various collections. The ‘Sigma’ collection is his homage to central and eastern Asia. It features tables with unique angular structures and stools that impart gracious curves to the air. Other collections mirror Hall’s fascination with practical design in wood, steel, and stone, and also play with the balance of light and shadow in the creation of mirrors, tables, and candleholders. The showroom in Çukurcuma focuses on the vintage, and that theme saturates the many old and refurbished chairs you might find. The same can be said of the wonderfully thoughtful lighting fixtures he produces.
Founded in the neighborhood in 1960 by Adil Usta, this furniture shop has been carrying on a tradition of fine wooden craft from father to son for decades. They specialize in taking old and new wood (oak, walnut, chestnut, and pine are a just a few examples) and carefully constructing pieces that maintain the original textures, patterns, and integrity of the grain. The great thing about Detay Mobilya is their eagerness to design to any custom order, whether it be an idea more true to a classic piece of furniture or a uniquely modern shape – the shop is more than happy to undertake the project. Everything is crafted in store, assembling anything from wood to stone to metal materials, custom fit to order. The raw wood styles that seem quite trendy these days are nothing new to Detay Mobilya, as they’ve been dealing in just such a form for 50 years. Some of the more standard products include tables and chairs, but projects extend as far as interior wooden paneling, cabinets, and outdoor structures. That’s the beauty of Detay Mobilya – you are only limited by your imagination, and the skill of the woodworkers is likely to match it.
For 21 years, Tombak Antika has concentrated on such goods as antique carpets, detailed copper and bronze decorative items, old lamps, and pottery. Two large, wooden wheels hang out front above stone flower pots and various metal works, and this gives a hint of the range of goods carried inside. The store includes an eclectic set of trinkets and oddities, ranging from old bınoculars to old soaps and more. As with most antique shops, this is a place where great bargains can be found should you delve into the myriad of objects long enough.
One of the most established shops in the neighborhood is Aslı Günşiray, which has been open since 1988. While this shop does carry antiques, the concept is slightly different than others in the area as Günşiray uses imported fabrics from Europe and Central Asia for her own furniture and cushion designs. With her unique style, Günşiray also designs custom-made pieces for commercial and individual spaces.
Lüle (Arts of Tophane)
Doğukan Ires runs the small, minimalistic shop which is one of the most recent additions to Çukurcuma. This store specializes in traditional Ottoman terra cotta pottery designs called lüle; The techniques for making this type of pottery were lost for years and were only recently rediscovered.
Located just next to Onsekiz LTD and run by the same owner of that shop, Sıfır is a vintage store that sells a variety of extraordinary pieces, such as an x-ray machine from the 1930s turned into a table and an English airplane pilot seat from the 1960s turned into an armchair. The product range includes a variety of furniture, accessories, and industrial items, all of which date back to the 1930s-1970s.
The density of any of these stores can seem daunting at times, but that worry quickly evaporates as you realize the endless opportunity to find something perfectly tailored to your tastes or to be surprised by something you didn’t know was there. Take time to filter, sift, and sieve through it all and you will most certainly be rewarded.