Istanbul Apartment Makeover

Last month, Ben and I had the incredible opportunity to visit his parents in Istanbul, Turkey. Ben’s dad, Robert, works for the international division of a construction company based in Colorado Springs. He manages projects overseas on behalf of American contractors. Most of his projects are in Europe and the Middle East, so Robert and Sondra recently moved to Istanbul. We stayed with them in their apartment overlooking the Bosphorus, which is a body of water that separates the Asian and European sides of Istanbul. The city is spread out across both continents, and his parents live on the Asian side. This is the view from their 14th floor apartment and their building is only a few blocks from the coast. Istanbul is an incredibly dense city, so being next to the water was refreshing.


Their apartment was pre-furnished by their landlord. Ben’s mom, Sondra, made the incredibly smart decision to ask for neutral furnishings. This gave us a blank canvas to work with, which made decorating less of a challenge and more of an adventure! We sourced items from IKEA, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, and their own home. Their living room was our main focus. It receives tons of natural light from the wall of windows that overlook the sea. Here are some “before” shots.

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Since we had a great neutral palette as our background, I knew we needed to introduce color and texture. Turkey is known for their kilim rugs and pillows. “Kilim” is a term that refers to flatweave, no-pile rugs. Kilim rugs are typically woven exclusively with wool, but some kilims can be woven with wool+cotton blends, or wool+silk blends. The fibers used to weave kilims can be dyed with natural vegetable dyes or chemical dyes. The natural dyes are more durable, and less prone to fade over time. Their colors are more muted and earthy, and usually cost more because of the skill and materials required to make them.

We went to The Grand Bazaar to shop for kilim pillows. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is a place unlike anything I’ve ever seen. After entering through a small gate and going through security, you are instantly surrounded by crowds of people and shops of every kind. Turkish shopkeepers sell carpets, pillows, scarves, spices, ceramics, and clothing. The tiny storefronts line a maze of hallways that are easy to get lost in even if you know where you’re going. Everywhere you turn, there are sights and sounds and smells that draw you in.



(Photo credit: Pinterest)

Ben’s mom, Sondra, picked out four beautiful kilim pillow covers. Kilim pillows are made from old kilim rugs. Kilim merchants may have a few pillows that came from the same rug, but each cover is one of a kind. We bought the pillow inserts during our trip to IKEA, where we also found some furniture and art. Before, there was a floor lamp next to the gray wingback chair. We replaced it with an end table and table lamp from IKEA to provide more table space.


Here is a reminder of what this space looked like before, and what it looks like now!



What previously felt like a hotel room now feels like a cozy Turkish-inspired home. When sourcing our decorative pieces, we focused on adding color and layering textures. This helped to give the totally gray space some warmth, coziness, and layers of visual interest. The woven wicker end table brings in a contrasting texture between the two shades of gray velvet. The wicker texture is echoed by the jute placemat on the coffee table. If you look closely, the coffee table and TV stand are the exact same piece of furniture! These were provided by the landlord, but also came from IKEA. We put the placemat, a few books, and a fake plant on the table to set it apart from the TV stand and break up the all-white surface. Sondra and Robert travel for extended periods of time, so adding real plants to this space would not have been a wise move. We added two small fake plants that still bring warmth and an organic quality to the space (and will never die even when they leave!)


The wicker table, gold lamp, and peachy tones of the pillow bring warmth to the gray chair and white walls. Because the room itself contained primarily cooler colors, I introduced warmer colors in the decorative pieces to bring balance.


Robert and Sondra already owned the books that I used in this room. The tiny floral book is a wedding photo album from me and Ben!



After adding the main pieces that we sourced from IKEA and the Grand Bazaar, I walked around their home looking for other ordinary pieces that could be used decoratively. Their many language books made a great base for this plant. Sondra bought the navy cream pitcher on a trip to Romania. We filled it with pink flowers from a flower stand down the street from their house.




Sondra chose kilim covers that look beautiful on their own, but look even better together!


The large blank wall over the couch needed a large scale piece of art. Putting a tiny canvas on that large wall would have looked odd. Robert and Sondra chose the wall art from IKEA. It is a large canvas with a photo of Amsterdam, which they have visited many times! Most people put photos of foreign cities in their homes because they like the way they look. But Ben’s parents have photos of foreign cities in their home because they have travelled to all of those places! Instead of looking at the photo and saying “Wow, that place looks neat!”, Ben’s parents can look at this photo and say, “Remember when we went there on our honeymoon and were robbed?!?” Sondra said that they “have always loved water and the canals of Amsterdam. Bicycles and The Netherlands go together so having the bicycle be the one point of color seems perfect. We were robbed in Amsterdam but obviously that hasn’t left us with bad memories of it!”

The small series of turquoise maps under the clock echo the turquoise pots for the plants. Instead of being “matchy matchy”, tying similar colors and textures across one room provides a sense of unity. Robert had the great idea to add two more identical clocks to this corner and set each time to the different time zones they live in (Istanbul, Des Moines, and Colorado Springs).

We also added the round mirror above the TV. They had a lot of wall space, and using a mirror was a great way to fill the blank space without being overwhelming.


(Ben’s cute parents!)


What previously felt like a hotel room now feels like a cozy Turkish-inspired home. We also brought in some new pieces for the connected dining room. Sondra picked out simple and minimal white dishes. We added more jute placemats and a minimal gray tablecloth.


The trivet under the flower vase and the bowl full of candy are both Turkish ceramics from The Grand Bazaar! When decorating a space, I love to source the client’s own home and surrounding areas. Decorating is an opportunity to reflect the family that lives in the home and the environment in which they live. Instead of just looking to what is trendy, I love to look for what is personal and unique to the family. For Robert and Sondra’s Istanbul apartment, this meant Turkish textiles and unique pieces from their adventures around the world.

Nothing beats shopping the Grand Bazaar, but if you would like to introduce some Cozy Turkish Mod to your home, here is a round-up of kilim pillows you can purchase without buying a plane ticket first.

cozy turkish mod

1. $52 + 2. $30

3. $40  + 4. $40 + 5. $20

6. $18 +  7. $46 + 8. $44

Thanks for reading! This is my favorite design I’ve ever helped with, and I’ve loved including Turkish textiles in my own home! Thank you, Robert and Sondra, for allowing me to help you make your Turkish home a little more homey! I’ll include more photos from our trip at the very end of this post.

If you would like help styling a room in your home, I would love to assist you! You can send me a message through this contact form. We can decide which design package would best fit your needs. (I offer e-styling packages if a home visit isn’t feasible!) Thank you for reading and supporting Holland Avenue Home. Until next time, Güle Güle! (Goodbye!)

With love, 

cozy turkish mod ad



Here is a slideshow of more pictures from our trip!

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