by Tazeen Siddique
To be modern is not a fashion, it is a state. It is necessary to understand history, and he who understands history knows how to find continuity between that which was, that which is, and that which will be. – Le Corbusier
The famous master Architect Le Corbusier’s quote seems customized for Turkey and inspired me to the extent that it planted a seed of obsession for “everything Turkish” in me, reinforced by my visit to Istanbul for an architectural conference and later as a tourist.
A few years ago, this obsession triggered my foray into the world of Turkish dizis, watching rom coms as well as dramas and crime thrillers, which highly impressed with their handsome cast, well scripted dramatic plots that incorporate a happy marriage of modern and traditional values against the beautiful cinematography of picturesque urban and natural environments. I was hooked and there was no turning back.
As an architect and interior designer, what especially catches my eye in Turkish dizi home sets is the attention to details of the sets, especially the homes of the protagonists which reflect their personalities. It also incorporates a continuity of styles ranging from vintage to contemporary. It reinforces Le Corbusier’s words about modernity not being just a fashion but a way of life which fosters continuity between the past, present and future. This post focuses on my observations of the aesthetics of some of the Turkish production sets I studied with great interest.
I read somewhere that the walls of a home reflect the souls of its inhabitants and I found this to be true in Dizi homes, where the artwork is selected specifically to give clues about the personality of the character inhabiting the space.
For example, in the ongoing dizi Yeni Hayat, the artwork in Timur Karatan’s daughter Gokce’s bedroom features multiple images and sculpture of abstract distorted faces, which reflects the innermost pain of passing her developing years as a ‘lonely unloved princess’ without a mother and craving for attention from a workaholic absentee father who presented her with a stepmother.
“The greatest art always returns you to the vulnerability of the human situation” (Hicks, 1989, p. 28). Such is the case with Gokce’s preference for the ‘unconventional’ artwork in the form of abstract faces reflecting a degree of invisibility which she felt as a child, while the contorted features reflect the loneliness and gloom felt during her formative years.
The use of multiple colors and a mismatch of patterns in her room also portrays her as a rebellious and confused girl child starved for attention and compels the visitor to lose themselves in the profusion of colors, patterns and textures.
Again, in Bay Yanlis, we see a larger than life size poster of a James Dean image with his iconic pose from his famous movie “ Rebel without a cause” displayed on the foyer wall of the bachelor pad of Ozgur, a successful restaurateur. The preference of this particular image immediately tells us much about the personality of Ozgur being a rebellious yet a sensitive modern man who, like his idol Jim Stark (played by James Dean), is caught in a conflict between the generation gap with an autocratic father and overly protective mother.
In the recent popular dizi Sen Cal Kapimi, a framed caricature of the famous Mexican artist and feminist Frieda Kahlo featured in the living room of the female protagonist Eda and her florist Aunt Ayfer’s home is an apt and relatable choice of artwork best understood by Kahlo’s quote “I paint flowers so they will not die”. Just as Frieda Kahlo’s inspirational art and bohemian lifestyle represents women’s empowerment, so too are Eda and Ayfer portrayed as free spirited and courageous yet pragmatic women living life on their own terms. It reminds me of another relevant quote from Frieda, “They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted my dreams. I painted my own reality”. In my opinion, the deliberate placement of Frieda Kahlo’s image not only serves as inspiration and motivation but also conveys a strong message about the empowered personalities of the residents of the household to the viewers.
In contrast to the strong willed and determined Eda, the female antagonist Selin in Sen Cal Kapimi is featured as a confused woman torn between her feelings and indecisive “yo-yoing” between her former Serkan and present partner Ferit who is equally indecisive . This personality trait is cleverly encoded in the diptych artwork of a pair of feathers facing each other in their bedroom coupled with feather cushions which gives us clues about the couple’s deep affinity and “flighty” nature of its inhabitants.
In another popular Dizi, Her Yerde Sen, we see the male protagonist Demir decorating his bedroom in a “Zen” like style with minimalist Japanese artwork adorning the walls, indicating his love for the Orient where he spent a few years adopting their philosophies, which ultimately reflected in his personality and taste .
In Kiralik Ask, the placement of the artwork titled “Mavi” (a Blue man with a curious expression) placed at the entrance of the protagonist Omer’s home served not only as a statement piece and conversation starter for visitors but it also depicted the paradoxical nature of its owner as an emotionally maimed, reticent but famous shoe designer. The monochromatic blue artwork also has symbolic implications as blue is often linked to creativity on one hand and represents sadness and depression on the other, a true representation of its owner.
BOOKS AND OTHER PROPS
Similarly, the type of literature and books lining the shelves and adorning the coffee tables may contain clues regarding the preferences of the protagonist as portraying them to be philosophical, cultured and well versed in the arts. Kiralik Ask has many scenes showing Omer’s rich library of literary classics, both Western and Turkish, from which he often quoted favorite passages to his beloved Defne. His recitations sometimes foreshadowed the future storyline and reinforced Omer’s character as a well read, cultured man of fine taste.
Decorative props and carefully chosen pieces of sculpture lining the shelves may also contain clues to the lifestyle and aspirations of the protagonist in the dizi.
For example, in Bay Yanlis, we see images of a couple on a mug and a small bride and groom statue on the shelf of Ezgi, the female lead, portrayed as a romantic young lady yearning to find her soulmate.
In Sen Cal Kapimi , we see an antique telescope, globes of various sizes and navigation apparatus, a wall relief of the solar system, a poster of the planets, a bust of a mythological warrior as well as a vintage wall clock featured in the home office of Serkan Bolat, an architect with a keen interest in astronomy and mythology. The placement of these props in the set not only gives us an insight into Serkan’s hobbies but also his persona as a well traveled brave warrior with a romantic disposition and someone who dreams of the stars but is compelled to navigate his life according to time limits (deadlines) and rules.
Similarly, the use of period furniture and an array of vintage cameras and car replicas lined up on a retro shelf in the home studio of Omer Iplikci, the renowned shoe designer in Kiralik Ask, gives clues regarding his inherent sentimentality and love of nostalgia despite his modernity.
Simple details like satin bedsheets are also cleverly used in Turkish dizi homes to convey the sensuous nature of its user.
Many times, furniture may also convey a subliminal message. Replicas of furniture designed by famous architects and product designers feature frequently in contemporary dizi homes, which also convey that the owner is a modern person of refined taste.
The most frequently used furniture item is the leather Chesterfield design couch, which finds itself in the bachelor pads of the alpha males portrayed in popular dizis.
Due to its association with masculinity and suitability in classic, retro as well as contemporary settings, the reputed leather Chesterfield couch and its variants feature prominently in man caves of “confirmed bachelors” in Kiralik Ask , Her Yerde Sen as well as Tatli Intikam.
ARCHITECTURAL STYLE & DESIGN ELEMENTS
Recently, I was greatly impressed with the home of the antagonist Timur Karatan in Yeni Hayat. Apparently a suave and dapper businessman, Timur is in actuality an abusive arms dealer who lives in a Spanish style waterfront villa on a sprawling estate, reminiscent of the flamboyant Miami style interiors often associated with the Miami Mafioso . Even though tastefully decorated, the tropical themed luxe eclectic interior spaces of the house and the parallels with the lifestyle preferences of the infamous Mafioso are a clue to Timur’s dark side and his ill gotten wealth.
Another noteworthy mention is the crystal chandelier encased in a brass birdcage hanging prominently in Timur and Yasemin’s bedroom as a central statement piece symbolizing the abused wife Yasemin’s predicament as a bird trapped in a golden cage.
The subtle representation encoded in the interior design style, artwork and props used is interesting to note and indicative of the extensive research that entails set designing and staging of dizi production, some dizis requiring more attention to detail than others due to script requirements.
Sometimes, a statement red entrance door to the home is featured as having historical as well as psychological implications. Once again in Kiralik Ask, a show that had many artistic elements rife in symbolism, the red door of Omar’s house speaks to our creative protagonist, portraying him as a man of deep emotions, passionate, sacrificing yet carrying within him a suppressed anger of past emotional baggage. Generally speaking, the interpretation of the red door varies across cultures and the symbolism may vary from being welcoming, good luck, a protector, indicating financial security etc.
From my vantage point, besides the eye-pleasing aesthetics, the set designers also need to be well versed in two major aspects – the psychological and the technical – blending a harmony that ensures a brilliant and memorable set design. For those of us interested, the process of set design is a global practice in its dynamics of what inspires the set designers and how the technical and psychological process works to merge aesthetics within the framework of the script. I provide further insight into this from two articles I found relevant for greater understanding. The links to the articles have been embedded in the sections, in addition to my summaries.
There is an interesting article called “The Psychology of Space”, which explains in detail about the clues and codes that reflect our personality. It seems that some intelligent Turkish Dizi set designers have incorporated this well and frequently into their work, to create unforgettable aspirational homes and spaces.
In the article, it discusses the findings of Sam Gosling, Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas. Professor Gosling quotes in his book Snoop: “One way to think about it is that there are lots of ways we betray our personality in day-to-day life, both deliberately and inadvertently.” He talks about how we claim our identity through the statements we make about ourselves, choose our thoughts and feelings within the spaces we design (i.e. the living room may have a different aura than our bedroom), and the subconscious ways we leave traces of our behavior in our spaces. He then goes on to discuss how these different ways we affect our home demonstrate the changes in the way we live and what matters to us. If interested, you can read the article linked above for deeper details.
It is a deeply researched discipline, and the Turkish set designs speak to the mindful approach the set designers incorporate into the psychology of the spaces being assembled. They use it effectively as an important communication tool about the character.
Another well understood aspect of set design is the technical process that is common to all set design regardless of country or location. An article on Set & Prop designs by ArtsAlive.ca provide a simple framework to think about this process.
The highlights of the article talk about the basic necessities a designer will consider. For example, the set should:
Suggest the style and tone of the whole production
Create mood and atmosphere
Give clues as to the specific time and place of the action
Offer creative possibilities for the movement and grouping of the actors
The set designer will make these decisions based upon careful perusal of the script, understand the spirit of the script and then map it onto the spatial requirements of the set e.g. time of day, location, season, period etc.
The set designers will also collaborate closely with the director to understand his/her vision and interpretations, so that a cohesive vision gets created. The intensely collaborative process will establish the broader themes that need to be captured, such as the design might require interior design styles to have “garish opulence” , “retrained minimalism”, “retro industrial “,” shabby chic”, warm earthy etc. befitting the personality trait of the protagonist to be highlighted.”
“Designers and people in general are too attracted by ‘new’, but nothing ages more quickly than ‘newness’. All my objects reflect [a] marriage between past and present.”
The Dutch designer and art director Marcel Wander’s definition of good design might best explain the success of Turkish dizi set designs which reflect modernity in the true sense, acting as a bridge between past and future and reflecting the respect that the Turks have for their heritage, culture, art and literature. A cosmic interpretation of their “living cities”, where even historical buildings which have undergone adaptive reuse, serve more as interactive emissaries rather than silent witnesses to the past. For example, buildings considered as architectural heritage such as the mosques, the hammams or even the “Muhallas” (neighborhoods) with traditional homes featured in most Dizis are still in use as “living edifices”.
The phenomena that impresses me most in the portrayal of homes of the Turkish dizi, is that not only traditional heritage houses but also designer contemporary homes and apartments are featured rather than opting for sets belonging to a studio. In my opinion, this elevates the status of the dizis to cinematic levels rather than being restricted to mere “sets for the telly”.
What’s interesting to note is that some of the homes featured in the popular dizis which are designed by reputed architects and designers have become the focus of “Dizi tourism”, where fans can actually avail of guided walk through tours of the homes of their favorite protagonists and shows.
In conclusion, I invite the die hard Turkish Dizi fans to avail of the tours if only to witness and appreciate the hard work and thought that goes into the set design and making of the dizi where we are temporarily transported into the well designed and aspirational “set” homes and lives of our favorite characters .
Article copyright (c) North America TEN & Tazeen Siddique.
Tazeen Siddique is an architect with an avid interest in Turkish dizis.
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I discovered your article while preparing for my “dizi pilgrimage” to Turkey in June 2022. Your article is wonderful and resonates with my impressions of dizi productions.
I started with Dirilis: Ertugrul and have loved so many historical dramas and rom coms.
Lutfen, if you can share tips on accessing tours to homes/ locations, I’d appreciate it so much. I have tons of screen shots of interior scenes in spectacular houses I love plus many outdoor locales. My dream is to observe filming on a set. What a thrill that would be, All the best, Debbie B.
As a designer and semiotics researcher it gives me a great pleasure to read this! I tend to analyse the image for what it is in the 2D plane of the screen, but to see it from your perspective it’s very insightful. Thank you so much for sharing it!
Such perceptive and intuitive article. Enjoyed it fully….Loved it!❤
Very insightful! Great to have the perspective of a trained eye. Thanks!
Fascinating read & great perspectives for those of us novice decorators and interpreters of art furniture, and other decor nuances. Every little detail so carefully planned an integrated into the story. Knowing all this makes me appreciate Turkish dizi’s productions & set planning’s impeccable eye all the more.
It enriches our viewing experience and character imaginings – so subliminally, and wonderfully. I have always wondered about the Marilyn Monroe and unique Eiffel Tower close-up prints in Behlül’s bedroom in Aşk i Memnu. Would love it if you shared on that, based on your experience. Thank you!
Thank you so much!