Stepping out of the bright Istanbul sunshine into Nahide Büyükkaymakci's small store, set among the antique and bric-a-brac shops of the historic Çukurcuma neighbourhood, is almost like entering another biosystem - a forest constructed from glass, leather, iron and bone, where shiny, bright red ceramic pomegranates are always in season. Büyükkaymakci is a tall, white-haired woman with the back of her head shaved under her ponytail and an alarming proclivity for cigarettes.
Her store, which opened in 2007 on the ground floor and basement of an old Istanbul apartment building, features an ever-changing selection of hand-crafted, exquisite and expensive pieces for adorning both the home and the body - most by Turkish designers, such as Canan Çelik, Esref Karayalçin and Büge Tinaztepe. It may seem a diverse collection but what all the items have in common is that they were stunning enough to impress her.
Büyükkaymakci's retailing instincts have been honed from experience and, despite the fact that items have come from a variety of different designers, there is a beautiful coherence to the selection, and a playfulness in the display that belies the very serious prices (chandeliers can cost from 5,000 to 10,000 - about Dh26,000-Dh52,000). After studying glassblowing in Venice in the early 1980s, followed by studies in Costume Design and Painting in Berlin from 1985 to 1991, her first adventure in retailing on her return to Istanbul in 1991 was a store that sold children's clothes made from organic fabrics.
It didn't fare too well. "Nobody understood the concept," she says. "In Europe everybody knows about organic but in Turkey nobody knew." So Büyükkaymakci worked for a number of years as a stylist, costume designer and production designer, and later as an interior designer, doing homes, hotels and restaurants. In 2005 she began working with several small ateliers to produce handmade pieces of furniture, mostly in glass.
To have more control over the process, she started doing it herself. "Why not? I was in Venezia!" she exclaims. Her own signature chandeliers - elegant tangles of irregularly shaped, hand-blown glass branches - hang from the ceilings and reach out from mirrors on the wall, graceful yet vaguely sinister, like a gorgeous sea anemone concealing a dose of poison. Another style of lamp dangles long, straight teardrops of glass from a canopy of wrought-iron leaves.
Her lighting designs have illuminated numerous projects in Turkey, from upmarket restaurants to Sakirin Mosque in Karacaahmet, which opened in May. For the mosque Buyukkaymakci and two assistants created 1,600 lamps; it took them four years to complete the task. In addition to her own designs, Büyükkaymakci sells extraordinary tables by Tayfun Erdogmus, a professor at the art academy at Marmara University.
The round, low tables are made from metal and wood, which is painted and covered with a patina that resembles ancient gold leaf; they call to mind some 500-year-old items that were recently rediscovered in the vaults of Sultan Mehmet's Palace, which would have been presented to the ruler laden with sweets and tea. There are paper bowls by the well-known designer Uta Çiner, ivory and black ceramic casts of various sea anemone and coral by Beyza Uygur, and jewellery by a local photographer, Senay Akin.
Most of the designers simply appear on the shop's doorstep, proffering their wares. Büyükkaymakci decides whose work to carry according to a rather simple, subjective criterion: "The quality they all have is that they are really artistic." Nahide Büyükkaymakci, faik pasa yokusu no. 7A, Çukurcuma, Istanbul / +90 212 292 68 55 / www.nahidebuyukkaymakci.com