To the Manor Born

Perspective Magazine, Hong Kong, December 2008
Along the Aegean coast an intriguing new boutique hotel seeks to celebrate and reinvigorate traditional Anatolian-style architecture with a contemporary twist and a healthy injection of Turkish art

When the world “homey” is used to describe a hotel it rarely applies to anything bigger than a few thousand square metres; very few people, after all, can call a manor house home. But for the non-mansion dwellers among us there are hotels like Casa Dell’Arte on the Aegean coast.

When the world ‘homey’ is used to describe a hotel it rarely applies to anything bigger than a few thousand square metres; very few people, after all, can call a manor house home. But for the non-mansion dwellers among us there are hotels like Casa Dell’Arte, on the Aegean coast.

Preserving a sense of ‘home’ was the main design aim of the Büyükkuşoğlus, a prestigious family with a prime piece of ocean-side real estate in Bodrum, Turkey’s answer to San Tropez. The 4.500sq m all-suite hotel was inspired by the family’s former holiday home, and though very large and very decadent, the place feels charmingly  ‘lived in’.

“We wanted the hotel to still feel like a house, and to be very social,” says matriarch Fatoş Büyükkuşoğlu, who led a group of young architects on the design, and who lives in a smaller house on the property. “We designed a lot of inner courtyards and spaces where guests can come together – at the dinner table, in the lounge or by the pool”.

The hotel is largely made of local stone and is hewn with courtyards. It’s a modern take on the Anatolian style, a Greek-Armenian mix that was common before the formation of the Turkish republic. The family has its roots in Anatolia, and on a trip there a few years ago Büyükkuşoğlu had been upset to see old Kayseri houses being knocked down. Her decision to give them new life gave the Casa an extra layer of history. A charming mix of century old relief work – a slab here, a gargoyle there – with angular modern architecture lends the building textural and cultural accents.

The hotel stretches down to the coast in a series of linear spaces, all linked by a view of the sea. Guests enter the property at the front by way of a grand 200-year old front door (from Edirne, the old Ottoman capital) and check in with a glimpse of ocean; the view hurdles a classic courtyard pool, a series of open chambers, a large living room and a lawn on the way down.

Though the property is sizeable, the family settled on just twelve suites. As the name suggests, Casa Dell’Arte was designed so that the Büyükkuşoğlus could share a portion of their 300-piece-strong art collection, and each suite displays four or five well-sized canvases. The paintings are by modern Turkish artists such as Devrim Erbil and Anan Coker, and they inject colour into an otherwise crisp cream and white landscape. Light retro furniture adds a little chic, with glam accents from the odd animal skin rug. Each room has been named after a sign in the zodiac but the references are subtle, in most just a sparkling blue optical fibre panel in the ceiling that loosely mimics the constellations.

The Casa’s common areas are large enough to find privacy in: a beautiful outdoor pool with a covered art gallery each side, a series of small ante chambers with lone love seats, sculptures or book shelves, and, at the end of the house three connected spaces overlooking the lawn. The double height dining room and the two large day rooms all subscribe to Fatos Büyükkuşoğlu’s home vision, and they blend the very old and ornate with the new and modern. “I like old pieces,” said Ms Buyukkusoglu, “but modern design is much more comfortable so we selected very ergonomic furniture and combined it with antiques”. This sees items such as a contemporary beige couch and plate glass coffee table feature together with display cabinets from the 18th century France. A modern dark wood dining table supports antique candelabras; rare old religious frescoes from Russia perch above a salvaged Anatolian fireplace. “In Turkey this mixing is common,” says Büyükkuşoğlu. “People inherit old antiques, but they like to use them in interiors that are modern and comfortable.”

Out on the lawn white furniture pieces, alone and in pairs, are scattered like statuary, while the terrace provides a good spot for an ocean-view cocktail at sundown. In this place – part house, part hotel, part museum – guests tend to socialize much more, there’s an unmistakable pull out of the suites and into the rest of the house. In fact it’s hard not to throw your bags down, put your feet up and move in.

Spurred on by the success of the hotel yet loathe to extend it, the Büyükkuşoğlus have created another hospitality concept next door. The Casa Dell’Arte Village opened this summer with 38 suites, with plenty of art, a stylish ocean view pool and a free program of art workshops with in-house artists. The design concept is similarly eclectic, but it can’t help but pale slightly next to the original. There really is no place like home, when it’s a mansion.