Born in Turkey, educated in the US, living in the UK, and working on projects all around the world, Nebihe is truly a multi-cultural designer. After graduating from the prestigious Parsons the New school of Design, she focused on high-end retail, working for Michael Kors for many years. In 2016, Nebihe decided to found the eponymous design studio in London, Nebihe Cihan Studio. She designs refined and sophisticated interiors for clients around the world, and infuses her projects with this multiculturality she benefited from her extensive travel, making them particularly interesting and atypical. Art lover, Nebihe always tries to include some art pieces in her projects. She is constantly looking forward to discovering new artworks  or vintage furniture during her many travels in Europe or in the United States

As a French collective promoting cultural synergies in the world of design, Par Excellence jumped on the occasion to discover this rich and talented personality.  

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Nebihe, I understand that you come from Turkey and used to live in NYC, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your career path?

I was born in Turkey. I moved to the US at a young age to go to boarding school. Initially, I went to university for Economics and Finance in Boston. After graduating from university, I decided to change my career path as I realized I had other passions. I moved to NYC and went to graduate school to study Interior Design at Parsons the New School for Design. When I was studying at Parsons, I did various internships, last one being for the French designer Catherine Malandrino who I ended up working for two years after my graduation. In 2011, Michael Kors had a huge expansion plan to open retail stores and wholesale shops around the world and they were recruiting for architects and interior designers to expand their in-house Store Design team. I then joined the Michael Kors Store Design team where I worked for five years designing stores around the world. I had the opportunity to work with some of the most successful people in the fashion industry. I learnt so much at Michael Kors, it was the best school I have ever attended. Although I loved NYC and my job, my dream was always to have my own design firm one day and move back to Europe. I moved to London in August 2016 and started my interior design studio. I now split my time between the UK and US due to my projects. 

“I love visiting antique stores, flea markets, and galleries. I am always hunting for new things even when I am not hunting.” – Nebihe Cihan 

What is your favorite part of your job?

The best part of what I do is collaborating with my clients, working with amazing designers and artists. The client’s brief is always on the top of my list. I spend a lot of time with my clients to understand their lifestyle and how they live in order to deliver them a successful project that they are happy with. I love visiting antique stores, flea markets, and galleries. I am always hunting for new things even when I am not hunting.

How would you define your style prior to the creation of your own company vs. now that you’ve created your own design company? 

I think my style is constantly evolving. At the core of my aesthetic, were always clean lines, attention to detail and rich and sophisticated finishes. I have always been drawn to timeless design. Prior to creating my own company, I was not brave to experiment with vivid colors, I tend to stick to neutral palettes and preferred more a contemporary approach to things. As I take on different projects, I tailor and adapt my style to client’s needs. I am experimenting more with colors, forms and materiality. I collect a lot of vintage furniture and I work to incorporate these pieces into my projects and mix them with the contemporary. 

The entry of a London pied-à-terre designed by Nebihe Cihan Studio. The Paonazzo marble console and armchair were both designed by Nebihe Cihan Studio. ©Stephane Julliard

“Craftsmanship is everything to me. If your design is poorly executed and lacks quality, no matter how well it is designed, the project can be a failure.” – Nebihe Cihan 

How important is craftsmanship to you and how do you integrate it into your creative process? 

Craftsmanship is everything to me. If your design is poorly executed and lacks quality, no matter how well it is designed, the project can be a failure. In my opinion a good design should last, therefore I do not like to sacrifice from quality in my designs. Having built stores globally for Michael Kors, I worked with millworkers from all around the world; USA, China, Singapore, Poland, Turkey, Italy, France and Spain. My eye is trained to pick up details and I am also very knowledgeable about costs. If we are developing a new millwork or upholstery detail, I make sure to request prototypes always. I don’t work with factories if they don’t provide us with shop drawings for example. Before shipping to site, I always visit the factories and do a final quality check. With production, I don’t like taking risks therefore I only work with craftsmen I trust. I have very close relationships with the factories we work with. 

How is working for high-end retail different from working on residential projects?

Designing homes is a lot personal and intimate. You forge a bond with your client, based on trust, they trust in your talent to bring their vision to fruition. There are more emotions involved with residential projects so you have to be careful with managing the client’s expectations. Budget is usually flexible and bigger per square foot. There is more room for creativity compared to designing a retail store. On the other hand, designing a retail store is niche and a strategy. You have to design an experience for the customer to enjoy but also stay true to the brand’s identity. There is always a strict budget and a hard opening date. Designing a beautiful interior is important but you have to make sure that your design houses the required display capacity on the shop floor and in the back stock for the brand to reach their sales volume. The lifecycle of designing a retail store is shorter than a residential project. Therefore, you need to be prepared to work under pressure. Majority of my projects at the moment are residential projects, however I still take on retail projects as it is my strength. 

Bel Air Residence designed by Nebihe Cihan Studio. Nebihe chose natural materials and colors to fit with the surroundings and create a continuity with the outside. In the living room, you can spot the surrealistic black marble ‘Ocean Memories’ bench by Mathieu Lehanneur. Around the house, Nebihe included a selection of art pieces such as the Annie Morris Strack 8 sculpture. ©Matt Harrington

“Sometimes when I am stuck on a project and need inspiration, I jump onto the first Eurostar train in the morning and go to Paris or Brussels.” – Nebihe Cihan 

I read that the architecture of a building is a major source of inspiration for your project, where else do you get your inspiration from? 

I am truly inspired by my extensive travel, my love of art and a keen interest in history but I must say travel is really the biggest. Sometimes when I am stuck on a project and need inspiration, I jump onto the first Eurostar train in the morning and go to Paris or Brussels to visit antique stores, furniture galleries and come back to London the same evening. 

You seem to be very sensitive to fine art, how do you manage to always perfectly integrate artwork in your design?

Art has always been a passion for me. I try to attend all the important art fairs around the world, whether I am shopping for a project or not, I like to train my eye. Having worked for clients who are art collectors taught me a lot. One client asked me to help them curate their art collection from scratch for a project. They gave me a list of artists that they like and asked me to present them with a selection of works for the project. Selecting the pieces was the fun part as I knew their taste but placing the artwork around the house was more challenging than I thought. I integrate artwork in all of my projects now, I think you get better as you do it. It is all about practice and training your eye. 

As a NYC-based agency, we are in awe with your project in Park Avenue, NYC. Could you please tell us a bit more about this project?  

Rising at an impressive 1,396 feet, the architect, Rafael Vinoly, set the scene with 12’6’’ high ceilings and vast, 10 ft by 10 ft windows featuring unparalleled views of New York City and Central Park. The high ceilings and vast layout lent itself to showcasing an extensive art collection. It was imperative to the client, that there was a symbiosis between the artwork and the interiors. As a result, the art really set the tone for the interiors and added character, with vivid touches of colour. I was careful to choose furnishing that complemented the artwork with neutral tones and rich finishings, as not to detract from the art or spectacular views. My client is a modern art collector and has a large collection of works. However, for this project he wanted to curate it with me from scratch, we did not select works from his existing collection. Instead, I sourced all artwork from Lisson Gallery, Sean Kelly Gallery, Tina Kim Gallery, White Cube Gallery and Galerie Perrotin. The greatest challenge was to marry the artwork with the furnishings. I actually worked with my client to curate all the artwork for this project first, before sourcing the furniture. I usually integrate the artwork at the end of a project, therefore this was different in terms of what I had done in the past, however I really enjoyed the challenge.

Park Avenue residence designed by Nebihe Cihan. Sculptures, paintings and other pieces of art are perfectly integrated throughout the home with elegance and minimalism. ©Matt Harrington

You have lived in so many cities with very different vibes. Which one awakens your creativity the most?

It is hard to pick one as I am truly inspired by so many cities but I can say that Europe and NYC excite me the most. I never lived in Paris but I spend a lot of time there for work. I lived in Florence for a short period of time when I studied Art History and I visit Milan often for work. I am constantly high on inspiration when I am in Paris and in Italy, these are the most inspirational places in the world for me. On the other hand, NYC has such an energy and vibe as a city. I feel like a different person when I am in NYC, the most motivated version of myself. Having lived in three continents, I can say that there is really no place like New York!

Your career path is impressive! What is next for you now? Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to share with us? 

Thank you! I am currently designing a retail store in Miami at Bal Harbour Shops for a Parisian jewelry brand. It will be the brand’s first retail location in the US and it happens to be at my favorite mall. Next big project I have, to begin as of early 2021, is a private villa in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It will be my studio’s first venture in Saudi Arabia, where I have good clients and many friends from. I am always excited to start a project in a new territory.