Karaköy Junk is a dreamy wonderland of rare collectibles from around the world in the Karaköy district of Istanbul. While reveling in her world of inspired curiosities I had the chance to chat with founder Asli Atamer about her unique shop and the road-less-traveled to curating it.
Location: Istanbul, Turkey
Interview date: April 27, 2014
Karaköy Junk lovingly spills out onto a busy corridor in the up-and-coming neighborhood for which it’s named. Though not long ago a quiet and traditional neighborhood, this beautiful pocket along the Bosphorus River of narrow, mazelike streets and ancient tiled edifices is now an inspiring mélange of well-preserved history and new, progressive edge. Karaköy offers an eclectic mishmash of hipster coffee shops, traditional köfte joints, independent boutiques, and centuries-old hamams—tied together by a reverence for Turkish culture and Ottoman era design. Asli Atamer’s first-of-its-kind vintage wonderland is a perfect microcosm of this old-new hybrid, and an indisputable highlight within what is now the ultimate playground for Istanbul’s creative tastemakers and chicest residents.
Stepping foot inside Junk one feels them self slip away into something of a dream. It is a symphony of wonder that transports guests to distant pockets of the world and disparate moments in time, while maintaining perfect harmony between these dissonant notes. Victorian china sparkles from the shelves of mid-century modern armoires; illuminated globes sit atop vintage photo enlargers next to old school turntables and an impressive vinyl collection. Tintype photographs, limited edition robot figurines, rare books and maps from all decades and continents await closer inspection resting artfully on designer trunks and antique side tables. Middle eastern carpets line the floors and drape the walls, further accessorized by wacky road signs, taxidermy relics, old typewriters and hypnotic neon signs. The shop exudes an intoxicating allure that extends beyond the meticulously curated treasures inside. I found myself burning to know more about the eyes behind these discoveries and the free spirit who traveled far and wide to reach them.
Below is an excerpt from my interview with the beautiful and enchanting Asli Atamer—traveler, collector, artist, designer, and dreamer. She shares snapshots of her journey in life and how a steadfast devotion to her truest passions led her to become proprietor of Turkey’s most notable vintage outfit and a highly sought after creative collaborator with Turkey’s biggest rock stars, advertising gurus and independent film directors.
VV: I would love to know a bit about your personal journey—where you grew up, the different places you have lived and traveled…
AA: I have two passions in life: traveling and collecting antique, vintage stuff. I don't remember when I started collecting, but I have never stopped. I travel with all the money I earn and any free time I have.
I suppose the more recent part of the story began in London. My husband Cenk was living there when we first met, and I moved there to live with him five years ago. London is a gem for antiques and vintage. I went to tons of vintage shops, galleries, auctions, flea markets, and fairs. What all began as a hobby turned into a serious passion. I began taking restoration and design courses at Central Saint Martins. Eventually I started renting stalls at the most popular markets in London like Portobello, Spitalfields, Shoreditch, etc, where I was reselling some of the treasures I had been collecting.
Before moving to London I traveled all over Europe and studied in Madrid for some time. My mother was always a passionate traveler; she took me to Asia when I was 10, an experience that certainly shaped me. While living in London years later I traveled a lot with Cenk. Then we decided to move to South America for a year, with Buenos Aires as our base. During that year we went to Bolivia, Chile, Mexico and Brazil, where I continued to discover and collect vintage/retro/curious stuff.
VV: So how did Karaköy Junk come to be?
AA: When we decided to move back to Turkey and I made the move to open this shop, I quickly discovered that there is a lot of opportunity here in Istanbul to rent out these kinds of treasures—actually, the opportunities found me. While other countries—such as the US and UK for example—have many established prop houses where film producers, art directors and people in the music industry go to buy and rent, that doesn’t exist here. So instead, these people rent from small shops. Before I left to travel I was working at a newspaper and had a very active social life here; with all of these contacts I began renting my stuff out for music videos, commercials, and photo shoots with ad agencies. After that I was asked to create and prop original stages with items from my shop for Teoman, who is one of the biggest rock musicians here in Turkey. Right now I am focusing on a project called "God Save The Porn," for which I’ve been asked to create installation art with my recycled stuff. So Junk has taken me in quite a few directions, actually…
VV: Do you seek out certain types of antiques in particular when you're traveling, or is it whatever catches your eye?
AA: I don't have an obsession with any one period of time or type of design over another… I could just as easily fall in love with a Victorian china set, a Scandinavian chair, a German clock—anything. It really depends on my eye, my mood, and what is influencing and inspiring me in the moment. I collect from all over the world.
That being said, I feel a very strong connection to the UK and its markets. I have taken the train to the middle of nowhere and been lost for hours discovering cool stuff there. Argentina is another place with so many gems. All the old Italian and Spanish people’s treasures can be found in flea markets there—it’s incredible. But also I’ve learned that collecting is all about a network. If people know you are collecting rare antiques they manage to find you somehow and turn you on to new places, markets and spots.
VV: What is the story with the incredible neon signs you have?
AA: The neon signs I am making myself, actually. I work at an atelier in the mornings, and there is an old neon artist there who by the way is 80 years old and still doesn't know that he is an artist! I am creating the designs and we are making the pieces together.
VV: What are your favorite pieces you have currently in the store or have already sold?
AA: My favorite pieces are changing all the time. Nowadays it’s the totem pole you saw, which I found in the corner of a small handcrafts shop in Mexico. I don't even think I’ll ever be able sell it, but if I love something I just buy it without thinking about the shipment or if I have space for it. It’s both an advantage and disadvantage, haha. I had an original Chesterfield that I was in love with once…it stayed with me for a year and then I sold it for a good price. It takes time to sell most of these pieces, and that’s why I am very happy with the renting industry in Turkey. They are still mine after making money with them.
Kilic Ali Pasa
Mescidi Sokak, No: 6