Umit Kutluk, the go-to couturier for Irish women who favour tailoring over trends, has been picking up design accolades and a loyal clientele (Amy Huberman, Enya and Sarah Green are but a few of his fans) with great gusto since he graduated from the Grafton Academy in 2011. The Turkish-born designer fell in love with Dublin almost a decade ago while here studying English and knew it was where he wanted to establish himself. "Life in Ireland felt, and still feels, like a non-stop holiday compared to the crazy pace of Istanbul," says Kutluk.
He grew up in a family steeped in the rag trade: his mother was a tailor and his grandmother owned a yarn factory, so after finishing school he was packed off to study textile engineering and learn how machinery and the properties of fabrics work together.
In 2012 he realised his life-long ambition to set up his own haute couture salon in Merrion Square for private clients and brides. He splits his time between Dublin 2 and Glenealy, Co Wicklow, where he lives with his partner, Tom, and their dog, Joey, on a farm.
Do you have a particular interiors style?
My taste is totally contradictory. I like things that are either extremely intricate and ornate, or ultra simple and understated. In fashion I may create a ball gown with more feathers than a peacock one day, or a minimalist top with nothing but a seam the next. Likewise, with interiors, my salon is extremely opulent and elaborate, whereas our farm house is all white walls, windows and wood.
My life mirrors this dichotomy too: work is intense and dramatic but in Wicklow, Tom has a big herb farm suppling all the supermarkets, so I’m equally happy out in the greenhouses potting coriander.
Did you oversee the salon restoration?
I can't take much of the credit. I saw the space in 2012 and was spellbound by it. It used to be Mary Robinson's headquarters and was home to many artists over the centuries, so I felt I was in good company. But it needed a bit of work done before I moved in, so the owners, the Tollman family, who own Ashford Castle, brought in this beautiful reclaimed parquet floor from an old estate in England and, once that was polished up, it gave the space a really grand Parisian feel.
Reviving the fireplace was my pet project. We cleaned it up and found a tile maker in England who created replica tiles based on the few originals that were intact.
The cornicing and plasterwork was undamaged and the stone-coloured silk fabric in the wall panels, which I’m told is original, was in great condition, so we just patched it up where necessary.
How do you furnish such a decorative space?
I wanted to add some masculinity to the room and had this vision of smoky black glass pieces, but I couldn’t find what I wanted anywhere. Then I met Barry Archer from wedge.ie, and he created almost everything here – the coffee table, the cutting tables, even the rails – just based on sketches I gave him, using glass, wood and metal. He’s a true genius. The wooden screen, which everyone comments on, I actually picked up in a charity shop and simply spray-painted it black. And the big decorative tree was on its last legs in our Wicklow garden so I brought it here and stuck it in a pot.
Do you collect anything specific?
I love artists' preliminary sketches and believe they are much more true to their ideas than the finished article, so if I come across any I snap them up. I got lucky once in an antiques shop in Istanbul 15 years ago and picked up a set of sketches from the famous Turkish artist, Aliye Berger, for a song. Antique and vintage shopping wasn't very unfashionable back then in Turkey; no one had much interest in old stuff. Then almost overnight it became a thing, and now there is a massive quarter in Istanbul, Çukurcuma, brimming with antique stores and people flock there from all over the world to find a little treasure.
What would you save in a fire?
I'd definitely grab all the sketches and, if I had time, there's an original painting in the salon of Oscar Wilde. No one knows the identity of the artist, but rumour has it he lived here in the late 1800s, and Oscar lived only a few doors down the road at the same time, so it's likely he was just painting his friend as Merrion Square was a very tight neighbourhood back then.
If you had €100,000 to spend on your home what would you buy?
For the salon, an antique dealer on Francis Street has been teasing me with this original Mandolin silk screen from Coco Chanel's Parisian apartment. The guide price is €28,000, which is steep but it would be so worth it. We're also planning an extension for the farmhouse to add more space and to expand the kitchen, so the rest would have to fund that.
I’m an avid cook and want to build a very traditional wooden kitchen with everything on display – plates, pots, spices, herbs and utensils all lined up in front of me. I can’t understand this trend for disappearing cupboards that look like walls. It’s so dysfunctional: you’d spend all day looking for stuff and never get any actual cooking done.