Being an interior architect is a detail-oriented and challenging profession, certainly magnified when the typical project worked on is over 1,000 km away. Lesia Petrovska’s strong affection for Istanbul motivated her to relocate here, but it didn’t stop her from continuing to grow her architectural design firm in the Ukraine. Lesia is already a veteran in the field, with a professional scope that is wide-ranging and engaged in a variety of international ventures. Battling the distance, time-zones and ever-changing obstacles that accompany her occupation, Lesia is testament that it’s most certainly possible to work remotely from your dream destination. Recently celebrating her one year relationship with the city, it fortunately seems that the romance lingers on.
We spoke with Lesia Petrovska on the allure of Istanbul, the challenges associated with working on projects remotely, and what the future might hold for the field of interior architecture in Turkey.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to Istanbul?
Sure, my name is Lesia Petrovska, I’m from the Ukraine. I’m an interior architect and I’ve been living in Istanbul for one year already. Actually it’s a weird coincidence, it’s exactly one year today. I think this interview is a nice way to sum up the year.
Love brought me to Istanbul. I went on vacation a year and a half ago and I fell in love with the city and I decided I wanted to live here for awhile. I went back home, bought the tickets and then I was here. I was amazed and I’m still pretty sure that Istanbul is one of the most amazing cities in the world. When I moved here I didn’t know anybody. Not a single person. So it was quite a challenge. But the feeling about the city… I love it so much and it excited me so much, it made me make my decision.
Of course it has its ups and downs. We have a love/hate relationship with Istanbul. It’s a huge city so it makes sense. I’m still in love though.
You seem to have extensive experience in the field of interior architecture. Could you give us a bit more insight into your professional scope?
I got my degree in Kiev, Ukraine. I’ve been working as an interior architect for eleven years. Although people don’t usually believe and tell me I look too young, but in my field in Ukraine, you start working when you’re studying. I started working when I was a second-year student. I feel lucky to have this much experience. I have worked in designing both public and private spaces. Three years ago, together with my business partner Alexander Pieskov, we started our own interior design studio. I’m still involved there, it’s based in Kiev, Ukraine. He’s there and I work from here and we try to manage it.
Could you tell us a bit about the interior architecture scene in Istanbul? Is it difficult coming from abroad and working in this field?
My clients are all in the Ukraine, so I can’t say anything specifically about architecture in Istanbul personally. I have a lot of friends who are architects here and I know that nowadays it isn’t so exciting. Construction is one of the main industries and has been, but because of the current economic and political crisis, it’s not doing so well. As far as I know, the companies with clients abroad do well and all the others are not having the best time. I am pretty lucky to have clients in the Ukraine. We also have worked abroad, like in Kazakhstan where we made a shop in a mall for Kazakh designers.
Is that not challenging?
I’m lucky that in interior design, there is some work that can be done from a distance. Still, there is some stuff… it’s not really a problem, but I miss it. I miss meeting my clients, going to the construction sites, talking to workers and stuff. I miss being in the field. Here I am just on my computer and focusing on my design work. Actually I’d be interested in doing projects in Turkey, but so far it’s not the best time for it.
How does ATÖLYE fit in?
Actually, that was one of the reasons I joined ATÖLYE. In the first place I was working from home, but I was going crazy and wanted to at least be able to dress up and go somewhere for work. Also, I wanted to have creative minds around, to share ideas and maybe to find some people to collaborate with. There are a few architects here, but they’re mostly working on research and other projects here as far as I can see.
Any personal projects you’d like to highlight?
One of the challenges we faced in the project in Kazakhstan with the clothing boutique was that when you rent a location, you need to start getting money back very soon. It’s not like an apartment or house which you can work for a couple of years. There, you need to move very fast and come up with ideas that can you do quickly. We had to think really quickly and act quickly. There was all this distance and we had to control the project through photographs and videos. There’s also the time difference; they’re three hours ahead, so they’d be calling me on Saturday and Sunday at 6AM. It was like this for four months. They wanted to open the shop in August and it ended up opening in October, so it was a couple of additional months of this craziness. But we did it and I’m proud of that and everyone was quite satisfied. This all happened when we weren’t there which is pretty crazy and challenging.
Another project I can remember is we supervised a dentist clinic in Kiev. Although we’re interior designers, but when you start a project like this you have to learn a lot about dentists and their technology. We learned a lot of new stuff. It’s always like this. If you’re making a home cinema, there’s something new to learn. If you’re making a restaurant there’s something new to learn about the technology, the kitchen. Because you’re the designer or the architect you need to know a lot about different fields. You’re kind of managing all that stuff all together.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced since moving here?
As I’ve said, moving here was quite a challenge but I like moving to new places so it was interesting. It wasn’t so stressful. The one thing that does stress me out the whole time is Turkish bureaucracy. Like the ikamet stuff where you have to apply every year. Then there’s something new and you can’t even ask someone who did it a couple of years ago because it’s completely different. Most of the time, they don’t even speak English. I realize that’s my problem, as I need to learn Turkish, but there are so many foreigners, you’d expect that they might speak a bit of English. I’m lucky as I often bump into Russian speakers while I’m there. But yea, bureaucracy is always a challenge.
What are some of the developments you’d like to see take place in Turkey in regards to your field? Anything you think has been done especially well?
I’m really hoping that Turkey is going to get out of this economic and political crisis as soon as possible. The building industry and stuff should start growing again. This is the only thing I want. Everything else, once it starts developing, you can just work hard for. So there are pretty much my expectations in 2017. [Laughter]
As we’re somewhat of an advice publication for foreigners living in Istanbul. Any tips or hidden gems that you’d like to share with our readers?
On Büyükada, there is a hill in the center of the island. If you go up the hill, there is a monastery there. There’s a restaurant up there, your typical Turkish restaurant, nothing too special… but the view up there of the Marmara sea and the skyline is amazing. Getting up there, you’ll start hating everything and yourself also that you started climbing that hill. It’s like 25 minutes and it’s pretty slow. When you finally get up there, you get one of the most amazing views of the sea and the ships going to the Bosphorus. It’s really amazing and I highly recommend it to everybody.
ATÖLYE Spotlight is a new series on the inspiring community members of Istanbul’s most creative space.
All images courtesy of Lesia Petrovska and Ayşe Esin Durmaz.