In Conversation: Tehanu Terrazzo

Discover Tehanu Terrazzo marrying classical terrazzo aesthetics, modern compositions, and a burst of vibrant style.

Tehanu Terrazzo reinterprets the traditional terrazzo approach with contemporary design elements, infusing a splash of color into any space with its handcrafted decorative products. We talked to Melek Aşık, the brand's surface designer, about the craftsmanship and creative motivation behind the products.

Tehanu Terrazzo takes its name from Ursula K. Le Guin's book 'Tehanu.' Shall we talk about the story behind Tehanu Terrazzo, starting from this connection?

I'm Melek Aşık, the surface designer and co-founder of Tehanu Terrazzo. While speaking with you today, I will be using the first-person singular pronoun since I'm the one who bestowed the the brand its name. However, my husband Abdullah İçöz and I established the brand together. He is responsible for technical processes such as mold work, electrical systems, and assembly at Tehanu Terrazzo.

Ursula K. Le Guin holds a significant place in my life, particularly due to my interest in women-centered readings. “Tehanu,” the fourth book in the “Earthsea” series, left a profound impact on me as it did on countless readers, with its story of a woman transcending society's prescribed roles to explore her talents and achieve wisdom fearlessly. Tehanu (Therru) is a young girl who bears burn scars on her body, including her face, and has lost one of her eyes due to a fire inflicted by her own family. One day, Tenar (Goha), who herself was once trapped in the confines of traditional womanhood—cooking, child-rearing, and spousal duties—rescues and adopts her.

What truly captivates me in the book is the journey of Ged (Sparrowhawk), Tenar, and Tehanu toward self-discovery as well as Tehanu’s realization of her rightful name, revealed by dragon queen Kalessin, means 'white summer star' rather than 'Therru,' symbolizing healing in love and trust. When Tenar hears her real name, she says, "She has been Tehanu from the very beginning. Always Tehanu."

My husband and I have undergone different life experiences. We both lost our mothers when we were young, which profoundly shaped our present selves. We've suffered, longed, held little hope, escaped, and hidden. The love and emotional partnership that united us also unearthed our abilities, resulting in a range of handmade products driven by passion, creativity, and uniqueness. With the support of our families and surroundings, I bid farewell to my cherished pursuit of audio description writing that spanned many years and chose a path of creating and surrounding myself with colors that I've been genuinely interested in since my childhood. Departing from a life where I felt like I was drowning, my husband and I embarked on a new beginning where we create more, do not limit our creativity, and embrace a world of endless experimentation — much like being in an amusement park for adults. Abdullah continues to work as an electrical and electronic technologies teacher. This enables us to seamlessly incorporate lighting products such as sconces, table lamps, and ceiling lights into our work.

Terrazzo is a 'timeless' material, used for centuries for various purposes due to its durability. What drew you towards using terrazzo as the primary material for your products?

Terrazzo is a colorful surface finish created by mixing materials like marble and granite in various sizes with concrete. The first time I saw a terrazzo piece, I thought it was a drawing. The harmony of these shapeless colored pieces and the sense of joy instilled in me fueled a growing curiosity day by day, ultimately driving me to pursue this method and its materials.

I have worked with various materials like ceramic clay, polymer clay, and resin on amateur projects, and I still use these materials in my products from time to time. However, I have never focused on anything as much as I have done on terrazzo. It's really hard for me to explain exactly why it has affected me. The powerful emotions it evokes, distinct from the other materials I mentioned earlier, prompted me to delve into it. This journey has led me (and us) to deeply immerse ourselves in this field.

We create our handcrafted products with two different gypsum-based, water-based, high-quality composite materials combined for the purpose of decorative use. For the products where we apply the terrazzo technique, we combine colored pieces that are visible on the surface with a mix of various pigments and the primary material. After allowing this mixture to dry, we divide it into pieces in the desired sizes. These pieces are then combined with a liquid material and surface pigment, and the mixture is poured into the product mold before it dries. Once it reaches a certain level of hardness, we apply wet sanding. In the final step, we apply several layers of varnish and let them dry on wire racks.

How do you balance the classic style of terrazzo with contemporary design elements? What key aspects do you particularly emphasize in your design language, and what are the essentials of your production process?

Creating a harmonious blend of the classic essence of terrazzo and contemporary design elements involves meticulous research. While maintaining the aesthetic of classical terrazzo, we also seek to incorporate new and innovative features by drawing inspiration from modern examples. We prioritize using high-quality materials, crafting unique patterns, and ensuring functionality.According to the essential components of our production line, our products encompass delicate craftsmanship, rigorous quality control processes, and a customer-centric approach. By preserving these principles, we aim to keep the tradition of terrazzo while reflecting a contemporary design sensibility.

Tehanu Terrazzo has a colorful range of products. As a brand that works with different forms and colors, what are your sources of inspiration?

The landscapes of my childhood continue to influence my imagination, even to this day. The nature of Rize, the highland where I spent my summers with my grandmother until I finished primary school, and especially being surrounded by colorful flowers have left an indelible mark. I believe that my inclination to use multiple colors in our work is rooted in these places of my childhood.Additionally, paintings, especially the creationss of the Bauhaus school, Kandinsky's pieces, the works of embroidery artist İrem Yazıcı and surface designer Katie Gillies, who sparked my interest in surface design and the terrazzo technique, are also influential. And of course, a piece of clothing, a film, a music video—any detail that triggers my selective perception can contribute to the emergence of a form or a color composition.

What can you share about your future projects? What are your expectations, plans, and dreams for the future?

We work in a relatively small and modest workshop space. The limitations of production and storage areas are significant challenges when it comes to translating ideas into tangible forms. That’s why we are excited about our future plans to establish a more spacious workshop that will provide enough space for experimentation. Among the projects we have in mind, lighting and mirror works hold an important place.

Beyond the workshop, our focus has centered on the concept of opening a store that evokes the feeling of wandering through an art exhibition, where our works are not seen merely as products for sale but as items of aesthetic value that form a connection with their owners. We are confident that this store will open soon. There's also substantial interest from abroad. Just as we don't limit our creativity, we also don't want to limit ourselves from exploring new horizons. In this regard, we are considering new collaborations and online sales.

Our goal is to offer a distinct and authentic experience that compels our followers to exclaim, "This is definitely Tehanu's work!” We envision enriching the lives of both our steadfast followers and new acquaintances with novel designs and products that showcase our creativity and artisanship. We aim to become a cherished, supported handmade brand, admired for our ability to add value to people's lives through our unique creations.

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