The tale of a couple who turned a dream of “another life” into a blissful reality
The story of Casa Lavanda dates back to 1990, when Ahmet and Feryal Sen first came to Ulupelit, Şile with their three-year-old son, Emre, to visit one of Feryal’s cousins…
“Ahmet and I always dreamt of living away from the chaos of the city and knew that we wanted to build our lives in a village and close to nature,” Feryal recalls. “We always envisioned raising our kids with dogs, chickens, and cows besides us, and growing our own food. When we first visited Ulupelit, we immediately knew that the life we’d always wanted for ourselves and our kids was possible here.”
In 1991, when Feryal was pregnant with Ekin and Emre was four, the family purchased a piece of land in Ulupelit that faced the sunset and the Casa Lavanda journey began.
“The house we wanted was already in our heads,” Feryal continues. “A limestone house, wooden ceilings and blinds, and geraniums by our windows. What we had to do was to put these ideas on paper.”
In the summer of 1992, they rented a house in Artur, Gomec and – surrounded by the kids, architecture and decoration magazines, and their drawing materials – mapped out a plan of the house. With the help of a civil engineer friend, their amateur project was made viable, and in 1993, construction began.
“The construction period was not easy but it was a beautiful experience,” Feryal admits. “At the same time we, as a family, started to create the garden, choosing and planting the trees and flowers.”
During this all-encompassing period, Feryal recalls spending so much time envisioning how to decorate the house – “drawing every piece of furniture and preparing their accessories” – that it was as if she was already living in it.
She then worked with a local carpenter to design and construct each piece, from every chair and table to each mirror and light fixture. Meanwhile, in addition to overseeing all construction, Ahmet drew on his 30-year experience running his own textile business to source soft furnishings from small independent businesses: towels and dressing gowns from Denizli; linen sets and marcellas from Bursa, with bed throws collected during the couple’s international travels.
“The construction lasted for three years and when it was time to move in every piece of furniture and soft furnishing was already ready,” states Feryal proudly. “In 1996, we started to live there.”
“I remember visiting during the construction period and helping the workers,” shares eldest son Emre, who was nine when the family moved into their new home. “And I vividly remember the time when the trees were being planted. As a child, my favourite memories were spending time here with my friends, playing games running around the garden. I loved this house and everything about it and it helped me develop a keen interest in gardening from a young age.”
Ekin also has fond memories of hours spent playing in Casa Lavanda’s vast gardens and woods. But the day he recalls with the most fondness is New Year’s Eve 2009 “This was the day when my parents’ dream turned into a reality; the day when we celebrated the life they – and we – had built here at Casa Lavanda and the first night of it becoming a hotel. All our friends and family were there with us celebrating life and our new reality.”
The dream of transforming their home into a hotel had never been far from Ahmet and Feryal’s minds. The couple knew they’d want to stay at Casa Lavanda full time after their retirement, when their kids were fully grown, and that they’d need to create a new area of work that fulfilled them.
Having spent his whole career in the hospitality industry – from a variety of front desk and management roles in luxury properties to running his own textile business – Ahmet was well placed to drive their plan: to turn four rooms into a space for friends and family and indeed anyone who wanted to be close to nature even for a day or two.
“As we were planning on doing this, Emre went to Milan, Italy to study architecture at Politecnino University,” Feryal continues. “After a year, he realised that what made him truly happy was cooking. He returned to Istanbul, studied at The Culinary Arts Academy, then took a year’s internship at Mikla under Mehmet Gürs, before a further year with Chef Maurilio Garola at La Ciau de Tornavento, a Michelin star restaurant in Alba, Piemonte, the undisputed home of white truffles.”
Underpinned by Emre’s success as a chef, the family’s four-room project soon turned into plans for a 14-room boutique Hotel and Restaurant. “Casa Lavanda turned into a perfect place for Emre to improve himself as a chef,” explains Feryal. “He started to grow more food and learnt how to produce it biodynamically without any chemicals and pesticides.”
The Casa Lavanda ‘family’ now extends to a team of 40 people. Following completion of his business studies at Koc University – and two subsequent years with Ernst & Young – Ekin joined the team full time overseeing all administration, finance and operations, with Emre focusing on the restaurant, the kitchen, the staff, the technical details and gardening. “Now Emre and Ekin manage the hotel more than us,” says Feryal, “and them being here and working with us is our happiness.”
“We always dreamt of gathering with good people at long tables over good food,” adds Ahmet.
“With Emre choosing a career in gastronomy we soon changed our home into a boutique hotel. And with Ekin graduating and becoming a manager here at Casa Lavanda, those tables are now longer than before.”
“It had long been a dream of Feryal’s and mine to become a big family who share the good and the bad, the easy and the hard,” concludes Ahmet. “Now we share everything we have, our joy and happiness, with our sons, their wives, Defne – Emre’s daughter – and friends and family,” concludes Ahmet. “Hence, our work has become a great source of joy for us. This, to me, is the ultimate bliss.”