Jeffrey Tucker comes from a multinational family and has lived in several countries. I met him in his neighbourhood of Balat to talk about the restoration work he loves so much, the significance of historic buildings and what his projects have taught him.PHOTOGRAPHER: Nazlı ErdemirelILLUSTRATION: Efnan Sarıahmetoğlu

After a short walk down the steep, narrow streets of Balat, I am slightly late to my meeting with Jeffrey Tucker. We are seated at a table in Primi, as agreed. Sipping our coffees, we talk about his ongoing projects and decide on the buildings we will visit afterward. He specialises in Balat, but Jeffrey has an astonishing knowledge of all the historic buildings of Istanbul. I feel compelled to find out where his interest in architecture and restoration stems from:

“I was born in a 19th-century apartment with a wooden elevator in the Nişantaşı neighbourhood,” he says. “Growing up in a building where the element of pleasure was combined with architectural details like high ceilings and marble stairs has definitely played a role in my passion. I remember feeling distraught when many buildings like ours were demolished and replaced by ugly apartment blocks in the 1970s. You can still see traces of that ancient architectural knowledge that considered aesthetics and the quality of life in the design of buildings built prior to 1930, before reinforced concrete gained in popularity. These are structures that mark the end of an era. Preserving these buildings, reviving them in their original form for future generations, is a cultural mission, in my opinion.”

Jeffrey’s father was born into an English family that had been living in Istanbul for four generations. His mother’s family had been living in the city for 15 generations. Jeffrey thinks that coming from a family of many nationalities and faiths has given him a sense of impartiality toward diverse people and events: “It is easier for me to see and appreciate that cultural values have no nationality or religion, that values are a personal matter.”

After graduating from Bosphorus University, he went to Milan where he worked in international trade for 20 years. His lifelong passion for restoration perhaps stems from an amalgam of tolerance and various cosmopolitan perspectives of life. “I have always admired how the Italians preserve their historic and cultural heritage,” he says. “I admire and envy the importance they give to conservation in Italy and many other European cities.”


During his years in Italy, Jeffrey collaborated with a group of architects specialising in restoration and was amazed by their skills and fine tastes. After gaining some experience in these projects, he gave in to his desire to return to Istanbul permanently. “Istanbul is where I belong,” he says. “The satisfaction of being able to contribute to the preservation of Istanbul’s heritage has permanently connected me to this place. When I decided to return, I knew that I wanted to live in what I call ‘the real Istanbul’. That’s why I moved first to Asmalı Mescit, then to Galata, and finally to Balat. This is a wonderful part of Istanbul where the vibrant neighbourhood culture I seek has survived. Istanbul’s unprecedentedly rapid transformation finally brought me to Balat. There are so many historic buildings, which means there is a lot of work to be done.”

Jeffrey now has a reliable team that takes on restoration projects in the city. I have to ask him if it’s true that he has restored all the houses he has lived in? “My team knows my style and what I want. I’m making the most of the luxury of being able to work with a team that knows me so well,” he says with modesty. “We work together on all the restoration projects I take on. That includes the houses I live in. Again I worked with my good friend and architect Sezin Akkaya, whose architectural knowledge and excellent taste has guided me through almost all of my projects. She also put a lot of effort into the restoration of the houses I’ve lived in.”

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