‘When I bought it in 1988, there was nothing here but a few columns to hold up the high ceilings,’ says the owner of this splendid Jaffa apartment. In its previous incarnation, it had been a warehouse for storing timber.
The apartment is on the ground floor of a two-story building that was built in the ’30s and belonged to an Arab entrepreneur who left after the establishment of the State of Israel.
“In 1988 the government passed a law that even if the owner of an Arab property returned to claim it, he would be compensated but would not get it back,” explains the owner, a senior surgeon and head of a department in the center of the country.
He wanted to live in Jaffa and had been looking for something different to create a family home. When he heard about the possibility of buying an old property, he went to Amidar, the government agency that had been taking care of the building for 40 years, which had put the house up for sale. By 1989 he had bought it – a huge empty space with a lot of potential.
“We spent the next three years renovating it,” he says.
With 200 meters of floor space, the first thing to do was create a second floor where the bedrooms could be situated.
A magnificent sweeping staircase was constructed up to what the architects called the gallery, and four bedrooms were added, creating another 100 meters of space.
The vast area downstairs could now be divided up into rooms, but it was left as an open plan and no interior walls were added. The living room has been made as snug as possible by fitting it between two of the supporting columns and the colorful furniture – a powder-blue sofa, red and brown easy chairs, a multitude of cushions and red rugs scattered around the marble floor – add necessary warmth.
Two built-in libraries hold the owner’s collection of books – not medical tomes, as one might expect, but everything else – music, philosophy and history are among his interests, as well as a collection of Jewish and prayer books.
The decorative objects perched on the shelves and hanging on the walls include many examples of African naive art, which he brought back from his travels. A striking one is affixed to the wall of the dining corner, which is furnished with a three-meter English Victorian table acquired in the nearby flea market 10 years ago. A Menashe Kadishman sheep painting hangs on a yellow painted wall, surveying the scene.
Yet another corner has been set aside as a study/work area with a long trestle table, computer and a globe at one end.
The owner particularly likes the fact that although his home is not a villa, the only access to the garden behind the house is through his door – so in practical terms it belongs exclusively to him.
The mosaic topped-table was ordered in the Armenian quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem about 10 years ago and built to his specifications.
The chairs come from Morocco and were acquired in Neveh Tzedek at about the same time. Other flea market finds, like the stone tortoise, embellish what is a quiet retreat in the back of the apartment. At the front, the less-than-elegant facades are masked with hanging ivy and colorful bougainvillea.
Behind the six-meter wall at the back of the garden stands an old Christian cemetery where the famous physician Sir Thomas Hodgkin is buried, his grave marked with an obelisk.
“He was the personal physician to Sir Moses Montefiore and was attending him here in the Holy Land when he got sick and died,” explains the owner. Also buried there are the Christians who came in the late 19th century from New England to await the Messiah.
And, as if this was not enough ecumenism, on Friday nights he can hear the singing that emanates from the Jews for Jesus congregation holding their Shabbat services on nearby Yefet Street.
“It’s lovely quiet music and I enjoy sitting and listening to it,” says the owner.