Jill and Norman Smith decided that if they were coming to live part of their life here, their home should look like Israel. So they built their very own "Wailing Wall," as they call it, which is the first thing that strikes the eye on entering their sunny Ra'anana penthouse.
"I wanted a focus wall and considered doing the entrance in maroon red," confides Jill. "My husband said he thought it was a fabulous idea, but he amended it so that it would evoke the Kotel. We got all the stones from Hebron and the wall was built without grouting so that the cracks are visible."
While none of their visitors has ever left a note, the wall is a striking feature which blends in well with the overall concept of warm but uncluttered living space. The Smiths spend all their vacations here and one of their three daughters lives here permanently.
"I really wanted clean lines because my house in the States is full of things and this is like a haven for me," says Jill. "I have all the comforts and I don't think it looks especially minimalistic, but I'm sticking to my decision to have nothing on the walls - it's peaceful."
The Smiths acquired the apartment in the early stages of building, when it was still possible to change the layout of inner walls. They called in designer Selwyn Elkin to rethink the setup the builder had planned and together made some radical changes. The snowy white open kitchen was meant to be closed off as a study/family room with a toilet attached; they turned it into a laundry/pantry. The problem of another guest toilet was solved by putting it into what was meant to be an under stairs closet.
"The builder at first said no, but I insisted," explains Jill. The closet toilet is exceptionally attractive with a bronze basin and faucets brought over from the States and wall tiles which look like bamboo.
Elkin explains that no builder likes to move toilets, even in a renovation, once the piping is in place. He also emphasizes that builders often want to finish in a hurry to get the final payment and the workmanship is often shoddy.
"Once they took possession a lot of things had to be redone at their own expense," he says. "Buyers make this mistake by not insisting on the workmanship being to their complete satisfaction when finished and this should be written into the contract."
The kitchen accommodates a wine refrigerator and a water dispensing machine, the latter brought over from the States, which proved a minor problem because Elkin wouldn't allow it to stand on the countertops. "We solved it by removing a lower cabinet and installing the water machine in its place, and the carpenter made tiny narrow doors especially for it," says Jill.
The walls are painted in a rich cream color which blends with the floor of marble look-alike, which is actually granite porcelain and is cheap, hard-wearing and low maintenance. Tall white bucket chairs around the counter, which is decorated with a David Gerstein basket, complete the picture.
Because the living-room suite is dark leather, they decided that the dining room must be light, and Jill settled for a glass-topped table which seems to disappear, creating the light effect they wanted. The three-and-a-half-meter sideboard is built to give the illusion of floating, and the long mirror above it was Jill's idea to open up the room even more.
"It doubles the size of the room even if we don't need it, and at night with the lighting behind, it creates a lovely ambience," explains Elkin. The granite tops of the wood cupboards and the bar tucked into a corner are colored dark chocolate granite, veined in beige to match the floor.
The elegant lounge is centered around a glass-fronted fireplace with shelving built all around it to display treasures and contain discreet speakers. Not a single wire protrudes. Concealed lighting is built into the boxes, which also hide all the workings of the blinds. The finish is superb. From the living room, access to the all round balconies is through glass sliding doors and the patio is brightly furnished with striped cushions and a mosaic-topped table.
Out here, with a view of Netanya in the distance, the family holds barbecues, has parties and just hangs out enjoying the air high above Ra'anana.
"We can't actually see the sea," says Jill, "but as compensation we have the most incredible sunsets."
The master bedroom is up a flight of stairs and shares the same view. The upper floor is surrounded by a stone-floored garden with plants flourishing in pots all around. While the main bedroom is done in Elkin's signature chocolate and white scheme with a tile which looks exactly like parquet, the other bedrooms display brighter colors with linen brought over from the States.
The bathrooms are mainly white with niches for rolled-up towels, handle-less drawers and carefully chosen accessories. One has a sit-down shower tiled in pink mosaic with a rain-head shower attached. Every comfort has been taken into consideration.
Eventually the Smiths hope to come and live here permanently and when they do decide, they will be able to step into the perfect home already finished and waiting for them. n