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(photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
Ruby Ray Karzen defines herself in many ways, but perhaps her two most important roles are as rebbetzin (rabbi's wife) on the one hand and interior designer on the other.
Married to Rabbi Jay Karzen for 50 years, Ruby only really began to work in her chosen field after moving to Israel 20 years ago.
"I studied interior design in the States but only worked for friends," she says. "Being Sabbath observant made it difficult to work full-time."
However, once in Israel she was able to exercise her talents and translate her vision of how a home should look. Over the years she has developed her other skills, one of which is being a psychologist and another, contractor.
"When someone approaches me I do a consultation and find out exactly what they are looking for in their home d cor. I find that people are afraid of change, and are often afraid of color, too, so this is where being a good psychologist comes in."
Once a plan has been agreed on, Ruby brings her team of workers and, wearing her contractor hat, tackles the job at hand.
"Doing a renovation here in Israel, you had better know how to move walls," she laughs. "I've been using the same team for nearly 20 years. I have my carpenters, my tilers and my schleppers."
Her own apartment in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood is a good example of how she goes about gutting and transforming a place.
"We wanted to live in this area and found this apartment but it was in terrible condition. Just to give you an example, the family who had lived here had taken up living room tiles to cook on the sand underneath!"
Ruby saw the potential, so they bought the apartment and she got to work with her crew and what she describes as her mini-bulldozer.
"The noise and mess were unbelievable - but I'm a fast worker and in two and a half months, all the rubble had been removed, walls were in place and I was able to decorate it."
Today the home is both comfortable and luxurious, and Ruby tells me that people walk in and say they can't believe there is a place like this in Israel. And while much of the furniture was brought with them from the States, all the decorative elements, such as woodwork and upholstery, were found here.
"In fact, I rarely go out of Jerusalem," says Ruby.
The two-floor apartment in the 35-year-old building has all the living quarters on the entrance level while the bedrooms are downstairs. A small entrance leads instantly to the lounge/dining room, which is pleasantly colorful and full of unusual accessories like a harp and a picture on an easel.
"I wanted a big entertaining space," explains Ruby. "We have many gatherings and meetings in our house for different organizations and I can easily fit 70 people in the room."
She describes the style as eclectic. While the furniture originated in America, the fabrics for re-upholstering were all chosen here. The textiles used on the couches are all different, yet blend together with their varied design combinations using peach, pink and turquoise shades. The love seat is decorated in a pretty floral material which matches the rich drapery. Mirrors everywhere enlarge the room even more, while the fitted pearl grey rug is a foil for the various plants and occasional chairs dotted around.
One high-backed, vivid turquoise chair is what she describes as "a grounding color for the whole room." Filmy drapes in this shade contrast with the ballooning floral fabrics on the windows. The white dining chairs are upholstered in what she calls "peach/mauve," while the long table is draped with a scarf used as a table runner and topped with a Dutch candle holder.
"Flowers are too ordinary," says Ruby. "Above all, we don't want boring."
The walls are painted in a shade she calls "whisper of pink," which she insists gives a healthy glow to the skin under electric light. She prefers wall sconces rather than ceiling fixtures for the same reason.
The cheerful kitchen breaks most of the conventional kitchen rules, being carpeted and wall-papered.
"I wouldn't recommend it for a family with small children, but it's perfect for us," she says. The dark blue carpet is hard-wearing and easy to clean while the bright wallpaper decorated with many-colored stars blends with the blue worktops.
"I've stayed on friendly terms with all my clients," says Ruby. "The only problem is they become so dependent on you. I've had calls from people asking me to help them plan the colors for a family wedding!"
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