In Design: The contemporary explorer

Penny Kogan’s exotic Marco Polo store in Herzliya Pituah is an emporium of Asian art and antiques.

Exotic design 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Exotic design 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Famed explorer Marco Polo (1254- 1324) traveled many, many miles from his native Venice to seek out the wonders of Asia. It took him 24 years of wandering, touring and tasting before he felt ready to return to Europe. His stories sounded almost unbelievable to those he had left behind. Luckily, he amassed a wealth of trinkets and treasures with which he was able to present one of the most impressive show-and-tell displays in history.
Following in his footsteps, merchants rushed to Asia, eager to bring home small tastes of the exotic land.
Thirteen years ago, Penny Kogan joined the ranks of these tradesmen. In an exhausting and invigorating journey, Kogan began to lay the groundwork for her import emporium, appropriately named Marco Polo. In the years since, Kogan has become an expert on Asian antiques and art, as well as on how to get around with or without a translator.
“Ten years ago in China, I couldn’t find anything,” she laughs. “Now it’s a lot easier for me.”
Based in a dreamlike house in Herzliya Pituah, the store carries refurbished and new furniture and accessories from China, India and Tibet. The large store is chock full of pieces that have been hand selected by Kogan. Once chosen, the goods are refurbished abroad and then imported. In Israel, a staff of carpenters treats and finishes each piece before it can be sold. After purchase, the pieces are tailored to the needs and style of the customers.
Every item in Marco Polo is marked with a tag that indicates the country of origin, year of production and original use. There are tables made of wood that once lined a boat, and doors once used to keep elephants off private property.
The sheer mass of inventory in Marco Polo is a sight to behold. Kogan explains that a container arrives every two months with new stock. The goods are divided between the store and an additional storage space nearby. Until recently, Kogan kept a portion of the imports for herself, particularly Tibetan antiques.
To welcome in 2012, Kogan decided to curate an exhibition of Tibetan artifacts collected over the course of more than 25 trips there. “Until now I bought these pieces and just kept them for myself,” she says, opening the door to a room full of Tibetan pieces. “Now I have decided to let them be seen.”
Kogan’s love of Tibetan goods dates back to her first moments there more than a decade ago. Over the years, she learned to distinguish the different styles of Tibetan embellishments. “Tibetan goods are characterized by their raised drawings. If you touch the pieces, you will see that they aren’t smooth,” she explains, pointing to an especially vibrant painting. “There are recurring themes in their work, namely flowers and dragons.”
One of the most striking facts about the items on display is the transformation they have undergone since arriving in Israel. As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Marco Polo’s exhibition focuses on pieces that are experiencing a second life in Israel. It is fair to say that these pieces have experienced a reincarnation. What was once a rooftop decoration is now a small statue. What once stood as an armoire door now hangs as art on the wall.
“Many of the original pieces didn’t survive,” says Kogan. “Time took hold of them. The bits we have are what we could manage to salvage.”
As she speaks, her hand brushes against a gold and red embossed wooden panel, once the door of a cabinet. “Years ago, this style was all over Tibet; now it’s becoming harder to find. The houses aren’t built like they used to be, which is kind of sad because the old style is beautiful,” she says. “These are one-of-a-kind pieces.”
■ Marco Polo is located at 3 Yohanan Hasandlar Street in Herzliya Pituah. For more information, visit