There are interior designers all over the country, the majority working in solo businesses at home. While working at home is convenient, there are downsides, too.
Add to that the difficulty of finding room to build and maintain a library of up-to-date materials, catalogs and samples, and the challenge of bringing clients into one’s home when families share the space. Inviting a client home invites scrutiny and causes the client to assess the designer’s style, an inaccurate way to evaluate a designer’s skills, according to Yael Steinberger, a 25-year veteran industrial designer/practical engineer who teaches design courses in Israeli colleges and administers the only English-speaking interior design program for English-speaking olim.
Enter Mallory Serebrin, a Jerusalem-based interior designer, former ceramic artist and graduate from Steinberger’s program. She recognized the growing needs of solo designers and introduced The Design Hub in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem. The Design Hub, formerly Serebrin’s ceramic studio, celebrated its artful renovation and grand opening on September 1, 2022. It offers private and shared workspaces, a coffee bar and meeting spaces for interior designers, architects, and creative people who wholly or in part want to move their home business away from their homes.
The Design Hub also offers a variety of memberships for designers seeking to brainstorm, meet with clients or peruse samples and catalogs from the curated in-office materials library. Scheduled events have included an attorney teaching how to write an interior design contract; Steinberger discussing how to deal with project management challenges; and Marketing Mondays to help interior designers market their design businesses. Designers come from all over Jerusalem and from points way beyond to participate.
The Design Hub: Connecting Israeli designers in Jerusalem
This is not Serebin’s first community-building effort. She started an active Designer Friends WhatsApp group in November 2020, and began holding weekly Zoom meetings for interior designers to discuss their ideas, difficulties and to give one another support. She also conducts Talpiot vendor/supplier tours for designers. They explore shops for handmade tiles, lighting, furniture, metalwork, carpets, beds and fixtures, and home style outlets.
“It has long been my dream to bring design creatives together in a working and learning environment where shared ideas and supporting each other enhances our professional and personal lives,” she explained.
“It has long been my dream to bring design creatives together in a working and learning environment where shared ideas and supporting each other enhances our professional and personal lives.”Mallory Serebin
Daria Horowitz is one of the new members of the Design Hub. She received her bachelor of design degree in 2000 from an Israeli interior architecture school and has been practicing interior design for over 20 years. Until recently, she had been working from her German Colony home; but when she met Serebin and saw the Design Hub space, she jumped at the opportunity to join.
“Amazing things are coming from working here,” she said. “I’m much more focused, and I’m excited to come to work each day.”
A mother of five boys from second grade to post-army, she enjoys having a dedicated workspace not too far away from her younger sons’ schools. Gone are the days she spent all day cleaning up before a client visit or getting distracted by laundry and bills.
“The Design Hub even comes with its own beautiful business cards,” she said. “Here there are no distractions. I take a coffee, and I am creating.”
The Israeli interior designer scene
Serebin’s timing appears to be right. Interior design has become a pivotal point for many looking for a fresh start. As people have restructured their domiciles to accommodate COVID lockdowns, home schooling and created small office/home office (SOHO) hybrid workspaces, and building costs continued to spiral upwards in Israel, the design world has had to meet the demand of this new reality. Many new interior designers enter the field, young and old, some experienced, others freshly minted, and most are females.
“Twenty years ago, I would guess there were just around 3,000 interior designers in Israel,” said Steinberger, “Now, based on the number of designers I have met over the years, I believe there are likely close to 20,000 interior designers practicing in Israel.”
According to Carmel Zamir, communications din irector of the Israeli Building Center, there are five architecture programs in Israel (many also teach interior design) and between seven to 10 college programs in interior design, all in Hebrew, which award bachelor’s degrees. There are also other programs that are not affiliated with colleges, and there are many interior designers with little or no formal training.
The Israeli Building Center, a government institution established in 1969, was privatized by its current CEO Eran Rolls, who established its Building College and Ultima Design School in 2002, a four-semester, two-year program for interior designers. The college offers modules for contractors, project managers and realtors. Inside the Netanya Building Center site, housed at the Netanya Stadium, is a transparent house covered by Lucite that enables people to walk through and see the various elements under the floors and behind the walls that make up the infrastructure of an Israeli building.
“We educate and serve the entire building industry ecosystem,” Zamir explained. The Ultima Design School turns out between 200 and 300 interior designers each year. Among the famous graduates includes Erez Hayatt, a renowned winner of The International Design & Architecture Awards.
The Building Center’s annual December Conference in Eilat, this year being held December 6-8, attracts over 4,500 participants from all over the world, which includes interior designers, architects, real estate and building representatives. Expert designers and lecturers from overseas will discuss trends, and Israeli experts will talk about design trends particular to Israel.
According to Rolls, 50% of the sessions will be about innovation in design and building, including the latest information about property and construction tech. The other half of the focus will be on modules designed to help members of the real estate and commercial property sectors deal with cutting through bureaucracy and dealing with municipalities.
Designing English speakers
Steinberger’s English-speaking program on Zoom covers the basics of interior design, advanced styling, Autocad, Sketchup 3D Imaging, kitchens and bathrooms, project management and marketing a design business. As the lockdowns eased, she coordinated field trips to building sites, showrooms and well-known design and building centers, giving her students the opportunity to experience construction, sourcing and trends hands on. She is also a designer tour guide for D-City, a growing complex in Ma’aleh Adumim, bringing groups of designers and architects to the suppliers in the new design complex.
Her students come from all walks of life, from all over Israel, are all women and are mostly young. Many of them are new olim with experience designing in America, the UK, South Africa and Australia, while others have no practical or business experience. But all have a love for design and décor and a desire to figure out how to work with Israelis, their homes and their families.
“There are crazy differences,” Steinberger explained, “between design in other countries and here, and it isn’t simply inches and centimeters.”
She explores the cultural and technical basics of Israeli design trends with her students and explains to the perplexed why Israelis as a rule prefer all-white kitchens; why Israeli windows open outwards or sideways and never guillotine style; the difference between trissim (metal or plastic shades) and curtains; why bathroom doors have tiny windows; and why furniture in Israel is seldom made of wood. These are things designers need to communicate to their clients.
Many English-speaking designers have found a unique audience in Americans buying their home on paper before making aliyah, and quite a few of her graduate designers have built their businesses on future olim. Others specialized in designing renovations.
One of her students, Efrat Arnold, is a London schoolteacher who made aliyah to Modi’in five years ago. She was teaching in high school when COVID hit.
“I was not enjoying it, nor was I getting paid well,” she recalled. Social networking led to her new career. She joined a Facebook group for business moms called Ima Kadima and remembers standing in her kitchen reading a post by an occupational therapist that felt familiar. The poster was unhappy and, like Arnold, was looking for a different career. Steinberger commented, suggesting interior design as a pivot.
“I did all five design courses in that year, and I threw myself into it,” recounted Arnold. “I subscribed to design information on Instagram, Pinterest, Houzz and House Beautiful, and now I don’t even have time to look at them.”
She jumped into being her own boss when on one Shabbat afternoon in a playground a friend of a friend was talking about a planned renovation.
“I sent her a WhatsApp after Shabbat and did the whole renovation top to bottom, including flooring, the kitchen, the bathroom and air conditioning – and that job got me my next one.”
One year later, Arnold is currently juggling five projects and waiting to hear about several proposals.
“It’s exciting, although nerve-wracking, being an interior designer and a solo entrepreneur,” she said. “But I love it. Yael gave amazing basics to get me working, and there is even more to learn on the job. Here, where homes tend to be small and families large, it feels good to use your special eye to help people to organize, maximize their spaces and feel happy in their homes.”
When Steinberger first began her career in interior design, design services were more likely to be utilized only by wealthy people. That, she said, has changed. Now most people building or doing shiputzim (renovations) are likely to consult an interior designer first.
“That changed what used to be a dog-eat-dog competitive designer environment into a very social profession,” Steinberger explained. “These days, interior designers share, advise, support and even refer jobs to one another.”
Today, there are numerous congenial WhatsApp and Facebook groups in Hebrew and English, and many vendors and design centers have begun reaching out to designers and architects. D-City in Ma’aleh Adumim offers tours and professional workshops and even provides space for designers who need it to meet with clients.
Designing long distance
Being locked down in Karnei Shomron didn’t stop 2009 South African olah Batsheva Forman, who came to Israel shortly after earning her BA in interior architecture. When Shevy Wigs, a well-known Wig Salon in Brooklyn, New York, was planning to design their space, they found Forman on Instagram. Just as she was planning her first visit to New York to examine the site in March 2020, both Israel and the US locked down. Fortunately, the company had an in-house project manager. Miles away from the actual site, Forman executed the designing, site meetings,procurement and purchasing completely online, conducting middle-of-the-night (Israel time) Zoom meetings to review the plans. The shop opened in early 2022 and Forman recently posted professional photos. “The time difference was very challenging,” she said.
She isn’t the only designer that manages to design in other countries. Julia, a new olah and designer from Rehovot, recently completed a design in a home in Huntington Woods, Michigan.
“It wasn’t easy,” she admitted. “I chose a lot of the materials before I made aliyah, but I hired a project manager whose taste I trusted so she could go on-site for me. But most Americans are used to Zoom and virtual meetings because of COVID. And the time difference made it more convenient for them to do evening meetings.”
With all the building and renovation work going on in Jerusalem, Serebin is hoping her Talpiot hub becomes a Jerusalem home for interior designers from all over the country to hang their tape measures or to just hang out. “Design is a big field with lots to know, and I look forward to helping other professionals be more creative and grow our businesses together.”
Said the former ceramics artist, “You can give a ball of clay to 10 different people, and you will end up with 10 unique objects. The community gives us a place to connect and thrive. I have opened the doors, and I look forward to whatever comes next.” ❖
The writer is a certified interior designer (SmartSpace.Design) and author from Karnei Shomron.