Alex Belot: I don't always achieve my daily target because woodworking always takes longer than you think it will.
By GLORIA DEUTSCHPublished: MAY 21, 2009 15:23AdvertisementOccupation - Cabinetmaker
Date of aliya - April 2008
Status -Divorced, with partner
Alex Belot likes to call himself a cabinetmaker rather than a carpenter. He left his original career, as an advertising executive, to work with wood, and shares his workshop in Moshav Ein Vered in the Sharon with several other academics turned carpenters.
"We're quite an intellectual crowd," says the 43-year old Parisian. With a successful business in England behind him, where one of his clients was the famous French designer Philippe Starck, for whom he built office furniture, he returned to Israel in April 2008, having lived here in the 1980s, to launch his life on its new path.
His forebears were Russian immigrants who came to Paris in the 1920s. During the war, his mother fled south and managed to escape the Gestapo's notice, while his father survived many camps. He grew up in Paris in a very Jewish household, although not religious.
"My father had an open tab with God," he says. "But the food, the smells, the music were all Jewish. My grandmother spoke Yiddish to me and my older siblings."
He studied at the Sorbonne, gaining a degree in law, chose advertising as his career and worked for several years as a copywriter. In 1987 he came here as a volunteer, spending two years with the Golani Brigade. He eventually married an Israeli and settled down in the advertising and marketing business, dealing specifically with companies with connections in France.
In 1996 his wife suggested they go to England, and Belot at first thought he could work in advertising there, too."I would have had to start from scratch, and I felt that at 32 I was too old. I did join a very prestigious British company, but after a few months in a low-grade job I decided I needed a change of direction and began to study cabinetmaking. I had always loved working with wood and doing things with my hands. I went to study for what they call in Britain a National Vocational Qualification and after two years took my City and Guilds degree and got a double distinction. My fellow students were the beer and tattoo crowd, but I had an amazing tutor and learned a lot."
As he had lived here before, he had no need of ulpan and went to stay with his partner Orit's family. "They live in Or Yehuda, a big warm Iraqi family, and I stayed there until we moved to a rented house in Herzliya Pituah," he says. He opened his workshop immediately and was busy from the beginning. "I was here in the past and had good connections," he explains.
He arrives at his workshop at 7:30-8 and makes a plan for the day. "I don't always achieve my daily target," he says, "because woodworking always takes longer than you think it will."
His furniture designs are very much influenced by the Japanese minimalist look and he calls his business Nakashima. He works with many different exotic woods, like eki and zebrano from Africa, and finishes all his pieces with old hand planes, some antique and works of art in themselves.
"For me the finishing is very important. I use a combination of modern and old tools and traditional techniques."
Home is a rented house in Herzliya Pituah, furnished with much of his own handiwork. Here is where he has his office and computer, and where clients come to discuss designs for custom-made furniture.
"Most of our friends are Israelis and Anglos. I can't say I stay in touch with many French people. I have many acquaintances, people I knew in the army and in reserve duty, as I spent 10 years here."
With a divorce behind him and young children living with his ex-wife in England, he has many expenses, but says he makes a satisfactory living.
"I was brought up in a very Jewish home, but not a religious one. When I lived in England, I used to go to synagogue, but more to take care of security than anything else."
"I'm an Israeli/Frenchman who spent many years in England and I still have a soft spot for anything British."
He speaks Hebrew, English, French and Spanish.
He is taking a course in interior design and eventually hopes to offer a complete service, advising on color and form as well as actually making the furniture.
"I actually do something like it already," says Belot. "When I go to people who are having a piece of furniture made, I sometimes become a couple therapist as well, trying to get them to agree on a color before they kill each other. In fact, design goes with the territory of being a cabinetmaker because although you might be commissioned to make just a coffee table, you end up doing the whole room. So now I'm studying it properly, learning all the most up-to-date techniques.
"Actually I often start doing something, and then begin to study it properly, like woodwork. It's the story of my life."
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