Would you be prepared to pay NIS 350,000 to NIS 400,000 for an interior decorator to take over your home and not allow you inside until she has fully executed her contract? Many people would be reluctant to enter such an arrangement, but that’s the condition set down by Ariella Azaria Berkovitz, a self-taught architect and interior decorator who can point to satisfied clients all over Israel as well as in her native Paris.A person who strongly advocates that seeing is believing, Azaria, who works in close collaboration with her husband Sivan Berkovitz, the owner of a highly successful construction company, gets him to wait inside the newly decorated project, video camera in hand to capture the reaction of the owners when they enter and go from room to room.The reaction is invariably one of delighted surprise, sometimes to the point of tears of joy.
When Azaria talks about this, it’s not an idle boast. She has the latest videos stored in her cellphone, and can produce them within seconds.She has no fixed concept that repeats itself with slight variations on a theme, she says. Every project is an individual challenge to her creativity. It’s not just a matter of choosing color schemes, furniture and furnishings. It’s an A-to-Z undertaking in which she has towels and tissues in the bathroom, food in the refrigerator, the clients’ clothes in the closet and slippers on the bedroom floor, so that when the client actually takes up residence, it is a homecoming in the full sense of the word, without the need to unpack crates of household goods. Azaria has done it all. Of course the client is subsequently at liberty to change things around a little bit, but most are so pleased with the results that they don’t change a thing, and many are so overcome with emotion that they hug her in delight.Growing up in France, Azaria did not have a particular ambition to become either an architect or an interior decorator.Finding it difficult to live at home with an abusive father, she ran away at age 15. Fortunately, she had a good singing voice and a pretty face, and it did not take her long to make her mark in the French entertainment industry, singing with top stars such as Johnny Hallyday, Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams and others. She also caught the eye of fashion photographers and worked as a model for Jean Paul Gaultier and L’Oréal as well as being the face for a Citroën advertising campaign.In the period that she was away from home, her father had abandoned his family; her mother and brother joined other relatives in Israel.Azaria always had an eye for the unusual, and visitors to the loft where she lived complimented her on the unique interior design. Her manager asked her to redesign his apartment, which she did gratis, never thinking for a moment to ask a fee from a friend.Someone else who saw the manager’s apartment wanted her to design his apartment as well – and so the word went around that if anyone was looking for something decidedly different in terms of interior design they should get in touch with Ariella Azaria. After designing four apartments free of charge, Azaria decided to change a hobby into a profession and did reasonably well for herself. In the interim, she had married, and when pregnant with her daughter, told her husband that she wanted to give birth in Israel, surrounded by her family, because in France she had no one other than him.While this was indeed true, the real reason was because she wanted to end her marriage and thought it would be easier to do so in Israel than in France. Her husband, like her father, had abusive tendencies and she simply didn’t want to spend the rest of her life walking on eggshells.They arrived in the mid-1990s, and took up residence in Netanya, because there was already a considerably large French-speaking community there and they felt that it would ease their absorption process.As it happened, her husband’s mother, who remained in France, was seriously ill, and Azaria’s husband felt dutybound to return and take care of her. When he visited Azaria in hospital following the birth of their daughter, Azaria asked him for a divorce. He agreed and signed the legal document that her lawyer had prepared, but left her with minimal financial resources.He had no desire to maintain a relationship with their daughter, and Azaria’s mother took care of the infant while Azaria went to look for a job. She was three months without work. At the time she knew no Hebrew, so finding employment was problematic, but as she wandered around the streets of Netanya, she was surprised to see that there was no French pastry shop.She decided to do something about this lacuna, rented premises, imported a French pastry chef and bought all the equipment he needed. She also acquired a business partner from Nazareth who initially financed the enterprise, because Azaria did not have the money to wing it alone. The problem was that she took him at his word and signed the contract with him without knowing exactly what was in it.The business was quite lucrative and things were going well until the partner wanted to upgrade his relationship with Azaria from business to romance. When she rebuffed him, he grew angry, and demanded that she pay in her share of the capital in accordance with the contract that she had signed. She did not have access to the required sum of money, so the partner was able to simply take the business away from her and assume full control.She had been doing a little interior decorating on the side, but nothing of major proportions. Once she was no longer associated with the pastry store, she was able to give more time to interior decorating and to get into the right circles for that kind of work.One day someone suggested to her that she meet Sivan Berkovitz, a divorced building contractor. They clicked, and within a few months they were married.They are crazy about each other. Despite the fact that Berkovitz has three children from his previous marriage, it was an ideal arrangement. He has been a father in every sense of the word to Azaria’s daughter, and he and Azaria have found a great formula for working together. He builds apartment complexes for which she may sometimes design a model apartment, but more often than not, she will design the interiors for apartment buyers. She also works with many other companies, including Africa Israel, whose model apartment in the company’s Harav Kook Street luxury complex in Jerusalem she designed.If she wanted to, she could drop some very famous names of clients, but that would be breaking a confidence. She did drop less than a handful off the record only to indicate that leading figures from Israeli society and the business community use her services.She also designs furniture and has her own master carpenter who creates beautiful items in accordance with her designs. She experiments with ideas that other designers might discard, such as relief work on kitchen cabinets with the relief motif filled in with velvet fabric. Before finalizing this, she experimented to make sure that the velvet would not deteriorate from cooking steam that might waft all over the kitchen. The velvet gives the kitchen both a homey and high-class ambience.When she finally accompanies the client to the house or the apartment, she brings a huge bouquet of flowers to match those that are already in a tall vase on the sideboard or the dining room table. It’s a personal touch to complement the professionalism.At 51, Azaria is still attractive enough to work as a model if she so desired, and her vibrant personality is certainly an asset, but she loves what she’s doing now, and she also loves the fact that her reputation is such that the people who commission her services trust her implicitly, and don’t ask why they can’t see the work in progress, but instead ask when it will be finished so that they can come and see what she’s created especially for them.Her taste, though distinctly European, ranges from the ultra-modern to the super classical.Potential clients can view some of her creations on YouTube before they decide to meet her.