Do-it-yourself design

When the builder knocks down all the interior walls to your home and then disappears, look on the brighter side of life.

311_real estate (photo credit: Uriel Messa)
311_real estate
(photo credit: Uriel Messa)
David Zylbermann became an interior designer by accident. He and his wife Debi had bought an apartment in Jerusalem which needed a complete renovation. They had hired a builder and a designer who got down to work, completely gutting the apartment.
David, meanwhile, went off every day to his job at the Diamond Bourse in Ramat Gan.
“After the builder knocked down all the inner walls, he just disappeared with all the money we’d paid him and the designer saw no reason to hang around, so he took off as well,” explains Debi.
They decided there was nothing for it but to do the renovation themselves. David took a leave of absence from work, and discovered he had a talent for interior design that was completely instinctive.
“He turned it into a little gem and within four days we had sold the apartment,” recalls Debi.
That was 18 years ago, and since that first job, David has designed dozens of homes. Debi encouraged him to study design professionally, which he did at night school.
“He just has a touch for it,” she says proudly.
Their present apartment in Rehavia is a showcase for his individual style and also a repository for his multitude of collections.
Born in France, he came here at the age of nine with his parents and says he is a fourth-generation collector. “Everyone in my family collects something,” he says.
The apartment is covered in extraordinary items he has brought back from his travels and pieces he’s picked up in antique shops and flea markets here and abroad.
Dominating the lounge are two fierce ivory and bone lions from China which he found in Jerusalem. He’d always really wanted them, but they were prohibitively expensive. One day he passed the antique shop and found it was having a sale, bought the lions and presented them as a fait accompli to Debi.
“My first reaction was, ‘It’s them or me,’” says Debi, who has her own website promotion company, but admits she eventually got used to them.
THE LARGE APARTMENT on the first floor is flooded with light, both natural and from the unusual “in your face” electrical fittings. Even before one sets foot inside the front door, the tree sticker and marble surround at the entrance make a statement. The hall is notable for its ceiling painted in trompe l’oeil blue sky and fluffy clouds with an unusual wire light feature fitted with LED bulbs, as is the whole apartment.
The living-room furniture is kept very simple – clean lines and beige leather which is repeated in the window seat – but the accessories add needed interest: tall healthy plants, two bronze cockerels silhouetted against the light standing on a mahogany what-not, two Chinese burial urns presumably emptied of their contents.
Lining the walls are endless display cabinets containing different collections, one with glass, another with Chinese ceramics, another with old family silver and so on.
David confides that he has another 15 boxes of acquisitions in the storeroom downstairs, and other rooms hold other collections like his cuff-link collection, which he keeps in the bedroom.
The private part of the home with the bedrooms and the bathrooms is designated by a David Gerstein floral creation affixed to the corridor wall and supplemented with stick-on butterflies, the whole feature being very effective and pretty. In this direction lies the master bedroom with its gray-and-white abstract wallpaper and silvery gray shimmering bed cover.
In the dining room, the five-meter glass-and-wood table is left perpetually open and is often covered with unusual fabrics like a six meter silk sari that they brought from a trip to India.
“We are always inviting people for Shabbat and other meals, and it would just be too much of a hassle to keep shortening the table so the simplest solution is to leave it at its full length,” explains Debi. “We can fit 16 chairs around it without even trying.”
The centerpiece is an old and incomplete piece – the bowl in the center is missing – which David carried back from a visit to Argentina.
A wall panel of curved wood which matches the wood of the table was fitted to hide the piece of wall jutting out from the kitchen where the refrigerator is housed in a special niche. Says Debi, “It’s just an example of how David finds solutions to problems you don’t even know you have.”
Next to the kitchen is a small area for handwashing before meals in an 18th-century sink David picked up somewhere. Above this area next to the ceiling a rounded cupboard contains all the family hanukkiot.
“You only need them for eight days in the year,” says David, “so the rest of the time they might as well be out of the way.”
He is passionate about electricity and lighting and in the last three months has changed all fittings to LED, which he says has many advantages, being much more economical and flexible in design.
“I have 400 electric points here, most of them hidden,” he says. In the dining room the spot lighting hangs from curving metal tracks, while on a shelf above the rounded window small metal figures also give out light from their heads.
Every doorway has a different mezuza and the intention is to reflect the character of each room. Some are ornate, some simple, some modern, some traditional. Like the apartment itself, there is something for every taste.

Do you feel you own one of Israel’s most beautiful homes? Please e-mail: