Palace by the sea

A 400-year-old historic Jaffa building built on Crusader ruins makes a perfect home away from home for this owner and his family.

Sea view 370 (photo credit: URIEL MESSA)
Sea view 370
(photo credit: URIEL MESSA)
This Jaffa apartment had several assets to recommend it to the man who lives in it: It’s two steps from the sea, which he loves; it’s right for the curious mix of furnishings he brought with him from California, where he worked as a furniture manufacturer; and perhaps the most attractive feature, it’s in a 400-year-old building reputed to have been used by none other than Napoleon on one of his visits here.
“Apparently it had been used as a hospital,” says the owner, who lives in the apartment with his girlfriend and teenage son. “If you go down into the garage, there is a wall there dating from 1153, which I’m told was built by the Crusaders.”
The complex, which includes the Armenian Church and monastery, took 12 years to renovate and today is a prestigious address for the people living there.
“I love the high ceilings and the thick stone walls,” says the owner.
“But for me, the best thing is the closeness of the sea, which I look at and listen to all the time. Sometimes when it is quiet out there, I feel I am in a boat or on an expensive luxury cruise.”
He is also attracted to Arab culture and finds the arches and arched windows opening onto the sea a perfect backdrop for his eclectic furniture and fittings.
In the living room, two identical niches face each other, and the room is perfectly symmetrical. The niches, created by the thick walls, are furnished identically with blue and orange steel and wood, Los Angelesmade beds, topped with brightly patterned orange mattresses. The blueand- orange theme is repeated in the specially made cushions.
The coffee table is a spool for industrial cables. He found two of them thrown out in the port area, and decided they would make quirky conversation- piece tables until something better came along.
“I was going to cover them with glass, but decided they were warmer just as wood,” he says.
The stools around the table are from India and are upholstered in a matching blue cloth. The Bombay chest made of steel and wood is also part of the stuff he brought from LA.
Living so near the beach, the owner loves to run along the sand or go snorkeling, and has amassed a collection of curious items he has found over the two years he has been living here.
“I’ve picked up old mosaic tiles that I believe used to be manufactured here, and some of them have the most beautiful designs on them,” he says.
He has collected shells, stones and “anything of interest.”
“I’ve picked up a pot-handle, an old cannon-ball and even the jawbone of a cow,” he says. “Everything comes from the sea, so they are clean, and the years of erosion have softened the edges of these objects.”
A piece of driftwood holds candles, which are lit at night and create an eerie glow.
At the entrance, one can clearly see the thickness of the walls, some of them covered in thick plaster and some with the natural sandstone blocks left uncovered.
“Unfortunately they create a lot of dust, so one can’t leave them all uncovered,” says the owner.
Two pink pouffes brighten up the rather austere entrance. In the bathroom, the owner has somehow managed to fit a modern sink unit and doorway into the arched room.
The bedroom shares a wall with the Armenian Church behind, and the owner thinks the baptismal font is directly behind his bed, as the wall gets very damp and the paint starts to peel off. But as compensation, he often hears the prayers being chanted, strangely, on a Shabbat and can listen in to high-quality classical concerts that are given in the Armenian complex.
When the owner goes back to the States, as he does periodically to check on the furniture business, he lets out the apartment to vacationers who want to spend some time in Jaffa in a historic building.
He rents it out through Tellavista, an online reservation website for booking shortterm rentals all over the country.
“They give a good service,” he says. “But after a few weeks in the US, I can’t wait to get back to my palace by the sea.”