House of sycamores

The bedrooms all have oak parquet floors and the wood used in the master bedroom came from an old barn somewhere in Europe.

The dining room is enclosed in a glass cube, contrasting modernity with the home’s vintage look. (photo credit: URIEL MESSA)
The dining room is enclosed in a glass cube, contrasting modernity with the home’s vintage look.
(photo credit: URIEL MESSA)
‘I have the inspiration and the vision, and my husband makes it happen,” says Shikma Alfassi, who lives in Rinatya, a moshav near Yehud.
Although she never studied interior design, she is passionate about it, creating a striking home for herself, husband Ofir and their four children which combines many different elements and epitomizes the mixed ethnic backgrounds of its owners.
“We come from a very complex mix of backgrounds,” says Alfassi, whose name means sycamore. “My family is a true example of kibbutz galuyot [ingathering of the exiles].”
The generation of her grandparents escaped Odessa during World War I and reached Shanghai.
Shikma has a Chinese grandmother who converted to Judaism. Her mother, the oldest of seven daughters, came to Israel in 1949.
Her husband has mixed Moroccan/Romanian parentage.
“We both grew up with many different cultures and absorbed many different influences from around the world,” she says. “I like to feel that my home is a microcosm of those influences.”
At present, Alfassi works as a makeup artist, freelancing for Channel 10 News and various fashion shows, but she will soon be opening a new business, selling the antique furniture she loves and has several examples of around her home. Having studied fashion at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan, and having always sewn clothes for herself and her children, she sees her love of interior design as a natural extension of her dressmaking and other artistic skills.
Many epithets could sum up the look of the home – including the somewhat overworked “eclectic” – but one could say the overall effect is rustic. It is, after all, a huge, almost ranchlike space set in its own sprawling gardens.
Two striking features greet the visitor entering the living room. On the left is a vintage wine-bottle holder they acquired in an old vineyard in Belgium. 
“Whenever we travel, we like to bring something home we can use to decorate the home and have a reminder of a great holiday, too,” she says.
Acting as a room divider is an impressive oak cupboard on which stand flowers, fruit and old artifacts. The doors have unusual holes and asymmetric markings. This piece, Alfassi says, was made by a carpenter from wood once used by the National Water Carrier.
“My father worked for Mekorot, the water company, and when these wooden panels became obsolete, he brought some home and had them made into a cabinet,” she says.
The lounge is furnished with bright blue mesh chairs that were brought from China.
On the iron mesh table, a piece of olivewood filled with pebbles is in the same blue shade.
Changing the mood completely, the piece separating the lounge from the entrance is a traditional laser-cut screen, called a mashrabia.
“We wanted the lace effect so that it would create an intimate corner, but at the same time be possible to see through it,” explains Alfassi.
It came from China and arrived in pieces that were then put together –“like a puzzle,” she says. It has elements which remind them of Morocco, as well as India’s Taj Mahal.
The dining room is made completely of glass and juts out to the back of the house.
“I really liked the antithesis of a rustic home set in a large garden, with a glass cube suddenly appearing unexpectedly in the middle,” says Alfassi. “We wanted to feel as though we are outside when we sit in the dining room.”
The floor is a rough terracotta tile.
The back view of the house also showcases the fishpond and the wall next to the glass cube, which is constructed from imported old Belgian bricks of various shades. Several sycamore trees are also to be found around the garden.
The staircase up to the bedrooms is dominated by three unusual lamps made from chicken feathers, which hang together over the glass-sided stairs.
“They come from China, and when I brought them back I took them to a place in south Tel Aviv and had them made into a mobile,” says Alfassi. “The view of them from underneath is almost like coral and I find them rather beautiful.”
The bedrooms all have oak parquet floors and the wood used in the master bedroom came from an old barn somewhere in Europe, giving it extra character. In the bedroom is a 1930s radio cabinet she inherited from an aunt, topped with a Moroccan candle lamp.
The pinecones came from the Amsterdam Christmas market.
The modern kitchen has an unusual feature – rather than drainers, for which there wasn’t room, the whole length of countertop has a built-in drain to put dishes to dry. The kitchen window looks out at the fishpond and is also decorated with bowls of blue glass stones.
Finally, the front door is framed with wonderful old railway sleepers, recycled but still maintaining the rugged, worn look of something once useful, now decorative. They make a fitting framework for the entrance to a very unusual home.