A forester in the desert

Some may wonder what Alberto Canaan is doing living in the Negev, but he and his partner have made it their home.

casablanca home 521 (photo credit: URIEL MESSA)
casablanca home 521
(photo credit: URIEL MESSA)
Alberto Canaa n sums up the style of his house as “something between a church in Casablanca and a mosque in Santa Fe.”
The look that he and partner Jill were aiming for is certainly exotic and original. The home is situated in Be’er Ora, a small community about 17 kilometers north of Eilat, not far from Kibbutz Eilot. It was founded in 2001 as part of a program to populate the Arava and bring people from central Israel to the Negev.
Long before the community was established, a well (be’er in Hebrew) in the area served as the first source of fresh water for Eilat before it was connected to the national water network – hence the name “Be’er” – while the “Ora” in the comes from the nearby Ora Mountain.
Today, about 75 families live there and the aim is for about 300 to complete the community.
Canaan is a forester working for Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund. He and Jill built the house to accommodate many of the very interesting and unusual objects they already owned. Not surprisingly for a forester, many of their possessions are made from wood and there are examples of many different kinds of wood around the house.
Perhaps the most striking is the stylized cello carved out of olive wood by a Druse artist from the village of Usfiya, which stands at the entrance to the lounge. Next to it is a love seat made from eucalyptus wood, which they designed and had made especially for them. The coffee table is made from a door from the deck of a ship, which they acquired in a flea market in Los Angeles and turned into a table. Arched windows and custombuilt arched niches contribute to the Moroccan feel of the place.
For the merry-go-round horse that they brought back from a flea market in Mexico they needed an especially big niche, which they placed between the kitchen and the living room area.
The vaulted ceiling above the kitchen is seven meters high, and the added height is distinctly ecclesiastical. But it’s still a kitchen with a hob, a stove and a sink.
Around the island are unusual chairs, which were all made from the trunk of one tree – a ficus. They are very sturdy, with iron legs, and the color matches the worktop, which is made from African walnut.
By contrast, around the sink – where marble is usually fitted for work counters – they have put African violet, which they say is not just beautiful but strong and stain-resistant.
Over the whole room hangs a decorative chandelier that they found in Jaffa, which dangles with multicolored beads.
A spiral staircase leads to the second floor, and the master bedroom is reached by a bridge that connects the two sides of the house. The wooden bath was made for them by a Haifa carpenter and is entirely functional and not just decorative. Over the bed is a skylight, which can be operated by remote control, and the Canaans love to lie in bed and be able to see the stars and moon overhead. A large balcony off the main bedroom allows them to sit and drink their morning c o f f e e while looking over the whole of Be’er Ora and the desert beyond.
Behind the spiral staircase one can glimpse the dining room and, here too, the emphasis is on unusual wooden objects – in this case a table that was once an old carpentry work bench and antique chairs from Jaffa. Even the cat going down the steps toward the children’s bedrooms is made of wood, in this case eucalyptus with iron legs.
For the guest bathroom they chose black and white tiles, as they were aiming for a period look – think Vermeer – although the glass sink is distinctly 21st century. They have placed a few Botero fat lady pictures around – “to make the guests feel good,” says Alberto with a smile.
Because they live in the desert, they decided not to plant any grass in the garden, which would have needed a large amount of water, but instead created a rockery with stone terraces and trees and plants that grow anywhere. They love the dry desert air, although in the height of summer they prefer to be indoors with the airconditioning at full strength.
At the front of the house, set into the stonework, is a circular window with a clock face above the entrance.
“No, it doesn’t work,” says Alberto, “but it’s right at least twice a day.”