A warm welcome in Zichron Ya’acov

Form meets function in a private home turned guest house – swimming pool and all.

private pool 521 (photo credit: Uriel Messa)
private pool 521
(photo credit: Uriel Messa)
When Or and Michal Bennatan built their house in Zichron Ya’acov in 1998, something made them build a separate entrance for their children, who they felt might one day want to live in a separate unit.
Little did they imagine that the day would come when they would open up their home to visitors, and the children’s quarters would be turned into a guest house with two comfortable bedrooms, a kitchen and all the facilities necessary for a family or a couple of friends to enjoy a holiday in this burgeoning town.
Michal is a psychologist, and Or spent many years in computers but always had a dream of becoming an opera singer. With his magnificent bass voice and imposing presence (he’s tall but slim), he had always loved music and singing.
“Three years ago, I left Microsoft and decided to dedicate myself to my music,” he says. But although he sings at the Israel Opera and gives recitals, singing doesn’t bring home the, er, salt beef.
“We started the guest house to fill the gap,” he explains. Now into their third season, they find being hosts to vacationing Israelis and people from abroad is fun and fairly lucrative. Michal puts on a great breakfast if necessary, and the guests can cavort in the splendid pool in complete privacy.
“We have double curtains in the living room, which we close when visitors use the pool,” says Or.
“It’s so secure and private that we’ve even had haredi families who can swim together instead of at separate times for men and women as in the big hotels.”
To design the house, they took on architects Shira and Effie Odesser, whom they found easy to work with.
“Some architects forget it’s your house and think of it as a monument to their art,” says Or. “But they were good at integrating our aesthetic ideas into the house without imposing their own.”
Michal’s concept was influenced by the years they had spent in Seattle, where Or worked for Microsoft.
“We wanted a very large space with a sort of gallery around and a vaulted ceiling,” he explains. “And another important concept was that there would be no special architectural elements just for effect – everything had to have a function.”
The result is a home that is attractive, beautiful even – but you can’t quite put your finger on why.
“Actually, we built the house around the grand piano,” says Or, only half jokingly. “We brought it back from Seattle, and all the children learned to play. We started giving private concerts here in which I sang mostly lieder, and I had the best pianist in Israel, Yonatan Zack [father of actress Alma Zack], accompany me.”
Later, Michal began working in the Welfare Department of Zichron and linked up with a local nonprofit, Yad Ezer.
“We began to do concerts to benefit Yad Ezer. We’d clear out all the furniture and put in plastic chairs,” says Or. “We could perform for 120 people – friends and associates and people from the town.
Michal put on a great buffet, and that way we raised a lot of money for charity.”
And, he might have added, he got the extra satisfaction of doing what he loves best – singing.
Most of the furniture in the living room was brought back from Seattle and was acquired in antique shops there.
“We are not collectors,” Or emphasizes. “We just like the fact that this furniture has been around for 60 or so years, so it’s likely to last for another 60. They really don’t make furniture like this anymore. For Michal it was the look that appealed to her; for me, it was the durability.”
As well as the lounge and dining room furniture, there are also several interesting pieces scattered around the living room. A solid-looking display cabinet holds a complete china dinner service for 24. An English 1930s hall stand graces the entrance. And a grandfather clock next to the piano has an interesting history.
“Michal’s grandfather was one of the founders of the Shomrim at the turn of the century,” Or tells us. “The clock was made in Lodz in 1885 and belonged to him.”
The striking dancing figures on several of the walls were made by Or’s late sister-in-law, Maya, and were constructed from mosquito netting. There are many other attractive pieces around the room, including a Chihuly bowl on the piano, some African figures and a wall picture made of different marbles that they brought from India. Or says it is made by the same technique used in the construction of the Taj Mahal, no less.
Outside, the 17x6-meter pool beckons invitingly.
The ground around it is paved with sandstone, which Or says is ideal for walking on barefoot, as it’s warm and one cannot slip on it.
But the garden has so much more to offer.
From the serene view of the Menashe mountain range in the distance to the anemones peeping out of the undergrowth, the garden is a place to wander, to inspect the fruit trees or just to sit and relax. Chainsaw art in the shape of bears carved from an entire tree trunk stand around.
The front garden is also very lovely with a distinctly Tuscan feel to it, and the heavy front door, half open, beckons the visitor inside to what is a very special place.
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