Jerusalem artist's house

Turning an abandoned flour mill into a home for six was an act of creation.

yitzhak greenfield 88 22 (photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
yitzhak greenfield 88 22
(photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
The home in which artist Yitzhak Greenfield lives in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem neighborhood was once, more than 100 years ago, an olive press and flour mill, and vestiges of its original use still remain in the large garden with its fruit trees and meandering stone pathways. The Greenfields, Yitzhak and his late wife, the Yemenite singer Tsipora Greenfield, moved to the house in 1968. The New-York born Greenfield had made aliya with a Hashomer Hatza'ir group in 1954 and lived on a kibbutz for 14 years. He met and married Tsipora during this time and the couple decided that kibbutz life was not for them. The building they chose to move to had been abandoned by the Arabs in 1948 and for a time had been used as storage for one of the agricultural schools that Rahel Yanait - wife of president Yitzhak Ben-Zvi - had established. "It had never actually been a dwelling," says Greenfield, "and you can imagine the state it was in. No water, no electricity, trees growing through the roof." They reached an agreement with the government to renovate the house and make it fit for a growing family, and worked on it for four to five years until it was habitable. They added a second floor and reserved much of the downstairs area for Greenfield to use as a studio and to teach groups of students. The area is also large enough to use part of it as a gallery to show his landscapes of Jerusalem and his own particular vision of the world. His work has been shown in New York's Museum of Modern Art, the Israel Museum and many other prestigious institutions. Turning a flour mill into a comfortable home for himself, his wife and their five children was another of his achievements. Much of the original building was left untouched, possessing, as it did, the intrinsic beauty of Arab design, particularly the massive arches, the unplastered stone and the meter-thick walls. "If you have the aesthetics of the West, you see a simple wall," says Greenfield. "But we were excited by the look of the stone, and left it as it was in places where the stone was finely cut. If it looked very crude, we covered it in plaster, which in places is six centimeters deep." The sitting room and kitchen were created by removing an inner wall. A doorway was enlarged to become a window and more light was allowed in. "It was not so simple to make changes in these walls," recalls Greenfield. "It had to be done with an engineer. The walls are so thick that it could take three weeks to cut through them." The small room off the kitchen which doubles as a study/bedroom has exposed stonework in the wall and window arches. "Perhaps today I would cover them," he says. "It's perhaps a little too demonstrative for my taste now." The room is furnished with a desk he brought from New York, and an ancient purple cabinet he found going for a song in Mea She'arim. Steps were made to reach the arched window. In what is the studio he proudly pointed out several doors, all with the same Art Deco design and tells the story behind them. "I didn't want standard doors for this house and I was very lucky to find these doors in a storeroom of old building materials. These are 'Jewish doors,' they have no crosses on them and they must have belonged to some institution, probably an old school or hospital. I found 17 doors, most with the special pebbled glass still intact. The carpenter cut them down to fit here and said he had to remove 50 or 60 years of paint." The staircase up to the second floor is designed like a ship's staircase with half steps adjacent to each other as a space-saving device. The kitchen itself is quite modern with a light wood island and cabinets. A huge Japanese lantern hangs over the whole scene. Out in the sprawling garden, vines curl over the house and the olive press remains as a reminder of the past. Getting it out and into the garden was no easy task. "We did it," says Greenfield. "Six laborers and a prayer or two." Away in the distance the Russian convent is clearly visible. The walnut and pomegranate trees thrive. "It's so peaceful out here," says Greenfield. "People even ask if they can come and eat their picnics in the garden." Do you feel you own one of Israel's most beautiful homes? Please e-mail: