Old city chic

A look into a beautiful home in Jerusalem's Old City.

An extra bedroom in the house features the tell-tale Ottoman arches from the home’s 650-year history. (photo credit: URIEL MESSA)
An extra bedroom in the house features the tell-tale Ottoman arches from the home’s 650-year history.
(photo credit: URIEL MESSA)
The lucky denizens of this stunning home in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City made aliya in 1987 and bought it a year later. Coming from Albany, New York, the owner says it’s the best place on earth to live.
“If you are observant, as I am, and English- speaking, you couldn’t hope for a better community,” says the owner, a retired physician. “It’s very inclusive and supportive, both in joy and sorrow,” he adds.
The cluster of buildings facing the Western Wall was built about 650 years ago in Turkish Ottoman times, and the style reflects this. There are domed ceilings in several rooms, including the lounge, dining room, and a bedroom that is used as a study.
For help in creating the interior, the owner turned to well-known Jerusalem architect George Goldstein, who has much experience in this type of building. Most of the furniture was brought over from the United States, so in some cases, it was square pegs in round holes.
“We went shopping for everything new, with instructions from George as to dimensions and colors,” says the owner.
The first imperative was to create the rough, unfinished section of wall at the entrance. “This is in memory of the destruction of the Temple,” the owner explains. “Most people living here have such a wall, a constant reminder of our tragic history.”
The large dark object next to it is a trash compactor with empty bottles perched on it. The furnishings are uncompromisingly contemporary. Says the owner, “I think that putting modern furniture in an ancient setting creates a very interesting effect – I don’t think there is any conflict at all.”
Several of the old archways in the original building have been filled in and utilized for storage and display. One wide niche in the lounge has a built-in, royal blue seat with wooden shelves above for sifrei kodesh (Torah and prayer books). The smaller niches are fitted with glass shelves and are attractive display areas for family photos, dried flower arrangements, ornaments and books.
White embossed sofas arranged in a square provide seating, and there is also a large burgundy armchair with matching pouffe.
The tapestry covering the television is a Goldstein original called From the Depths..., while the oil painting of tulips next to it is by well-known Israeli artist Yoram Ra’anan. The stark white coffee table is a Parsons table and sits on an antique Persian rug.
As with many Orthodox families, a special corner has been set aside for ritual hand-washing before meals, and this one is particularly pretty, tiled in handmade Delft-like tiles that create a backdrop for the faucet and natla (two-handled washing cup). It is conveniently situated next to the dining room.
From the ceiling of the dining room hangs an unusual chandelier that holds long wax candles. “We only use it on very special occasions,” says the owner. “We used to have to import the candles from Europe, but for a while now we have been able to get them in IKEA, of all places. When the whole thing is lit up, it’s spectacular and gives great lighting.”
The dining room has two identical tables, which can be pushed together to seat 20 people. The owner’s wife is undaunted by this, as she used to be a caterer, so huge family get-togethers are not a problem.
In one of the bedrooms, which the wife uses as a study and guest room, a tan sofa opens up into a bed, and a teddy bear in a frilly dress surveys the scene. Above, the undulating old ceiling looks as solid and immovable as when it was built hundreds of years ago. The owner tells me that all the electricity and plumbing were renewed recently, with underground heating pipes installed.
“The only disadvantage is that drilling into these old walls creates mountains of dust and dirt,” he says.
Outside the apartment, a ready-made succa is waiting to be decorated when the time comes around. To reach the Western Wall, the owners just have to step out their front door; the views of the Kotel and the Temple Mount are there whenever they feel the need for spiritual uplifting.
“It’s one of the most picturesque streets in Jerusalem,” says the owner.