A home is more than four walls

Interior designer Yael Steinberger teaches the finer points of planning a home

Yael Steinberger: ‘Shalom bayit’ is a surprising aspect of interior design. (photo credit: YISKA OPPENHEIM)
Yael Steinberger: ‘Shalom bayit’ is a surprising aspect of interior design.
(photo credit: YISKA OPPENHEIM)
Yael Steinberger teaches a one-year course in interior design for women at the Jerusalem Hub, a women’s workspace on Jaffa Road, which she opened by default.
She has a degree in practical engineering and industrial design, and was head of the interior design program at Lander Institute in Jerusalem until it closed in 2014. Students who had registered and were disappointed with the school’s closure tracked her down and talked her into opening an interior design program in English.
Steinberger rented a classroom and a computer room at the Hub, bought a projector, and arranged for the students to visit showrooms and building sites. Her course is in its fourth year, having placed dozens of women in jobs.
With fluent, American-accented English, you’d never know that Steinberger, 42, was born and raised in Israel and has never lived in the United States. Born to American parents, English was her first language, she explains. Along with English, she absorbed a cultural bias that later influenced her unique interior design job: realizing American and European styles in Israeli homes.
Blueprints don’t convey a realistic vision, says Steinberger, especially when measurements are different from what the client is used to.
“Many of my clients bought their Israeli homes on paper. They think in inches and have a hard time understanding measurements in meters and centimeters. They often experience cognitive dissonance when they compare the picture in their minds to the space they really have.” And there are myriad details that new olim don’t perceive at first – for example, that carpeted floors aren’t a good idea in our dusty climate. Steinberger focuses on helping expats adjust their expectations. A family may come assuming that their furniture and appliances will fit into their new home, only to discover that their American washing machine won’t fit through the laundry-room door.
There is another, little-known issue regarding laundry that may seem trivial, but is really important: the faucet. Many Israeli washing machines are connected with only one cold-water faucet, unlike most American washers, which need both hot and cold taps.
“That hot-water faucet should be installed beforehand, to prevent damage to walls,” Steinberger says. “It takes a 10-shekel faucet to avoid the problem if it’s installed before work starts in the house. But it costs NIS 100 if it’s installed while the house is being finished, and NIS 1,000 if you wait until all the house is done.” A savvy designer will intervene early on in the process and avoid the problem.
The designer’s job, Steinberger says, is to help families plan their homes before they are built, to determine whether structural changes can be made to accommodate the family’s lifestyle – and to figure out how much everything will cost.
The gap between expectations and budget can be bridged with correct advice, Steinberger affirms. “Some couples are afraid they won’t realize their dream, but an interior designer can do magic within a budget.”
An unpublicized and surprising aspect of interior design, says Steinberger, is shalom bayit (domestic harmony).
“The architect plans how the house will look on the land. The interior designer guides the new owners to decisions involving where interior walls go, and how electrical outlets, gas lines and plumbing go inside them. The best colors for a kitchen and the style they want for doors and windows.
“It’s hard to make big decisions, and the clients will be living with the decisions they made. A lot of the designer’s work involves shalom bayit, actually. You want to prevent fights over things like the color of the tiles or how much money was spent,” she adds.
Designing a home needs a world of expertise. For example, decorative aspects test the designer’s knowledge of working with drywall, which is essential when deciding where to put decorative niches and dropped ceilings, air conditioning and lighting.
In designing a stairway, the under-stair space, banisters and lighting all need consideration. And there are exterior design issues such as merging the view and the outdoors with the interior. Who knew?
Steinberger teaches her students to listen closely to each client’s needs so they get a detailed picture of the client’s lifestyle. Sometimes a cogent suggestion from the designer is also helpful. Steinberger once tactfully suggested a client recycle every week instead of once a month, so the house plan included only a small storage space for recyclables.
Hands-on learning is key. In addition to studying the technical material, students observe real conditions by walking through spaces under construction. They thus learn when a door should open to the left instead of to the right, which could change the layout of the room to create more storage.
A Steinberger graduate is familiar with suppliers and their showrooms, and where to choose furniture, colors, textiles and tiles. Also, when home owners make their choices, Steinberger’s photographs of the product catalogue help to avoid mix-ups later.
“Builders and suppliers are always happy to show us around their sites,” Steinberger notes. “They give us guides and hard hats. Suppliers even give us breakfast. They agree it’s important to educate the younger generation of interior decorators hands-on. Mine is the only school in Israel that offers this.”
Students are required to hand in a project study to complete the five-module course. Steinberger commits to getting graduates their first job. Some receive more work than they can handle and pass assignments on to former classmates.
“Being with my students, seeing the women succeed and even sharing work, gives me huge satisfaction,” she says. “I feel it’s a mission.”
The women come from diverse backgrounds. In class there may be haredi women, wives of diplomats, Christian Arabs, and women who worked as designers abroad and found that what they learned was irrelevant in Israel. All share a desire to study in English.
According to Steinberger, a student must also have a passion for aesthetics and like to work with people. A graphic designer can work alone with a computer, she says, but the interior designer is all about the clients, their needs and tastes.
In Jerusalem asked for some tips that new home owners should know.
“Don’t look at American magazines,” Steinberger advises. “They can’t be translated into Israeli conditions and styles. Buy your furniture and appliances here. Buy a measuring tape and start practicing, to get a feel for what a room looks like.”
Steinberger pauses to smile. “And buy a pink measuring tape. Builders use yellow ones. If you leave your pink tape at the site, they won’t take it away by mistake.”
Yael Steinberger can be contacted at 054-539-1668 or on Facebook. For more information about the interior design course, visit www.interiordesigner.co.il.