Coloring Mohilever Street

Charming 1920s apartment is 1 of over 100 buildings in TA that will open their doors to the public next weekend.

Inside of home 521 (photo credit: Courtesy Batim Mibifnim)
Inside of home 521
(photo credit: Courtesy Batim Mibifnim)
The apartment on the first floor at 30 Mohilever Street, just off Tel Aviv’s bustling Nahalat Binyamin pedestrian mall, is a delight to the eyes. The welcoming home, occupied by 52- year-old Swiss-born Michelle Holtz and her partner Dubi, exudes all that is best about the Mediterranean part of the world. It is one of more than 100 buildings – public institutions and private residences alike – that will open their doors to the public from May 17 to 19 as part of this year’s Batim Mibifnim (Houses from Within) event in Tel Aviv.
You get an inkling of what you’ll find in The House on Mohilever (as the Batim Mibifnim website calls the home) as you walk up the somewhat less than grand outer staircase that leads from the cast-iron front door. The stairway is protected from the elements by arched Perspex roofing, but it is on the small half-landing that the spirit of the place, and how Holtz and Dubi went about designing the interior, begins to seep through.
“The floor was a real mess, and I thought it might be nice to have something green here, so I put in this artificial grass matting,” says Holtz. “Dubi suggested that a garden gnome might look good here, but I disagreed, so when someone gave me this dinosaur-looking creature as a gift, I thought it would be perfect.”
And she was right. The whimsical ambience is further enhanced on the next step, where an old toy Pepsi-Cola delivery truck, complete with little crates filled with tiny bottles, sits snugly against the wall.
The House on Mohilever will be open to the public next Friday and Saturday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and Holtz will be on hand to show people around part of the spacious interior, including its sprawling kitchen and dining area, the living room, each of the pair’s work area and the delightful balcony.
The apartment has a rich history, and Holtz and Dubi were keen to keep the past at the forefront, as was their landlord.
The couple moved into the rented apartment six months ago – Holtz, who is divorced, lived in Kfar Saba for 22 years, and Jerusalem-born Dubi recently returned to Israel after living in Germany for 25 years. For Holtz, the apartment was love at first sight. “I saw the potential as soon as I set foot in here,” she says, “and our landlord was perfectly happy to go along with our ideas.”
Mind you, the fact that Holtz earns her crust as an interior designer and building exterior color designer – “I have designed the exterior of over 900 buildings in Tel Aviv,” she says proudly – and her partner is a product designer certainly gave them a head start on fashioning their new home to suit their aesthetic leanings.
“We are both handy, and we agreed on what each of us should do. It was a harmonious project,” she says.
That harmony comes through strongly in every aspect of the apartment. There is a gentle balance between colors and textures, and between new and old. Rough-looking, time-worn doors and window frames are neatly complemented by state-of-the-art kitchen fittings and 21st-century office equipment.
One of the most delightful discoveries awaits the visitor in the living room where, high up on the towering whitewashed walls, a fresco peeps through. “There are a few original features here that we very much wanted to leave exposed,” Holtz explains, “and our landlord was happy to comply.”
The most obvious original fixture is the ornate floor tiles in the kitchen, living room and bedroom. The tiles, like the fresco, were hidden from view for many years, as the apartment endured a troubled history. The building dates from 1926 and was built by two brothers who came from Poland. It was built in the eclectic style that was all the rage at the time, and that comes through strongly in the design of the columned veranda.
“This is the first time in many, many years that the apartment has been used as a residence,” says Holtz. “It was an office and an artist’s studio, and then another company moved in.”
All the above related to the space in a purely utilitarian way, with no regard for the original spirit or appearance of the building.
“These wonderful floor tiles were covered by industrial-style carpeting, which was stuck to the tiles with very strong glue,” says Holtz. “They had to work very hard to scrape all the glue off and restore the tiles to their former glory.”
There were also windows to be revealed anew that had been boarded up by the various businesses that had occupied the building. “There is so much light here,” says Holtz with undisguised glee. “That’s what I really like about this place.” The sense of bright airiness is also enhanced by the 3.8-meter high ceilings.
One of the most endearing aspects of the home is all the knick-knacks dotted around the place. The toy truck on the steps outside the front door is a harbinger of the toy car collection in Dubi’s work space, which sits alongside an impressive display of old cigarette lighters, while Holtz’s contribution, in the living room, is a lovely cluster of eggcups from all over the world. It all adds to the laissez-faire, but certainly not unplanned or untidy, ethos of the overall design.
A pith helmet hanging in the hallway catches the eye. And there is a charming anecdote to go with it. “My Swiss grandfather was a real Zionist and, like young Israelis who go to India today after the army, he decided to come to Palestine before he settled down and got married,” Holtz relates. “Look what’s written inside.”
The gold-colored lettering on the padding material reads: “A. Gorsky, 17 Nahalat Binyamin, Tel Aviv.”
“I only brought this to Israel a year ago, from my grandfather’s things in Switzerland,” says Holtz. “You see, the helmet has come home.”
While members of the public may be intrigued by the aesthetics, energies and stories proffered by The House on Mohilever, for her part Holtz wants to hear what they have to say.
“Everyone has their story to tell, and I am curious about why people want to see my home and about where they live. I often look at buildings and wonder what’s inside and how people live. I think it would be nice to exchange stories.”
The other 100-plus buildings on show around Tel Aviv over the weekend include the Round Tower of the Azrieli Center complex; the old-world Montefiore neighborhood; architect Dan Troim’s stylish home on Bitzaron Street; and the futuristic-looking Electra Tower on Yigal Allon Street. There are also outdoor activities on offer, including the Tel Aviv without Wheels walking tour, which focuses on the use of sidewalks and the pedestrian-friendly side of the city, and a glimpse of the graves of some of Tel Aviv’s luminaries of yesteryear in the Nahalat Yitzhak Cemetery.
For more information about Batim Mibifnim: