An architect's abode

Motty Ben-Horin built himself a simple, two-floor villa in Savyon.

stairway 88 298 (photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
stairway 88 298
(photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
When I received an e-mail from Motty Ben-Horin, I couldn't have been more excited. No matter that the legendary architect was berating me for featuring a super ostentatious home in this column. To paraphrase what he wrote, he lamented the lack of understanding of architecture in this country and the approach of the nouveaux riches who build for show. He agreed to let me write about his own home in Savyon. Nothing in the e-mail exchange between us could have prepared me for the home he has shared these last 45 years with his wife, Aviva, and four now grown children. Ben-Horin has designed homes for the billionaires of this land, and the last thing I expected was this simple, two-floor villa set in an unkempt garden and furnished with the simplest of fixtures and fittings. When I arrived for the interview, a graduate design student had just finished interviewing him for a paper she was writing - on him. Even in his student days at the Technion, he was quickly recognized as a maverick, turning in work which was ahead of its time. "We were educated on the theories of Le Corbusier and the Bauhaus, but I always wanted to understand the essence, not to copy," he says. He gives me several examples from his student days of how out of line he was with his teachers. One was the project the students were given to design a gardener's home in a public garden. "Everyone else built what we were taught, a Bauhaus-style building. I built a spiral stone wall, like a statue, and you couldn't see it was a house at all. In a public garden, you don't build a house. The lecturer agreed it was innovative." Throughout his studies, he was always controversial and made a name for himself. Many were critical. But when it came to building Savyon in the 1960s and '70s, many home owners turned to Ben-Horin and he lives in the middle of some of his superb creations. The house he built for himself in 1962 was conceived as a dovecote, standing high from the ground, which at that time was as much a home for snakes as it was going to be for humans. "We haven't changed a thing in 45 years," he says proudly. The idea was for a cozy and welcoming home which the visitor would step inside and not want to leave. The ceilings were kept low, so that the staircase which leads to the kitchen, dining room and bedrooms would be very easy to climb, with hardly any incline. The small entrance leads, via three steps, to a sunken living room surrounded by windows. "We were pioneers," he says with a smile. "Besides the snakes, there was no air-conditioning then so we needed plenty of air around. The idea of the three steps down was to emphasize the coziness of the room." All around the walls he constructed a wooden bench made of the simplest planks - "my small son stained them years ago" - and they are covered in cushions, ethnic throws and inexpensive oriental carpets. Inside there is ample storage for anything and everything. He also had the easy chairs built to his own design. They are sprung under the cushions with some kind of inner-tire tubing which makes them extremely comfortable, and the arms of the chairs have been made especially wide to balance a cup. "Look at this coffee table," he exclaims. A large wooden rectangle, the inside is made of glass reinforced with wire netting for strength, but which doesn't reach the edge so crumbs can easily be brushed off. Underneath he keeps an electric light plugged in for impressive low-tech lighting effect. He points out the staircase, made of flattened tin four millimeters thick, and inspired by an opened-out fan. It is held up without beams, suspended in air, with the wooden banister also unattached, both elements intended to achieve a feeling of lightness. The walls are covered in a light brown corrugated felt, and the floor is made up of leftovers from a marble cutter's yard, with stones of all shapes and sizes. It still looks as fresh and original as when it was laid in 1962. At the top of the stairs, he has what he describes as a heimish kitchen with everything to hand. "Some of my clients have two kitchens, one for cooking and one for show," he says. "In the end they're both for the Filipina," he adds with a mischievous smile. The children's wing is separated from the parents by a long, narrow den. The master bedroom is not a thing of beauty, as he would be the first to admit, but it does have interesting ideas like the television remote control hanging from the ceiling on elastic as well as a bunch of pens and pencils. Ben-Horin sums up his philosophy: "Sometimes I'm ashamed to be an architect. I prefer to think of myself as a humanist who builds houses." Do you feel you own one of Israel's most beautiful homes? Please e-mail: