Architects' choice

A couple accustomed to thinking big opts for intimate and cozy at home.

archic bedroom 298 (photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
archic bedroom 298
(photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
One would expect a pair of architects to live in something exceptional, and the apartment in north Tel Aviv which is home to Michal Oren and Yaakov Gil certainly fills the bill. Both are known for their work in constructing large projects - Michal is a specialist in architecture for invalids and did much of the interior work at Beit Loewenstein, while Gil was a partner in the firm which built the IBM building. Their own home is a cozy interpretation of the international style so popular here in the Thirties, and the interior design has been strongly influenced by Viennese Art Nouveau, or Secession style as it was known in Austria. They bought the house in 1995 in one of those leafy streets in north Tel Aviv, not far from one of the main thoroughfares where, if you close your eyes and listen to the birdsong, you can imagine yourself deep in the country and not in a busy metropolis. The two-story house had been built in the Fifties and they decided to keep the structure and renovate it in their own image rather than knock the whole thing down. "Because of all the bureaucracy of the municipality, renovation can be completed much more quickly than re-building," explains Michal. Nevertheless, several walls had to be removed and they were astonished to discover rolls of bunched-up newspapers from the Fifties pushed into crevices between the bricks. "In those days there were huge shortages of building materials and it's just possible the builder had run out of bricks or cement," explains Michal, "or he was consciously cheating them. Either way it was very strange to find the newspapers - and by the way it's the second apartment where it has happened to me." Pausing for only a moment to glance at the news of the Fifties, they got down to the business of building their home on what had been the roof of the original house. Besides being an architect, Michal is also a contractor who has her own team of workers, so she was able to translate her ideas into bricks and mortar in no time. She went for a simple, open look. "I didn't want any obstacles," she says, with the curved lines of the room divider, the division of the windows and the glass bricks overhead creating the Bauhaus style she was looking for. For the interior design and furnishing she was greatly influenced by a visit she made to Vienna in 1984, where the exhibition Vienna 1900 was showing. Her father had fled Vienna as a young man in 1932 and for Michal, it was not just a return to roots, but an aesthetic awakening. "I felt that the Secession style was modest and not ostentatious, and was ideally suited for re-creating here in Israel. The avoidance of extraneous ornamentation suited my lifestyle and outlook, and the furniture could easily be copied by Israeli carpenters." In the lounge, a blue-striped suite is a copy of a Frank Lloyd Wright design which she bought in Israel 15 years ago, and several of the chairs are identical to those built in Vienna at the beginning of the last century to furnish the doctors' club there. An antique red Persian rug is "the only one of its kind in the world." Outside on the pretty balcony, a glass-topped table has a rusted iron sculpture of a branch with leaves and flowers as its base. It was made by Leon Gegaignet, the architect of the Crazy House on Rehov Hayarkon, Israel's Gaudi-like fa ade which is famous enough to be featured in Mini-Israel. The walls and doors of the apartment are all painted blue and there are no tiles anywhere. "I don't need them or like them," says Michal. Instead, in the kitchen and sitting room she has framed pictures taken from a very old German encyclopedia. "I found them in the garbage," she says. She points out the air holes which are a recurring motif in many of the doors, chairs and other pieces of furniture. The dining corner chairs are made by Thonet, the oldest chair manufacturers in the world, and also feature the holes. In the dining corner under a window Michal points out a glass-fronted cupboard in black wood. "I had it made for the glass," she says. "I found it thrown out at a glass-worker's shop and recognized it as pre-war Czech glass. It was far too beautiful to leave it there so I took it and had it made into this piece of furniture." The rounded room divider has many functions with a library and television on one side and kitchen cupboards on the other. The corner eating unit - a quarter of a circle - is a useful feature which many of her clients have seen and asked for in their own homes. The apartment also features many niches around the walls. "Niches are an important feature when space is limited," explains Michal. "They allow for more flexibility." Outside in the garden, the birdsong reaches crescendo.