Circles and stones

Touring this round house in Kochav Yair can make one's head spin.

When Ayala and Menahem Bar-Lev engaged architect Ida Kollman to design their dream home in Kochav Yair 12 years ago, they told her the features that they particularly wanted. Ayala is a ceramicist and needed a studio and place to display her works. Menahem is a building engineer working from home and needed a study. Both are compulsive collectors and have amassed a mind-boggling array of stones, seashells, some fossils and even what look like prehistoric flints. "We collect the desert," they say of their extraordinary collection. Both keen travelers, they combine their love of traversing the land with their interest in the things they literally pick up on their wanderings. Areas of their home were added specifically to display their acquisitions, like the circular balcony directly under the dome of the house letting in all the light that is required to view their treasures under optimal conditions. They also had very definite ideas about how the house should look. "We wanted it to be functional but esthetic, and we chose the archways and circular motifs for several reasons. They convey a sense of mizrahiut [Eastern flavor], and are a symbol of wholeness and perfection," they say. Interestingly there were several areas of conflict with the architect which happily they resolved. "She wanted us to do simple glass sides to the staircase, but we felt it was too modern," said the Bar-Levs, who plumped for decorative wrought iron instead. (As one who has been wiping sticky finger marks off my glass sides for 30 years, I assured them that this was a good decision.) Another bone of contention was the pergola in front of the house. Again Kollman wanted minimalist and they wanted archways. "We look out of the lounge window and each archway presents a different picture," they point out. However when it came to finishing the archways in coarse stones which they also wanted, she ruled this out, considering it "overdesign." The approach to the house is up a flight of winding steps, past flower beds and displays of stones. Menahem designed this himself, and admits that while it took up more of the plot than a straight staircase would have, he felt it was worth it as it adds an extra dimension to the house. He points out some of the strangely shaped stones they have picked up over the years and seashells of every size and shape. In this part of the garden they also have a cactus collection. Yet another collection - this time of bells - is kept at the entrance to the house on shelves which separate the small entrance from the rest of the living area. A large mirror covers the electricity cupboard opposite the bells. The kitchen is separated from the living room but visible through a wide archway, and to the right are open shelves which display Ayala's creations and the many souvenirs from their extensive travels in the Far East. A wide windowsill with plants looks out onto the garden. Up a pair of steps one finds oneself in the heart and center of the house - a perfect circle. One can look up two flights to the ceiling dome and note the niches with rounded tops built into the round walls. The bedrooms branch out from this circle like the spokes of a wheel. They have not found this a problem in decorating the rooms as three of the walls are straight and only one is curved. We climb the rounded staircase to inspect more of the collection in a specially constructed round landing. The main bedroom has more souvenirs of their travels, including a carved bed headboard from Thailand and an Indian screen. In the bathroom, one of Ayala's life-size figures proffers a towel. We climb more stairs until eventually we are more than eight meters above the ground and have an incredible view of the surrounding countryside. "On a clear day, we can pick out the Hadera chimneys," they say. Ida Kollman, the architect of this very unusual home, explained that the plot on which the house is built is fan-shaped, "like a segment of a circle," and this was part of what inspired her to design it as she did. "It's like a kaleidoscope," she says of her design. "When you stand and look around, the view never repeats itself." Do you feel you own one of Israel's most beautiful homes? Please e-mail: [email protected]