From Italy with love

An apartment in Tel Aviv has a classical touch.

plasma 298 (photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
plasma 298
(photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
Michaela Yaakov says she thinks Italian design is the best in the world and credits her upbringing in Milan for her skills as an interior designer. "You grow up surrounded by beautiful Renaissance palaces and imbibe the balance and harmony between different elements of the buildings," she explains. I suppose being able to drop in and look at the Last Supper whenever one gets the urge does contribute to one's artistic sensibilities and may well have helped Michaela turn a 1962 Tel Aviv apartment into a model of contemporary style. Until four years ago she actually worked in hi-tech, having come to Israel in 1987 and studied physics at the Technion. "I went into a more practical profession to start with but always loved art and design," explains Michaela, "and four years ago I decided to follow my heart and took a three-year course at Ort in Tel Aviv." Her own apartment originally belonged to her great grandmother and seemed an ideal place to practice her newly-acquired profession. The building, constructed 44 years ago in north Tel Aviv, is on one of those wide, tree-lined boulevards so common in the city. The only things she can see from her third-floor window are palm trees, some low structures on the other side and the skyscrapers looming in the distance. She decided to gut the old apartment completely, turning what was the kitchen at the entrance into a studio/leisure room for herself and making the whole living area open plan, with the kitchen created out of what was a bedroom. The front balcony was incorporated into the room, making the whole place light and airy. Being left with a pillar after the walls were knocked down, she decided to make a feature of it, painting it in a warm red stucco finish. "If you have no choice but to live with an element that is a constraint, then you might as well make the most of it," she says. She added open slats in the walls and painted them the same color on the inside to create a continuous space. "It's all a part of the harmony that derives from classical buildings," she explains. "For instance, the set-up of the television screen and the loudspeakers is designed to have the correct proportions. Nothing is there by chance." On opening the front door, one immediately sees the decorative glass shelves holding some fine pieces of glass and other ornaments. The wall separating the entrance curves around slightly and allows a moment's pause until one steps into the entire lounge, dining and kitchen space, all visible together. "I decided to use neutral and relaxing shades for the background colors and give it life with the furniture and accessories," she says. In the lounge, the dominant feature is the red glass low table, which she had specially made, and on either side are two reproduction le Corbusier arm chairs in black to match the legs of the table. Dividing the lounge from the kitchen, she has put an island with the gas hob inset at one end which acts as an eating area as well as a work station and room divider. The kitchen cabinets are off-white with insets of cherry wood to match the windows. Around the walls are many examples of her own paintings, often painted on two or more panels and always in bright, strong colors. What was once the kitchen is now a more intimate sitting room where she likes to paint or play piano. It is furnished with two mattresses piled one on top of the other and covered in a bright throw with multi-colored cushions. The end wall has a built-in set of shelves also painted in the same warm red as the pillar and the table. The entrance to the room has been left open so she can sit there and still enjoy the view of her living room and the big city beyond. In this room, she has taken an old air-conditioner grill, put it in an attractive frame and uses it to post notes or store discs - a really cute and copiable idea. Now that many Italian families are making aliya, she finds herself busy helping them set up their new homes in Israel. "I give a complete service, acquiring furniture and accessories and designing apartments," she says. But you don't have to be Italian to benefit from the skills of this young and talented designer. Do you feel you own one of Israel's most beautiful homes? Please e-mail [email protected].