High and mighty

The effects of their Japanese sojourn can be felt in this architect couple's home.

modern hall 88 298 (photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
modern hall 88 298
(photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
Spending three years living and studying in Japan clearly had a strong influence on architect couple Arieh Kutz and Roni Nir. Both Technion graduates, Kutz won a scholarship awarded by the Japanese Ministry of Education and the couple lived in Tokyo and Osaka in the early 1980s, at a time when Japanese architecture was considered the most advanced in the world. The effects of their Japanese sojourn can be seen in the house they built together in an old neighborhood of Ramat Chen. "The old house that had been here had been on the market for a long time," recalls Nir, "Because of the strange trapeze-shaped plot, nobody wanted to buy it." For the architect couple the shape of the land presented no problem, in fact it turned out to be an inspiration in creating their looming and unconventional showplace home. With Kutz mainly in charge of the architecture and Nir responsible for the interior design, they quickly knocked down the old building and put up their own vision for modern living. Nir enumerates the various aspects of the building which can be said to derive from the Japanese influence. "Neat, simple and minimalist are the things that epitomize Japanese style," she says. "Also, they don't use a lot of colors - everything is clean and almost empty." If not for the seven-meter ceiling instead of the more conventional three to three and a half meter in ordinary homes, the house would look quite small and compact, covering a mere 150 square meters in its two stories. The ceiling is covered by a form of plastic sheeting so that no light bulbs are visible, but unusual light effects can be achieved by pressing a remote control which enlarges or dims the strength of the light. Changing a light bulb is just a matter of stepping on to the roof and doing it from there. The living/dining area is furnished almost entirely in black, with some gray for light relief and a bright red chair providing almost the only touch of color in the entire house. "That's very Japanese," explains Nir, "to break the monochrome with a vivid splash of color." On the length of one wall runs a set of shelves which can be reached by a ladder with wheels at the top. Here they keep a few books and some well-chosen simple ornaments. "The Japanese show their possessions in one place," explains Nir. "They don't show all their possessions at once, but keep some in storage - and I like that idea." The small tables next to the black leather sofas were metal cubes picked up from a garbage dump, painted and topped with marble slabs to match the staircase. Another, perhaps unintentional touch of color comes from the large amount of greenish glass used in the house. All the doors are exceptionally tall and made of this glass, which was provided by A.A. Mirrors, a firm based in Herzliya and specializing in glass for architectural purposes. Even the bathroom walls have been covered with glass rather than conventional tiles. A small but compact kitchen looks out over the wild garden, with light from windows on two sides. For storage of all her crockery, Nir uses the adjacent security room. "If there's a bomb, I don't believe the shelter will save us, but it might save the dishes," she laughs. Up the marble staircase with its striking banisters, one reaches the only room on the second floor, the master suite complete with bedroom, closets and what she calls her Zen balcony. The bed, naturally, is on the floor, Japanese style, and is always made up with black sheets. A pair of Japanese clogs stands on the gray concrete floor. The sliding doors of the closets, also made of glass, glide open to reveal an entire wardrobe of black clothes. Everything - blouses, suits, sweaters, skirts and coats - all black. "Japanese influence?" I ask Nir. "Yes definitely," she concurs. Then she opens the closet on the opposite side of the corridor to reveal that all Arieh's clothes are totally black too. "I've passed the age of color," explains the 50-something Nir. Not surprisingly, almost all the towels in the bathroom closets turn out to be black. Hidden behind a shutter, the washing machine and dryer are stacked out of the way. The Zen garden has a floor covered in white stones and a large rock with a cyclamen just beginning to poke out of the stone. The flower is pink - one tiny touch of color to challenge the almost unremitting black and gray of this very unusual home. Do you feel you own one of Israel's most beautiful homes? Please e-mail: gloriadeutsch@gmail.com.