Museum oasis

The owner-designers of a six-unit apartment have brought a European building standard to a quiet Jerusalem street.

home 88 248 (photo credit: Uriel Messa)
home 88 248
(photo credit: Uriel Messa)
Once, in Jerusalem, three old friends who knew nothing about building put their heads together and decided to construct a building of six apartments which would be unique in terms of its beauty and perfect finish. Nothing was to be left to chance; no loose ends were left untied. Their hope was that people would walk past the outside and wonder at this magnificent piece of architecture on a quiet residential street behind the Israel Museum. Evoking the Georgian facades of Dublin, the arches of Ratisbonne monastery and front doors which took their inspiration from the famous front door at 10 Downing Street in London, the three friends, two of whom have known each other since kindergarten, labored long and hard to bring their dream to fruition. Finally, in 2005, the building was finished and three of the apartments were put up for sale. The three friends each took one for himself. Explains Yossi, who lives on the ground floor, "We had absolutely no experience in building - but we had many advisers. In fact I would say that we had more advisers than workers. The hardest part was probably dealing with all the bureaucracy to get the building permit, which was harder than the actual building." Fortunately they had a designer - Roni Kash - who was able to point them in the right direction on all the small details that went into producing the perfect finish and the look they wanted. "We did not compromise on anything," says Yossi. "We built cornices on the outside and in all the rooms, moldings on all the door frames, wooden window frames and cornerstones and pillars at the front doors to make truly impressive entrances. Our aim was for a high-class and very European standard." YOSSI'S APARTMENT covers 220 meters and is home to him, his wife, two daughters and a beautiful Kafkazi shepherd dog called Paz. All the floors are covered in soft brown parquet which was chosen to bring some warmth to a space which might look cold if tiled because of the exceptionally high ceilings. "We looked for wood which had many knots or eyes in it," explains Yossi. "As far as the designer was concerned, the knottier the wood, the more he liked it." The huge living room is lined with high windows which look out onto a deck and the unspoiled view of Jerusalem spread out below. Not too far away is the Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus and they can also just about make out the Botanical Gardens. No high-rises block the view. A focal point of the lounge is the hand-built rough stone fireplace, designed by Kash, on either side of which are niches with open display shelves. "We kept the shelves very simple because we didn't want them to overwhelm the fireplace," explains Yossi. The fireplace is lined with what look like burned old bricks, and the whole feature has a fashionable distressed look. Logs are kept in an ancient carved-out piece of wood brought from Romania, which might once have been a milk churn. A few select items including a David Gerstein menora decorate the shelves. The three-piece suite is a simple but elegant black leather and a curved Perspex coffee table is centered on an Oriental rug. THE KITCHEN is a cook's dream with a massive French oven backed with white tiles, loads of butcher-block work top and English-style cabinets with glass-fronted closed doors. Yossi, a man of girth, is passionate about cooking and each side of the island room divider is lined with shelves of cookbooks. He is so big that he could not find a bathtub large enough to accommodate him and settled for a room-like shower - "I wanted a shower like a king," he says, and delights in the shower head which feels as though he is standing in pouring rain. The brand-new white porcelain of the bathroom was not to the designer's liking so he broke into a crazy-paving look - to great effect. A small den with a television leads to the children's wing, and from their rooms they can step out onto small flower-filled balconies. Having finally completed their dream projects, two of the owners are selling their apartments to move into something more modest. Lawyer Moshe Dover, who owns an apartment on the second floor, is conducting the sale. "Would you ever build again?" Yossi is asked. He sighs. "I doubt it. It was very painful, but we had the satisfaction of building something so beautiful, it would be hard to repeat it." Outside I take a look at the famous front door, so like the one Gordon Brown goes through every day, and so many famous men - and a woman - before him. On examination it's not that similar - here there is no fanlight and No. 10 has no pillars, but you could call it an Israeli adaptation. The other difference is that here jasmine and olive trees bloom in the narrow front gardens as they most certainly do not in London, somewhat spoiling the illusion, but beautiful nonetheless.