'We walked into this old house in Mevaseret Zion two years ago and instantly had a feeling that we could turn it into our own very special home," says Zohar Efraimi. To achieve the special atmosphere that radiates from the home, she and her husband, Eldad, completely gutted the 25-year-old house and added many unusual architectural features which create a distinctive oriental decor and an overall feeling of harmony. Using Arabic mashrabiya bricks, archways, ornate flowing wrought-iron accessories and soft colors, Zohar, who was mainly responsible for the decor, drew on her instinctive artistic talents and the genes she inherited from parents, both of whom graduated from Bezalel Academy of Art. Her father is the well-known painter Yitzhak Shalhevet, and several of his paintings are displayed around the home. "After I finished renovating the house, I took a course in interior design and thought I would discover all the mistakes I made," Zohar says. "But apparently I did most things right according to the book. My teachers couldn't believe I had never studied design before." Clearly a background in anything artistic, whether jewelry making, glasswork or just plain painting comes in useful when tackling a house, as Zohar discovered. The choice of mashrabiya for dividing walls in the open-plan house is inspired. Originally the name refers to wooden carved screens used all over the Middle East with several specific purposes. Women would peek from behind them, seeing but not being seen. They also acted as primitive air conditioners, filtering air currents and cooling the rooms. And of course they were extremely aesthetic, the main function they have in this house. "They create a wonderful play of light and shade and change their colors according to the light in the room," explains Zohar. "They look completely different at night but are always beautiful." Glass bricks in the entrance hall ensure that light flows into the entire ground floor area, where lounge, kitchen and dining room all blend together. The lounge looks out onto the pretty back garden and the decor is carefully chosen to make the rather long, narrow room look larger. "We designed the modular sofas to fit into the space available and had them made with unusually low backs because we felt that the lower and closer to the ground they are, the higher the ceiling will appear," says Zohar. "The longer part is very comfortable to lie and watch television, and the chaise longue can easily convert to a bed." The muted colors of the room are cream with accents of wine and light brown. A marble ledge built under the window partly disguises the heating elements and makes an attractive display area, while a Moroccan couch with the same curling, flowery lines seen in the banisters is upholstered in a maroon fabric printed with the same lattice-work design as the mashrabiya bricks. "We chose the bricks first and picked the fabric accordingly," explains Zohar. For the dining room, they chose a very heavy wooden table kept in its basic square 1.25 meter size, but extendable to 2.5 meters, and put very dainty chairs around it to create a frame and contrast. The juxtaposition of solid and ethereal is quite a daring feature, but works well. From the dining room one looks out onto a wooden deck next to the garden. The wooden kitchen with its eating bar at the end was completely designed by Zohar and Eldad. "We began looking for a kitchen and went into all the main kitchen stores and found everything far too expensive," says Zohar. "I was nearly in despair, so we decided to go have a cup of coffee and talk it over. I took a napkin and began designing what I wanted my kitchen to look like, and in the end we did it ourselves for a fraction of the price it would have cost." The warm maplewood kitchen also has several of the same wrought iron fittings to link it up to the oriental look of the other rooms. The master bedroom is situated on the lower floor, and they are particularly proud of the walk-in closet which, like the kitchen was designed entirely without any help. "We planned the whole thing, every shelf and every drawer," says Zohar proudly. Arched niches contain examples of her glasswork. When they left Jerusalem to move to their house with their two children, they faced barrages of criticism from friends and family for giving up a prestigious area of the capital for small-town living. "But I have no regrets," says Zohar. "There are many other young families, good schools and it's quiet and peaceful. What more can I ask?" Do you feel you own one of Israel's most beautiful homes? Please e-mail: [email protected].