Starting over

A new house doesn't prevent its owners from remembering the old one.

fireplace reast 88 298 (photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
fireplace reast 88 298
(photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
'After 40 years living in a beautiful but dark house, we decided to knock it down and rebuild something more suitable for our age," say the owners of this villa in a Tel Aviv suburb. They wanted to stay in the area, but the old house had to go. "It became a project. We moved out to a family apartment in Ramat Gan and began to rebuild without any pressure to finish quickly," says the wife, whose accent gives away her French upbringing. The couple took a course in construction offered by the Israel Building Center and say it was a sensible thing to do. "At least if [the contractors] were cheating us, we knew why," laughs the owner. The old house, built in the Sixties, was so dark she felt she was suffocating. "In those days the main aim of building was to keep out the sun. Windows were small and the airconditioners old-fashioned. The house didn't suit my personality," says the owner. For the new house, she had several clearly-defined goals. "First and foremost, it had to be ultra-convenient - no steps or pillars to impede movement. We even had the door openings made extra wide in case at some future time we would need wheelchairs or [walkers]. We chose easy-maintenance materials that would not need painting every two years. And we leveled out the whole floor - it used to have steps down to the lounge which were exhausting - and had the bedroom on the ground level so there is no need for us to go upstairs," she said. Two features were important to the husband. He wanted a fireplace in the living room and a place for ritual hand-washing before dining. Both wishes were granted. "All I wanted was a very large patio for the grandchildren to play in," says the owner. "In the summer, it becomes our salon." The house is a veritable children's paradise, with an entire section of the large garden resembling a playground. Upstairs, extra bedrooms are always ready for sleepovers. Most of the furniture came from the owners' previous home, or from the French home of the wife's parents. The old carved armchairs were recovered in gold brocade, with the couches picked to match them. The wife particularly loves the coffee table in the centre of the room, as this is another relic from her parents' home. The table features ornate marquetry inset on the top. "The problem was that it was too small to be practical, and I thought of an imaginative solution," she says. "I had the design of the wood photocopied and engraved on glass which now covers the table and makes it much bigger." There are many ornate vitrines and chests of drawers distributed around the entrance and lounge, all full of ornaments and china. But for displaying some of her most impressive pieces, the owner had special niches built into the far salon wall. These are cleverly lit at the side so that the vases and sculptures create a shadow on the white walls, an effect that enhances the whole display. Two splendid lamps on either side of the window date from the early years of the couple's marriage. "We had a zipper factory in Jaffa, and next door was a lamp importer," remembers the owner. "We had to assemble the lamps ourselves, and they're still as good as they were 40 years ago." Several other remembrances of things past have been incorporated into the new house. Two sliding doors leading into the kitchen came from their original Ramat Gan home. In the hall, two new cupboards feature doors taken from wardrobes in their previous house. The Art Deco design has been transplanted effortlessly to the new, 21st century house. "They were so beautiful that I couldn't just leave them, and we had to demolish the old house," she says. "I had a frame made, and they continue to live." Several fine art works, including early Tumarkin and Dani Karavan sculptures, are on display. A crystal chandelier over the dining table was stored for 50 years in a suitcase and brought to life for the new house. The master bedroom has dark wood furniture and dark parquet flooring, and the en suite bathroom features a frosted glass door in front of the toilet. It's a magnificent house, one that maintains the intimate feel of a warm home. Do you feel you own one of Israel's most beautiful homes? Please e-mail