The '50s are back

Doing the time warp in Tel Aviv.

roomeribarr888 298 (photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
roomeribarr888 298
(photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
Can it be that the 1950s are now becoming the "in" decade for design and nostalgia? We all know that Art Nouveau from the turn of the 20th century and Art Deco from the '30s have been highly desirable to collectors for years, but a quick browse on the Internet produces articles on how to get the post-war look and where to acquire chrome butter dishes and sofas in the shape of huge lips. I must confess that growing up in England in the '50s, I considered the furniture and tableware around me to be at best unremarkable and at worst downright ugly. But the eye sees things differently 50 years on; or so it seemed when I walked into this apartment in Tel Aviv built in the '50s. The basic structure has remained fundamentally unchanged, though it's been renovated and repainted and a new long, thin room created from a balcony - but all the built-in cupboards and niches, fixed tables and room dividers are still exactly where they were over a half a century ago. The owner, now in her 80s, arrived in Israel in 1940 as a girl of 15. Her parents had prudently left Danzig, where they owned a business, and set up their new store on Rehov Allenby. They prospered and were able to build their brand-new apartment in the '50s, hiring a well-known architect of the day, Ephraim Heller, to put individuality into what was a prestigious building in those days. Using a light grained wood often banded with darker wood, the architect created many individual touches in the long narrow living room, which makes up the bulk of the apartment. Specially built rounded niches were placed at the entrance. Room dividers for open plan design were a feature of the '50s, and this apartment has a prominent divider in the shape of a wooden frame supported on typical '50s tapering legs. On one of the walls, a simple wooden door opens to reveal a magnificent revolving and well-stocked bar, without which no '50s home would be complete. In the corner nearest to the window, the architect designed what looks at first glance like a chimney, but turns out to be a non-functional convex wooden structure narrowing as it reaches the ceiling. Below this, a collage of iron and brass provides a built-in work-of-art. In the lounge, the two interlocking love sets are built around their own table, another '50s design, although the sofas have been recovered. On the other side of the divider, the half-ellipse dining table has been fixed to the floor and can extend to twice its length. Its surface is made of what must have been the sensational new material of those days - Formica - but looks exactly like the light-grained wood criss-crossed with a darker wood of the rest of the fittings. For many years the owner lived in the United States and developed a passion for good porcelain. One of the jobs which occupied her during the long sojourn overseas was working on the compiling of a catalogue for one of the best-known porcelain collections in Europe, which had been donated to an American museum. She acquired a vast knowledge of the subject and can point out which pieces in her collection are 19th or 18th century and what factories they came from. All her pieces are displayed in various antique cabinets which also made the transatlantic journey. She also has several splendid items of Russian turquoise-green malachite, while around the walls hang several original paintings by well-known Israeli artists. "That one there is by Abel Pann," she says pointing to one canvas. "We traveled to Jerusalem and got it from him personally." She points out other paintings by Josef Israels and Yaakov Steinhardt and many other objets d'art just sitting around waiting to be admired. I tell her that I think this is a wonderful collection and I wonder what impels someone to acquire so many beautiful things. "You know, my husband used to travel a great deal when we lived in the States and I just wanted to make the home beautiful for him to return to," she says. "But I don't intend to buy any more - I think I have enough."