It took a long time to finish my studio, after we bought the 150+ year old Ottoman-era property in the ancient port city of Jaffa, Israel; we had to design the space and then rehab it with the help of ancient architecture specialists (architects, engineers, builders and carpenters) because the building is historic and required many special details in its restoration. The building has been many things over the years but it’s original purpose was as a barn. The building is located in Shuk Ha Pish Pishim (the flea market); in ancient times herders kept their livestock in the area below our apartment and slept in the rooms that are now our house. The herders sold their livestock in the market that still exists today albeit with a very different look and feel! The flea market today is a very hip and gritty place with many bars, restaurants and boutiques.
There are 2 outdoor spaces in our house now but years ago the rooms were built around an indoor courtyard, a very common feature of Arabic architecture. The rooms are designated by the vaulted ceilings, one of the most striking features of the house.
It took us a little more than 3 years to rehab our home in which my studio is located. My art studio has a mid-century modern look; it contains 8 large storage cabinets with transparent backs so you can see the stones behind, a card catalog for storing tiny supplies like threads, tape, felting supplies, knick-knacks etc., two mid-century style tables, my aquarium of turtles and a little sofa. There were two niches in my studio (we don’t know what they were for); I now use one as a storage area and one as a bathroom.
I have a mid-century style handmade, walnut sewing table and a matching taller table with my computer on it; this is where I felt because all my wool is in the cabinets behind me. As I sit and work I can watch my turtles in the aquarium that separates my studio space from the rest of the house. Louie and Shmoopy (my dogs) often visit me in my studio, Shmoopy is currently banned from the studio because she has eaten too many of my felted pieces; she jumps up on the table and cabinets and steals them.
I’ve added many family heirlooms in my studio; they give me inspiration and they are reminders of quality, old-world craftsmanship. My fiber-art is needle felted, many times with embroidery, beads or textiles incorporated into the work.
One of my newest artistic projects is restoring, designing and furnishing an 150 year old-historical piece of vernacular, Ottoman architecture. Basically, we bought a fixer-upper! We’re moving “down the street” from Neve Tzedek to Jaffa (a 15 minute walk) where we will adjust to the very different sea-side city, it’s inhabitants and all Jaffa has to offer. I’ll be documenting the 2nd floor, one story residence through it’s restoration. We’ve hired the architects Paritsky and Liani because we like their clean, modern style; together we will design the house to highlight the original shapes and materials of the structure and combine modern architectural elements that will blend with the ancient. After a brief history of what best illustrates Ottoman architecture, you will see the interior of our new-old house before any work has started.
Turkey ruled the area that is now Israel from the earyly 16th century to 1922; we can see numerous example of vernacular Ottoman architecture throughout Israel. Ottoman architecture can be recognized by a few basic characteristics common to the style: vaulted ceilings, domed ceilings, semi domes, pointed arches, columns, inner and outer courtyards and ornate tile decorations. Ottoman period courtyards were influenced by the Paradise of the Koran; so the garden (courtyard) or Earthly Paradise was designed to represent heaven, a serene place. Decorative motifs were based on nature. Vernacular Ottoman architecture retains the basic Ottoman style but the residential architecture is built with native building materials, forms, and spatial arrangements.
Positive elements of Ottoman architecture are:
Thick cement walls to aid in resistance of the vaulted ceilings (arched).:
Non-combustible, low heat transfer in fires
Does not rot, termite-proof at prescribed densities
Non-toxic, insulating, creates a healthy micro-climate, feels warm
Sound absorbing, neighbors cannot be heard through the walls.
For many people who are living in another country, far from home, I believe it becomes important to bring a little big of the “old home” into the “new home”. Sometimes a little familiarity makes you feel more grounded, puts you in a better mood or just makes you happy. I’m inspired by my Dutch friend Patricia’s home in Israel, by how she has made it warm and friendly, beautiful and very Dutch by decorating it from her heart!
The kitchen is the heart of her home; here we gathered for a light lunch before we headed for the beach.
You can always find interesting doo-dads in Patricia’s house from boutiques and flea markets. You’ll find oodles of donkeys and hearts hanging and sitting around because she collects these and the colors turquoise blue with accents of red are characteristic of her special decorating sense.
Laura asks Patricia: “What did your home look like growing up?” Patricia says: “I grew up in a home with a huge garden and lots of animals. My home had enough room for my four brothers and two sisters. The house was kept very clean and organized, everything had it’s place, but sometimes my mom liked to change the colors of the walls or curtains. We lived mostly in the kitchen, everything happened around the circular kitchen table.
Laura asks Patricia: “How important is it to you that your children have a sense of their Dutch side as they grow up in Israel. Do you feel that the look of your home contributes to this at all?” Patricia answers: The children mostly have a sense of their Dutch heritage from our visits to Holland and of course the Dutch language which they also speak. It is important to me that my children feel connected to Holland, my Dutch “ways” contribute to every level in our lives, it’s just there without trying. I’ve always liked to be out of Holland and then explore what I like about being Dutch. I do feel that our home contributes to “feeling Dutch” because of all the flea-market treasure that I’ve brought back from Holland.
Laura asks Patricia: “What is your favorite room in the house and why?” Patricia says: “My favorite room in the house in the kitchen/dining room. I like to cook and sit around the kitchen table with the kids while we talk, do homework, have tea or bake cookies. I also love to be outside, so my favorite patio (we have 3) is the one off the salon where the view of the dunes is the best and you can feel the sea breeze.
Laura asks Patricia: “What’s your definition of a comfortable home?”| Patricia says: “To me, a comfortable home is one that allows a certain privacy for all members of the family; also light, a nice view, easy to clean and room enough to move the furniture around so the rooms are still spacious; all this is important. Also, a comfortable home is easy to entertain in.”
Laura asks Patricia: “What would you add to your home if you could?” Patricia says: “I’d probably add a swimming pool if I could.”
Laura asks Patricia: You have a lot of outdoor space now, what do you intend to do with it? Patricia says: “I’d like to have a nice garden and some chickens. By next summer I’d like to plant big sunflowers all along one outside wall.”
Laura asks Patricia: “What do you think is most important about your home to your children? To your husband?” Patricia says: “For the two little ones, it’s important that they have spacious surroundings and a yard to play in. For the two bigger kids, their room are important to them. My husband likes our bedroom because it’s separate from all the others and he likes having his own shower! I think it’s important to all of us that the house is very family oriented and you can be together or apart if we wish.
Laura asks Patricia: “Have your homes always had the Dutch look to them?” “If someone wanted to also decorate their home Dutch, what tips would you give them?” Patricia says: “My friends have always told me that my homes, past and present feel/look Dutch. I would recommend that people decorate following their hearts and roots, with things that they like, from their own backgrounds. All the personal items in your home make it special and really yours.”
Laura asks Patricia: “What are your favorite home magazines to browse through?” Patricia says: “I like the Dutch magazine Home and Garden, but honestly I like to get ideas everywhere I go. I like the site Eclectic Gipsyland and flea markets are always a must-visit!”
Laura asks Patricia: “What more do you have planned for your home in terms of decorating?” Patricia says: “I still have some ideas about renovating some old cupboards, painting in some nice colors and working in the garden…”
The girls and I spent our last day of summer exploring new places; my friend is moving back to Israel and she’s living in a small community a half an hour out of Tel Aviv call Ein Ha Yam. Down the street from her house, we entered a wild beach through grass-covered dunes that looked like Cape Cod to me and we explored the big rocks. The girls collected sea shells and chased baby crabs across the beach; they were hard to see because they were the exact same color as the sand on the beach. This particular beach is the destination of nesting sea turtles.
This desolate, wild beach felt so different to me than the sardine-packed beaches of Tel Aviv. I marveled at the beauty of the nature, the big fluffy clouds, the razor sharp cliffs that dotted the coast and my good fortune that my dear friend is again living near by.
Tomorrow, two of my girls will start school; they’ll be entering junior high and high school. My little one will start school on Monday and I’m hopeful for a new year for them filled with new friends, old friends, new activities, new challenges and a lot of good old fashioned learning! The daily grind will begin again, but I’ll be happy to have a schedule so that I can finally get some work done!
Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv, Israel has been my neighborhood for the last 10 years. I share this quaint and historic village-like neighborhood with people who’s families have lived here for several generations, some of their family names don the street signs. Neve Tzedek is located in the southern most part of Tel Aviv and was until about 15 to 20 years ago, a rather rough neighborhood. As gentrification began, many new Israeli families and many international residents have come to live here. The lure of this neighborhood is obvious to me, it’s narrow streets run by European/Arabic style homes and buildings. Many of these original structures are more than hundred years old; they were built during the time of the Ottoman Empire and still radiate fairytale charm. Giant bougainvillea vines creep over many of the old structures and crawl over the trees making arches of flowers over streets. Old wooden doors lead to small courtyards where people still hang their washing and side walks are almost too narrow to walk on. The beach is a 10 minute walk from our house and we consider it our “backyard”. The ancient port city of Jaffa is a 15 minute walk south, along the sea.
As colorful as the flowers in Neve Tzedek are it’s residents. The houses are very close together and it’s easy to hear what the neighbors are up to. It’s not uncommon for your neighbor to shout loudly out of their window to ask you a question instead of picking up the telephone. Shouting is an accepted mode of communication here and some evenings neighbors squabble in the middle of the street till the police come, and then the neighbors end up shouting at the police. Shabbat (Saturday) is a day many people don’t drive, so it’s not uncommon for families to put their chairs in the middle of the street to sit and talk and soak up the afternoon sun. They begrudgingly move their chairs when a car needs to pass. Many people know their neighbors and it’s a nice feeling walking through Neve Tzedek and chatting with 5 or 6 people before you get to your destination. I walk almost everywhere I go here because everything I need is close by and I hate to drive in this country.
There are horse and buggies that clomp through the streets in the summer, the vendor yells avatiach (watermelon) and there is a junk wagon, the vendor yells altizakken (old stuff in Yiddish) looking for tin, metal or other valuable things to collect. There are many cute shops, restaurants and cafes. The neighborhood has two little corner stores called mackolets; these small sundry stores are not modernized, they are crowded and dilapidated and full of character. The mackolets here remind me of old, country stores in the southern part of the United States that I’ve been in. I don’t read Hebrew and my language skills are limited, so besides asking people to read labels for me, I rely upon the photos on packaging to find what I need. When trying to speak to someone who really doesn’t speak English, I have also resorted to using sound effects (like a chicken clucking to find chicken breasts or a cow mooing to let the store clerk know that I’m looking for ground beef) and I also use mini impromptu mime performances to communicate.Most Israeli’s and foreigners speak English, but the Russians mostly don’t speak English and the French aren’t very good at it. There are several nursery schools and an elementary French school in my neighborhood. The Le École Marc Chagall draws most of it’s student body from many French immigrants and children of international diplomats, my children attend this school.
One of the biggest tourist sites in Neve Tzedek is the Susan Dalal Center, it is a professional dance complex consisting of several practice and performance buildings. More importantly to the residents of Neve Tzedek is the big piazza in the center of the the dance complex. This large space is where neighborhood children ride their bicycles, skateboards, play soccer, tag and hide and go seek in the surrounding greenery. There are several art and music festivals held at the Susan Dallal complex throughout the year making this area a rich cultural meeting place. It’s really a beautiful place to sit and people watch, have a cappuccino or an ice cream at the gelateria nearby.
Besides the apparent beauty and historical interest of this neighborhood, is the quirkiness that attracts me. The dichotomy between the original inhabitants of the area, the 7 tiny synagogues that pepper the small streets, the handful of trust fund families (people who don’t work like “normal” because they have a trust fund to live off of), the business moguls who have swimming pools on their roofs, the regular folk (whom I consider myself apart of) and the artists that live and work here give this place a unique feel.