Designing in Israel is a magic carpet ride. Each time I hop on the plane bound for Tel Aviv I say a prayer of gratitude for my abundant opportunities/blessings. I’m grateful for the ability to fly across the world in one short day and be in our Jerusalem home. What is one of the blessings in my life? I was born with the gift to perceive space in a unique way.
My parents hired an interior designer (we called them decorators) when I was 6. He took our modest home on the South Side of Chicago and turned our living room, a cold white box, into a beautiful space. I was hooked. I began designing Barbie houses from cardboard boxes. Post college, I enrolled in a technical design school and never looked back. One of my assignments was to craft a cardboard home to scale. It was more fun designing for Barbie! My mom asked me when I was 21 why I wanted to be a designer? I told her, “some day I’ll design homes and buildings for the Jewish community”. Little did I know, thirty years later, I’d be doing that in Israel.
What motivates my designs? Form follows function. I refer to the homes I design as “sacred spaces”. I’ve been told that when people enter our Jerusalem home, they immediately feel calm. People seem to always want to come over, and few ever want to leave. We call our home Merkaz Kopin (Kopin Center). We’ve invited kids of friends, sponsored fund raisers, hosted dinner for a visiting congressman, shared Shabbat with friends from the US and Israel, and enjoyed scotch/jellybeans with clients.
Any chance we get we throw parties. My first was a girlfriend construction party. I wanted candles for ambience so my friend brought Yahrzeit candles (memorial candles). We sat on blankets in the dirt. What is impossible to believe but true? The various trades which built our home loved being part of the construction team. I was nice to them, respected their work (not so common), we learned from each other.
I’ve been invited into many people’s homes. Here is a peek into how typical Israelis live. Apartments start out as white boxes. A family of five lives in an apartment that is 1200 square feet or less, the walls are cinder block, the floors stone or porcelain. There is no central heat/air-conditioning in most homes, usually there are units in each room, some only have radiators, always in inconvenient places. It feels cold and damp in the winters as the stone and cinder block retain the cold. The bonus is that in the summer the apartments tend to stay cooler. I saw wood floors in the model apartment of our building for the first time when we were shopping for a home. The original thinking was no one wanted to cut down the precious trees we spent decades planting and turn them into floors. Israel now imports engineered wood floors from Europe. We put in central heat/air-conditioning and heating under our wood floors. It feels very luxurious.
Apartments do not come with storage. Most people buy free standing closets. Builders feel that since it is the Middle East and there are only a few months when a coat is required, a front closet is not necessary. Don’t believe it, there are endless storage needs. I put in a front hall closet and a linen closet in the main bath. We had places for coats and towels, people were stunned. The first time I designed a walk-in closet for one of my clients he looked at me like I was performing magic. I wonder if homes were more functional people might be calmer in Israel.
Owning a home and working in Israel is the greatest adventure of my life. Each time I land in Tel Aviv, I’m excited, (it never grows old), the entire plane claps, I then touch the keys to our apartment. With tears in my eyes I say shehechiyanu, (a prayer of gratitude), then say “let the wild rumpus begin”!
Beth Kopin is an architectural interior designer, working in both the US and Israel.