Seven years ago, our family went to Israel on a real estate shopping/last hurrah before our kids began to marry trip. We had no idea when we landed, that only two days of shopping later, we would find what was going to become the home of our dreams.
Designing and building our home in Israel was a wild ride, and I’m in the business thirty years. Afterwards I thought, could I try to help others design and build in Israel while living in both the US and Israel? With hands shaking, I put a page about working in Israel on my website, and have been off and running ever since.
I’ve told many people about how fun and funny it is to work in Israel, juggling two continents, all the diverse populations in both regions, I work for and with. I was encouraged to write about it, ( actually it would make a great TV series), and am now starting to blog about an American Architectural Interior Designer working in both Chicago and Jerusalem. I wrote a short article about designing and building in the JUF News Chicago market three years ago. I decided to start my blog with this piece.
When my husband and I tell people we have a second home in Jerusalem, they get a blissful look, shake their head in disbelief, and say they wish they could do it. Believe it or not, building a home in Israel was a fun magical ride and unlike anything we could have ever imagined.
Most people find the thought of building a nightmare, not me. I enjoy it and naively thought that since I had thirty years of experience as an architectural interior designer in America, I could handle Israeli building. Nothing quite prepared me for Israeli construction methods, or cultural differences. Then of course everything is measured in metric. Even with the talented team we put together we still encountered many pitfalls and challenges.
Everything in Israel is faster and louder. The attitude that permeates Israeli society is, in most cases, unless it is an emergency, why bother?
The basic elements of construction in Israel are more in line with building in Mexico, or so I’ve been told. In the United States, we use wooden studs, metal conduit for electricity, and drywall. Alternatively, Israeli construction uses cinder block walls and sand in the floor to run the electric. The sand is moistened down and pushed down flat with electric wires running through rubber tubing. A floating floor is then placed on top of the sand. The first time I saw this I was speechless.
There are so many episodes in building that Americans will find hilarious and Israelis will not blink twice for. How could one tradesman secure my fixture to the ceiling without the green rubber hose hanging out? Or when I said I wanted to run a dishwasher and washing machine as well as a hair dryer simultaneously, my contractor simply said “oh in that case we need to upgrade the electric.” And freight elevators? Not so common. So much of our heavy and bulky items had to be carried down four flights of stairs. The alternative was, they had to be swung over the valley behind our building by a crane, heaved over our fence, and brought in through the garden.
Buying and building in Israel is certainly a steep learning curve and the process is not easy, but worth it. I write this looking over the valley in Jerusalem from my backyard. While sometimes frustrating, give an Israeli a challenge and they will astonish you. How did our home turn out? Better than we dreamt possible. Does it pull our hearts back each time we leave? More than you will ever know.
Beth Kopin is an architectural interior designer,
working in both the US and Israel.