Living in the East and the West House in Jaffa

Karin Kloosterman

The city of Jaffa, adjacent to Tel Aviv, is going through a strong period of gentrification. I moved here more than 12 years ago, a period when escaped donkeys would run unleashed through the city at night. Considered one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, many of us know Jaffa from the story of Jonah and the Whale in the Bible. This is where Jonah set off for Ninevah before getting swallowed by Leviathan. I know Jaffa for its unpredictability, its undeniable Arab flavour, and its gorgeous Ottomon and Templar style buildings.

For years I lived in a thick-walled Templar building, a basement with light-soaked interiors thanks to the thick, large windows angled to let in the maximum amount of light. Rumours had it that the basement of my house led to an underground weapons cache; and my neighbour Doron had the blueprints to prove it. I believed him because shelling on one of the nearby buildings suggested that the railway that ran through the valley was targeted in one of the many recent conflicts, recent in the context of history here. Not far from home I found etchings on a wall left by WW2 era British soldiers.

Now I live in the East West House in Jaffa, a large Arabian-style house built during the Ottoman Period, by the Turks. When my husband bought it, its charm was barely evident, its roof had collapsed in major sections of it; some of its walls too. With a major overhaul that left half of the house in its complete and original format, the other half became a modern, small family home. One can find many cases of extreme renovations in Jaffa, most notably any building created by one of Israel’s most famous architects Ilan Pivko, who I’ve interviewed in the past. I love the Pivko buildings – but only millionaires can afford them and others like this by Pitsou Kedem in which I attended a party recently. But without millions of shekels in renovation budget, my husband (a musician) re-fashioned our house with his own hands, enlisting a team of volunteers including a dentist and stage designer to help him clean, polish, repair and rejuvenate this space. It’s called the East West House in Jaffa. And it really does exist between the spaces of the East and the West, in art and living. My husband’s family is from Tajikistan, and my side from Holland-Scotland-Ireland.

Half of the house is kept as it was, with two large rooms, a sprawling hall, and now stage, antechamber and bathroom/kitchen. The old 100-year old tiles made by the Freres, a French company in Tel Aviv, are in perfect shape, and get even better as they are used. This half of the house functions as the home to my husband’s non-profit house, an NGO that features ethnic music from Israel. He also performs his various projects there, most recently Debka Fantasia.

The other half of the house in which I am sitting now writing this is modernised. My husband kept the original look and feel of the house on the exterior, as he rebuilt the front exterior wall, creating two pointed arch windows and an exterior interface that blends with the old. Inside we have a split level home with a labyrinth of rooms that provide modern comfort and inspiration. While many architects justify their salaries by creating ambitious and large renovations into old spaces, this model of the way our house is renovated could be something to think about: just like archaeologists studying antiquity leave something behind for future archaeologists to dig into (no doubt tools in the future will be more robust), perhaps architects of today should leave, where possible, large portions of gentrified buildings almost as they were with flaking paint and the original character and quality of the house.

All images courtesy of Karin Kloosterman.

Karin Kloosterman is the founder and editor of Green Prophet , the only sustainable news source covering the Middle East region. Green Prophet often features green design news from the Arab world, highlighting ancient practices and techniques that can promote energy efficiency and smart design for the future.

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