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Past and Present

Tel Aviv, Israel

In Tel Aviv a 1913 villa is reborn as ultra-modern aparthotel, The Levee

Tel Aviv’s first neighbourhood, Neve Tzedek, remains one of its most bohemian. Here, historic palm-shaded villas cluster around narrow coffee shop-lined streets – an affluent colony of sorts, between the beach and the rowdy Rothschild Boulevard. On the area’s easterly edge, down a quiet residential lane, lies The Levee, a 1913 former residence turned contemporary aparthotel.

Like most other buildings in the district, it comes with an almost literary backstory: originally named the Gurevitch House and built by those who are, today, considered among the city’s founders. For years it languished in relative disrepair before local practice, Bar Orian Architects, began its decade-long renovation work – combining the original neoclassical structure with a wildly juxtaposed new three floor addition in glass and steel. The contrast is intended to not only be aesthetic, but reflect Bar Orian’s fundamental belief that ‘architecture should be faithful to its time period.’ The result is a fitting tale of Tel Aviv, with past and present intertwined. More broadly, it’s a successful example of how diverse architectural styles can make comfortable bedfellows when approached with a singular vision, and perhaps a little chutzpah.

A philosophy of ‘nowness’ is equally born out inside, by Israeli-Belgian interior designer, Yael Siso. While each of the eight apartments features its own subtle design story, the overall thrust is industrial. Walls and ceilings have been stripped back to expose the untreated cement – 100 years old and fashioned from sand found on the city’s shores. There are spots where sea shells can still be seen buried within.

There’s a deliberate simplicity and an intentional contrast between the old and new

‘There’s a deliberate simplicity and an intentional contrast between the old and new,’ she explains. ‘I wanted to highlight the roughness and authenticity of natural materials, as well as their history. But for balance, I chose warm wooden floors and minimalist lighting, for example, that contours the lines of the apartments and accentuates their geometric shapes.’ It may sound a tad austere, but despite prioritising a ‘feeling of amplitude and vastness’, there are nods to a more homely sensibility in Siso’s meticulous choice of furnishings. She tapped primarily Italian brands such as Minotti, Molteni, Cassina and Paola Lenti, but pivoted back to Tel Aviv in her choice of artworks, looking instead to local talent.

‘Tel Aviv is known as an eclectic and cosmopolitan city, with myriad influences and cultures. Mixing the international and the homegrown represents that,’ she says. ‘Across the apartments there are differences in personality and style, and so it’s also a reflection of the diversity of Tel Aviv’s population.’