To me, the only show better than House Hunters is House Hunters International! It’s just like moving to a faraway city and experiencing a fascinating culture, but without all the packing and unpacking and homesickness. So when Alexandra wrote to me and sweetly suggested a future post about Living With Kids…In An Apartment…In Jerusalem, I happily agreed. Enjoy the tour!
Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here.
A: I moved to Israel ten years ago from New Jersey. Five years after I arrived here, I met my superhero husband Binny who was born in Israel. He agreed to marry me after I relentlessly pursued him. We live in Jerusalem with our fearless and sweet daughter, Eden, who is 20 months old. She looks very angelic with her blonde hair and blue eyes, but is a ball of energy with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes and keeps us on our toes!
I am pursusing a Masters in International Relations at Hebrew University, work part-time from home, and am a hands-on mom, so life can get pretty hectic at times. We love to hike, bike, travel and spend time together as a family. I love colors, pretty things, and snuggling up in bed with a good book.
Q: How did this home come to be yours?
A: We are renting our apartment; a third floor walkup (fourth floor by American definition) in the Rasko/Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem. It is a pretty typical Jerusalem apartment, which means that there are tiled floors throughout the apartment and all white walls. Some classic Israeli quirks are the fact that the washer/dryer are situated in the bathroom, there is a porch off of the bathroom for hanging laundry to dry (we get lots and lots of sun here so most Israelis don’t own dryers!), and the cabinet over the kitchen sink is really a hidden drying rack. We live in a residential area of Jerusalem right near the Botanical Gardens, and a 45 minute walk to the Western Wall. Our neighborhood has lots of families with and without kids and is a bus ride away from most places we need to go.
We moved into our apartment when I was eight months pregnant, which was fun and crazy at the same time. We were living across the street in a tiny one bedroom and needed space for the new baby. My main requirements were plentiful sunshine, adequate storage space, and open areas for a baby to play. The previous tenants in our apartment were also a couple with a baby girl. When I came to check out the apartment, it was easy to see how well it worked for a baby, so we took it!
Q: What are the challenges to living in a smaller space?
A: Most people we know in Jerusalem live in apartments, and seem to own a lot less “stuff” than Americans. For me, the main difference between living in a house versus an apartment is the need to use the same space to serve different needs, which requires creativity and flexibility. Our living room multi-purposes as a playroom, dining room, and living area. We like to host big meals for friends on the weekends, but our kitchen table only seats four. Solution: we keep folding tables hidden behind the couch, and on weekends the living room transforms into a dining room. Eden’s room doubles as a nursery and guest room when necessary. And my desk is in my bedroom.
The other big challenge of living in a smaller space is storage, especially with a baby. Our apartment came with big built in closets in both bedrooms, which was a great first step. When we picked out furniture, we were careful to choose pieces that had a maximal amount of storage capacity. And we turned the second bathroom into a storage closet, although Eden uses that space as her own little fort. She loves going in there to hide.
Q: How would you describe your style? Has it changed since your daughter entered the mix? Does your husband have opinions on decor?
A: I would call my style “things that make me happy.” Does that count as a style description? Eden was the perfect addition to my style; she adds so much joy and happiness to our home. Binny likes to say that as Eden grows, “ramat ha’chaim olah,” which translates as “the quality of life rises.” Practically, this means that we move breakables to higher shelves and our coffee table is now a play table for Eden. But it’s a sign of how much fuller our lives are with our baby. Binny leaves all of the décor decisions up to me. He says what makes me happy, makes him happy.
Q: Where you find the most inspiration in Jerusalem?
A: One of my favorite aspects of Jerusalem is the juxtaposition of the ancient and modern. The Old City is thousands of years old and everywhere we walk, there is a tremendous amount of history. The ancientness of the city affects day-to-day life here: the streets are all way too narrow for modern day cars because they are based on ancient roadways. Yet at the same time, Israel is on the cutting edge on medicine and technology, and there are lots of modern buildings standing side by side with really old ones. In my own home, I have a mix of things from my childhood and hand-me-downs from my mom along with items that we’ve purchased recently. I am excited for show Eden the things we have in our home that I saved from when I was young.
My other source of inspiration in Jerusalem is the sense of diversity and multiculturalism that is impossible to escape here (in a good way!). The State of Israel was only founded in 1948, so most people here are immigrants, like myself. Guests in our home have hailed from every continent except for Antarctica. There are often several languages being spoken simultaneously at our dinner table. Meeting people from so many places has motivated us to travel more frequently to far-off destinations. We like to support local artists and display their work alongside the things in our home that we fell in love with on our travels and just had to have. The annual International Art Fair in Jerusalem is always a fun place for great finds (the tapestry in the living room is from Uzbekistan) and a must for anyone visiting Israel in August.
Q: What do you love about living where you live…and what don’t you love?
A: I love the sense of constant activity that comes along with living in a city. There are festivals that take place year-round in Jerusalem, which break up the routine and add an element of excitement to everyday life. I also love the convenience of having a 24-hour market around the corner from our apartment. Lots of people in Jerusalem have kids and I think they thrive here. I grew up with a big backyard, and for me, that is the biggest thing we are lacking. Eden loves to run free and our apartment is only so big. We try to compensate by spending lots of time in local parks, but it’s just not the same as the seamless indoor/outdoor experience of having a backyard. While the city is the right place for us at this point in our life, Binny and I talk about moving to a more suburban neighborhood at some point in the future.
Q: When does your home work best?
A: When we were originally apartment hunting, I was hoping to find an apartment with an open floor plan layout, and at first didn’t love the European style layout of a big entryway with doors to all of the rooms off of the entryway. The layout has grown on me (although if the apartment was mine, I would definitely knock a few walls down), and really works best at bedtime. I love transition from the playroom/living room to the kitchen for dinner, to bath time, and then to Eden’s room to go to sleep. I think that the structure and clear movement from room to room helps Eden wind down as we get ready for bed. Eden loves racing her car and stroller in the hallway, and all of the rooms are great for playing hide and seek. I also love hosting meals in our apartment. Filling our home with friends and good food is one of my favorite ways to relax during the weekends.
Q: What do you love most about living with your own daughter? What do you already miss? As a first-time mom, did you imagine it would be different?
A: I love Eden’s endless enchantment with everything that she encounters and experiences. Her excitement when she uses a new word correctly, when she builds a tower, or knocks down one that I built, when she figured out how to use a spoon and fork, when she went down the slide at the park by herself for the first time. I hope that Eden’s life will be filled with many adventures, and there are new discoveries everyday, but I already miss the moments that have passed like her first taste of ice cream. As strange as it may sound, before Eden was born, I never really imagined what it would be like to be a mother, so I didn’t have any expectations.
Q: What do you hope your daughter remembers most about her childhood home?
A: I hope that Eden remembers that her home was a place of exploration and discovery. I try to use the word “no” as seldom as possible, and encourage Eden to figure things out on her own, even if it means that she makes a huge mess.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…
A: The honest truth? I wish I had known how hard it would be.
I was one of the first of my friends to have a baby and none of my siblings have children yet, so no one ever spoke candidly with me about the physical pain that comes after labor, the sleepless nights, the bouts of endless crying, the fear and frustration, and all the not-so-photogenic parts of being a mom. Becoming a mom was a huge shock for me; I felt like I needed to relearn how to do the smallest things like leaving the apartment. I think I might have been a bit less shocked if I was able to anticipate the challenges.
This was amazing, Alexandra! Thank you for introducing us to your part of the world! And I love how you defined your style: “things that make me happy.” I don’t think any designer or decorator could’ve said it better!
Friends, it seems like Jerusalem is full of inspiration with all of its challenges and fresh experiences, art and culture, and a vast range of nationalities traveling in and out. Tell me: Do you feel the same way about your own city? Does it invigorate you to try new things and meet new people, or is it more of a comfort zone for your family? I’d love to hear your stories!