From Facelifts to Facades: The Small Renovations Delivering Big Rewards in Israeli Homes

The coronavirus pandemic has changed how people use their homes. Meeting today's needs with the right renovation can create long-term value, say industry players

 Ronit Harel
Ronit Harel
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Halel ArchitectureCredit: Oded Smadar
 Ronit Harel
Ronit Harel

The coronavirus pandemic has forced us all to spend more time at home, raising the bar in terms of what we expect from our houses, which now need to serve as an office, a place for entertainment and leisure, and also offer personal space for all the occupants.

Many people spending so much time at home have found it hard to ignore all the flaws, big and small, pushing them to invest in renovations. These can include simple cosmetic facelifts, or major upgrades and improvements that enhance the property’s value in the long term.

Israel’s real estate market is full of second-hand properties in high-demand areas whose poor or outdated planning has repelled potential buyers. Over the past year, many owners have decided to roll up their sleeves and renovate their homes – not just cosmetically but structurally, too – turning many of these homes into better deals for potential buyers.

Architect Shira Muskal, founder and owner of Halel Architecture and Interior Design, says bargains can be found in older homes that are larger than those in newer projects and closer to employment centers, entertainment and schools. After fixing them up, the owners have greatly improved their chances of renting or selling them. Homeowners who add functions in high demand over the past year – such as a family room, a home office and extra storage space – will find their homes are much easier to rent out or sell, and these renovations can increase the home’s value by as much as dozens of percent, Muskal says.

Credit: Hillel Architecture and Interior Design

How can you tell which renovations are likely to increase the value of a property, and which may make the residents more comfortable now but won’t necessarily pay off? Architect Boaz Snir says the first stage is to check what unused building rights you have for the property: Adding another floor, a swimming pool, a covered parking space or a reinforced room (mamad in Hebrew) can significantly add to the value of the home, with high returns on the original investment.

For example, adding a reinforced room costs an estimated 100,000 shekels ($30,500), but increases the property’s value by about 350,000 shekels. Snir recalls a house in Herzliya Pituah where a master bedroom suite was built in the attic for 400,000 shekels, freeing up valuable space on a lower floor and increasing the value of the house by 700,000 shekels.

“There are a lot of properties where it can be relatively easy to add features such as an elevator, which is not very expensive compared to the added value it provides,” says Snir. In larger homes, you can add another bedroom, which increases the value by hundreds of thousands of shekels. In many apartment buildings, owners can add balconies – which can cost about 80,000 shekels, but could increase an apartment’s sale price by 150,000 to 250,000 shekels, said Snir.

Here are a few suggestions for renovations that will increase your home’s value – and more importantly, provide you with a pleasant environment to live and work in.

Home office

Taking advantage of existing space

Hillel Architecture and Interior DesignCredit: Binyamin Adam

The pandemic has increased demand for home offices that provide a quiet work environment separate from the rest of the house. “It is something everyone asks for today,” says Muskal. In some cases, a separate room or work area can be created by adding glass doors, which serve a dual purpose. They create a feeling of spaciousness while letting the area remain an integral part of the home, and also blocking out noise and enabling some privacy while you work.

“The current approach is to create modular ‘multi rooms’ that serve as an office and can be turned into a guest bedroom, for example,” she says. “In many homes you can also turn an unused corner into a workspace … via sliding doors.”

Interior designer Keren Gans says people are looking for flexibility, changes and new functionality without altering the existing space too much. “Mobility and multiuse are strong now. Movable lightweight partitions that can be shifted or removed relatively easily have become more and more popular,” she says. For buyers, these features function as planning options that they can easily adopt or quickly remove.

This same flexibility exists for aspects of infrastructure, too. Property owners, as well as potential buyers, expect the electrical wiring to suit multiple uses for a given space. “For example, if the owner wants to rearrange the living room and dining area, or to turn a child’s room into an office, they need electrical outlets placed in a way that allows them to do it relatively easily,” Gans says.

In a small apartment she planned in Tel Aviv, Gans moved a bedroom, which was originally next to the balcony, to the back of the apartment near the workspace and living room. This optimized the use of the space by enabling the residents to separate or connect the room to the apartment’s living area via movable aluminum and glass partitions, while a blackout curtain inside the bedroom gave the option of privacy, says Gans.

Another example is a house in a town in the Sharon area, north of Tel Aviv, that was about to be renovated. “The living space was not fully exploited. In the new layout, separating off an area via glass cabinets enabled the creation of a large, spacious work corner with a lot of storage space. This area can also serve as a guest room. We put a folding sofa bed across from the workspace and the front of the cabinets can be sealed off with curtains to create privacy. The owners are getting a number of functions here that didn’t exist before, just by a better partitioning of the space.”

Interior designer Keren GansCredit: Assaf Pinchuk

Gans says in some cases homeowners should make structural changes and renovations to add more functionality to the space. For example, in another house she planned in the Sharon area, they tore down a wall enclosing the staircase and it opened up the living area, flooding it with a lot of natural light. “This change allowed us to divide the space completely differently. We changed the location of the living room and dining area, and added a hobby space with a reading area and a piano, and this became the family’s favorite place. It is an additional function, completely new, that we managed to put in because of a more effective use of the living space.”

Master bedroom suite

Just like a boutique hotel

The demanding reality of life during the pandemic made an at-home space to escape to almost a necessity. While the idea of a master bedroom suite is not new, designers are reporting many more requests for one. “Many couples are looking for a place of their own in the house, where they can disengage and have a change of pace,” says Gans. This is also a clear recipe for increasing the value of the property.

Crocus Landscape Design CompanyCredit: Orit Arnon

“A master bedroom suite that includes a bedroom, bathroom and closet, or even a walk-in closet, clearly increases the value of the property when it is sold,” she said. “Many times, potential buyers have trouble imagining what can be done with a specific room – how it can be maximized, how to integrate other functions and storage space. When they see ready-made bedroom suites, they understand the inherent potential, even if they decide to renovate cosmetically and adapt it to their own personal tastes.”

Muskal says that planning a new master bedroom suite in an apartment that does not have one requires a significant infrastructure upgrade and redivision of existing rooms. “It’s not possible in every apartment, and it very much depends on the placement of the sewage pipes that are supposed to connect to the toilet, which cannot always be moved to where you want,” she says. “In addition, there are space constraints and we don’t always have enough space to create this added function in a relatively small space.”

In a duplex apartment in Kfar Sava where Muskal planned the renovation, the upper floor originally had two bedrooms: one for the parents and the other for the children. “We managed to create two bathrooms on this floor. One for the couple and the other, minimalist but functional, for the teenage son. For this to happen, we needed to construct spaces that were less conventional. The parents’ room contains a bathroom sink and cabinet that face straight into the bedroom. On each side of the sink is another space hidden behind frosted glass – one for the shower stall and the other for the toilet. People are very open to daring concepts today because they remind them of designs they saw in boutique hotels,” said Muskal.

Another house in the Sharon area that was bought by a couple in their 40s with three children came with a master bedroom that was dark and closed off, with an attached shower stall and a small, separate room for a toilet. Gans said this made it harder to sell the house, but a redesign let them build a master bedroom suite of about 25 square meters (270 square feet). It was very much its own wing, relatively separate from the rest of the bedrooms, she said. “This was much more effective use of the space. The suite was bright and spacious and had a lot more storage space, including in the bathroom and in the cabinet under the sink.”

Taking advantage of split levels

Keren Gans Credit: Assaf Pinchuk

An anchor for a practical design

Changing floor levels is one of the most threatening renovations for property owners, but in practice, planners say that these planning constraints are actually the key to creating new functionality, and especially storage space. Floors, beams, stairs and pillars can be used as an anchor for design planning that also has practical value.

Gans demonstrates this by using what she calls “a meeting between levels” in a duplex apartment in Kfar Sava. “Right under this apartment is another duplex apartment, and the walls of the lower apartment’s staircase encroached on the entrance of the upper apartment and created a sort of half level. At the beginning of the planning stage, it was already clear that we needed to open and expand the area at the apartment’s entrance. We did it by removing the upper apartment’s original concrete staircase and replacing it with lightweight iron stairs in the corner of the home, resting on an oak wood platform above the neighbors’ staircase. The new element serves as the base for the metal stairs and also as a built-in bench that serves as a family breakfast nook. The inside section of the platform serves as storage,” she says.

Farewell to outdated uses

Crocus Landscape Design CompanyCredit: Orit Arnon

And adding extra storage

Carpentry and metalwork enable modern uses of outdated facilities that were formerly considered essential, such as a pantry or laundry room, and for turning other challenging spaces into storage areas, such as space under the stairs. Less visible storage space can be created behind flat facades that leave the room open and clean.

In a redesign, architects recommend taking advantage of walls to create two-sided storage: The side facing into the room can be planned as a clothes closet, while the side facing the hallway can be used to store household items, sheets or towels, for example. Muskal recalls a house in Hod Hasharon that was being renovated, and originally had a large pantry next to a very small kitchen. “The proportions were simply wrong. We demolished the pantry’s walls and created a large, square kitchen space with floor-to-ceiling cabinets that served as a pantry in every way. We greatly expanded the work spaces, including constructing a large island with seating.”

“We also integrated metalwork that saved valuable floor space and allowed easier access to kitchenware and appliances – such as pull-out drawers at different heights and depths, including advanced storage facilities in parts of the kitchen. The space has become much more practical and friendly to use, and these tools are what allowed us flexibility in planning and a much more efficient definition of the functions within a limited space.”

In many redesigned houses and apartments, hallways simply disappear – here, too, in order to increase space for more important uses and in order to make the home feel more open, light and airy. In an apartment Muskal designed in Givat Shmuel, she removed an entire wall that separated the living room from the bedrooms, which had demarked a hallway. “It allowed us to allocate much more space for the dining area and increase the size of the kitchen island. We moved the bedroom doors so that they would intrude less into the living area, and it also freed up a wall for decoration that compliments the space,” she said.

Building facades

Avoiding the overly busy

Some homes look tired on the outside, but with a bit of cosmetic changes, paint and decoration this can be fundamentally changed. These can include decorative features intended for external facades, such as window frames; cornices that allow you to mark and define levels and the meeting point between the walls and the roof; or panels that serve as dividers with a look based on classic European construction. “Everything needs to be done in the right proportion to prevent overly busy facades,” says Muskal.

Muskal used decorative trim and panels when renovating a private home in an older neighborhood of a central Israeli city. The walls were plastered and painted a light color, and the floors were defined with trim. On the façade of the first floor, she installed panels with spaces between them, and on top of them she added delicate molding that emphasizes and defines the shift to the upper floor. The balcony is highlighted by molded cornices. The cost was relatively low, about 15,000 shekels, a sum Muskal calls a good investment considering the immense change in how the house looked afterwards.


A single space indoors and out

The past year has reinforced a trend toward erasing the distinction between a home’s interior and the balcony, so that the living room does not really end at the sliding glass doors, says Shai David, the owner of Carcom Outdoor Living, which designs urban outdoor spaces. Well-kept and planned balconies demonstrate this potential and what can be done with a given space – and this makes the property much more attractive. “In more and more apartments, the developed outside space greatly increases the living space,” he says. “Just like you plan the interior of the apartment, when you also plan the outside environment you need to define the needs and ensure a proper and effective implementation – whether that includes a dining area, a comfortable seating area, play area for the children, a pool, a reading corner or something else.”

In other words, a balcony should be treated as living space in every way. David cites as an example the balcony of an apartment on the 15th floor of a building in central Israel. After the balcony stood almost completely empty for a long time, the resident sought to redesign it as an open space with features including an outdoor kitchen, dining area and living space all furnished nicely enough to be used for hosting guests.

“In order to define the various functions of the space, we chose to work with large porcelain granite tiles” to set apart areas, says David.

“The big challenge in working with them is that it is hard to make a slope for them. So I created a floating floor using height differences with spaces between the floor tiles that allow the water to drain. The disadvantage turned into an advantage. That is how we installed the lighting, electricity and water infrastructure under the flooring, which left the top of the surface clean. By raising the floor in part of the space, we managed to create a feeling of separation between the different sections. The height differences also enable a good view of the urban landscape and the sea. At the same time, we planned an outside living space, a dining area, a fully equipped kitchen and a bar next to it.”

Another detail on the balcony is a four-meter high wall of vegetation, which serves as a visual anchor for the open space. “We chose jasmine plants, which blossom for a long time and cover the entire wall. In order to create as homogeneous and consistent a look as possible, we worked with steel planters painted in a shade similar to that of the wall,” said David. Now the balcony overlooking the Mediterranean Sea has fulfilled its potential.

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