Is It a Home? A Museum? This Tel Aviv Couple Decided on Both

Ronit Vered
Ronit Vered
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Illustrated postcards from the LU petit-beurre campaign prepared for the 1900 Paris World’s Fair.Credit: Dan Peretz
Ronit Vered
Ronit Vered

Yossi Meidan opens the window and his face clouds over. “An east wind is coming,” he declares. “That means dust, lots of dust, and that’s bad for us.”

Anat Meidan, his wife, nods in assent, so the two proceed to shut the windows of their one-story home in Tel Aviv’s trendy Neveh Tzedek neighborhood. Dust is the collector’s relentless enemy, and people who live in a house packed with hundreds of rare collectibles definitely aren’t fond of winds that ferry in particles from the desert.

Your eyes adjust to the dimness. Lamps, their shades bearing designs of mingling branches, cast a soft light, as the mind tries to take in the visual onslaught. There are inkwells, typewriters, elegant long-backed chairs, kitchen utensils à la the Mad Hatter’s tea party, and bookcases holding tomes whose magnificent covers are embossed with gold letters. Every object in the Meidans’ home is worthy for permanent display at an Art Nouveau or Art Deco museum.

“I like to say the letters that make up the root of the Hebrew word for collector [asfan: aleph-samekh-peh-nun] encapsulate the collector’s life: love, curiosity, patience and ‘Here’s where the money was buried,’” Anat quips. The collector’s bug struck the couple more than three decades ago, during a four-year period when they were living in London.

Anat bought two glass jars in a flea market and was told they were Art Nouveau. She didn’t know what that meant, but she was drawn to their form, beauty and perfection. So she started to read up.

“We got into it gradually and it became a tremendous passion. There isn’t an object in this house that we don’t love and that doesn’t have a fascinating story about how it got to us and its genesis and design,” she says.

“Some things are more to my taste and others more to Yossi’s, but we have to agree on everything we acquire. It’s not just a matter of aesthetics or love of beauty – every object is the gateway to an entire world and makes us curious to read and learn.”

From Brussels to Istanbul

Their journeys on state missions, in the service of Yossi’s job, and to cities overseas where Art Nouveau artists and craftsmen worked became searches for the objects of their desire and the artists who created them.

Their years in Istanbul spawned a 1998 Hebrew-language guidebook to that city by Anat. It began as research into the history of Turkish Art Nouveau, but developed into a more comprehensive tome teeming with the history and culture of that city perched between Asia and Europe. Their Argentine period produced a study on a little-known chapter in the history of Art Nouveau – a book is forthcoming in album format.

And then there were trips to places like Brussels, Vienna and Paris, which yielded thrilling additions to the collection – adventures that began in the late 19th or early 20th centuries and last into our time. “We recently got back from 10 days in Budapest,” Anat says. “Beautiful things move me so deeply that I can’t take it anymore. For three weeks after we returned, I didn’t want to leave the house; I couldn’t take any more stimuli.”

“House Talk” is Meidan’s term for events she occasionally holds in her home. Knowledge-hungry visitors wander through the rooms and corridors — you could make return visits for weeks without getting to the collection’s far end. Guests hear lucid explanations from the autodidact collector about art movements and the lives of those generations.

The collection contains classic objects and furniture such as the “sitting machine” by Vienna-based architect and designer Josef Hoffmann (1870-1956). But the designer handle of a butter knife, and a rosette, symbol of the suffragettes, which an unknown hand imprinted on a cup, are just as effective in rescuing those days from oblivion.

Tea time in Paris

The postcards of Lefèvre-Utile, the LU French biscuit brand, are a charming example of a period in which advertisers still possessed good taste. The family’s Nantes factory was established in 1846 — the Lefèvre-Utile name combines the surnames of the company’s founder and his wife, a rare gesture at the time. It was the era in which the petit-beurre, the simple butter cookie, first made its appearance.