Try to remember the last time you noticed the stairwell of a public building, or even used the stairs of a building with more than one floor. For the most part, people tend to head to the elevator, and most buildings are designed with that in mind: the stairs are played down, and certainly are not decorated ornately.
At The Rothschild - a hotel that opened this week on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard - things are different. This is perhaps partly because the original building, designed in 1926 by Avraham Friedman in the International Style, has been rigorously preserved, but in particular it is due to the dramatic lighting fixture by young designer Aviad Petel, which hangs in the stairwell like a mobile, stretching from the hotel's ground floor to its top floor.
Petel created a long stem of sorts with nine "flowers" sprouting out of it that are somewhat reminiscent of old gramophones, positioned at different heights and angles. The stem is made of metal covered in pleated fabric, created using a computer program and with the assistance of textile designer Orit Barzilai. Most likely this lighting fixture will soon star in design magazines and websites all over the world.
"One day, Aviad showed up with this trumpet, this gramophone - call it what you want," says Avi Yifrach, one of the hotel's owners, with a smile. "I didn't know what to do with it and then I thought of the stairwell. We tossed out the idea to him and he went for it."
Petel is not the only young designer involved in The Rothschild, whose architecture and interior design was overseen by Michael Azoulay. "It's fun to work with young designers," says Yifrach. "They don't have many places where they can express themselves, and we make sure to work with them as equals, pay reasonable rates, and are happy to give them exposure."
And so the cloth lamps in the rooms were designed especially for the hotel by textile designer Mika Bar, who collaborated with Gil Sheffi and Yoav Avinoam of the Producks Design Studio. The lamps, affixed to the ceiling or the wall, are made of three-dimensional fabric connected to the body of the lamp using magnets.
The mezuzahs affixed to the doorposts of the rooms were designed by Liron Wahab - a student in the industrial design department at the Holon Institute of Technology. Wahab's creation started with an exercise in which metal was the only raw material that could be used. Wahab chose brass and transformed the two-dimensional Hebrew letter "shin" from the text of the mezuzah parchment into a three-dimensional shin. She liked the idea that the letter would embrace the text from which it is taken, and placed the parchment inside a wooden case embraced by the three-dimensional letter.
Yifrach, who has no formal training in design, created the bedside lamps, among others things, which are made of linked wine bottles, inspired by Zionist philanthropist Baron Edmond de Rothschild's wine venture. He also came up with the idea of the painted doors that hang above the beds in every room. He approached five artists who used oil paint to decorate the doors, which were previously used in the building and were removed because they were not sufficiently soundproof. The illustrations are connected to the cooperative farming communities that the baron established here.
"The idea of creating something new is part of the Rothschild spirit," says Yifrach.
A megalomaniacal vision
When Yifrach mentions the Rothschild spirit, he is referring to his belief that the hotel highlights the baron's work. "We see him as a start-up entrepreneur who contributed significantly to the creation of an economy that evolved into a state," he says. "The history of the building guided us. It was built a year after the baron visited the Land of Israel for the first time.
"We tried to find out what it means to be a hotel associated with Baron Rothschild," Yifrach continues. "In our view, the baron is not just 'Hanadiv,' the well-known benefactor we learned about in school, he's a lot more than that - a man with a megalomaniacal vision who understood that for a state to happen there has to be economic infrastructure for it. It's active Zionism, which entailed creating infrastructure from wells to synagogues."
Every room in the hotel, Yifrach notes, "will have a leather-bound album telling Rothschild's history in Israel through his travels - the story of a Zionist start-up."
"As soon as you want to create an experience, you have to build a capsule, disconnect from what there is outside," says Yifrach. "On the one hand, the messages are ideological: We are Zionists. But on the other hand, you can't forget that in the end, people come to the hotel to have a pleasant stay - we didn't want to create a burdensome environment. You can choose how much of a dose of the baron you want."
The interior design "was inspired by the concept of influences from different cultures - a result of the colonialism that brought Western culture to other places, where it mixed with local cultures," he says, adding, "At that time, the only materials that were available were natural and genuine: wood, leather, iron, brass, stone and others. Everything then was genuine, not 'imitation.' There is something comforting about genuine materials." For all this, guests will shell out a minimum of NIS 1,000 per night.
The boutique boom
The Rothschild, with 29 rooms, is the second hotel owned by Avi and Anat Yifrach, who opened the Diaghilev on nearby Mazeh Street in 2010. It joins a number of other hotels launched in the past year in the vicinity of Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard.
In July, on Yavneh Street, businessman Uri Hayut opened Townhouse Tel Aviv, located in a landmark building from 1932. The designers, Joshua and Dafna Kastiel, created 19 guest rooms offering classic interpretations of the Tel Aviv lifestyle and aesthetic over the years.
Just across the street, at the corner of Yavneh and Ahad Ha'am streets, the Alma Hotel was launched last month by the Adi's Lifestyle culinary group owned by entrepreneurs Adi and Irit Strauss. The hotel, designed by a team of architects including preservation expert Amnon Bar Or, has 15 rooms. The interior design was handled by Shaltiel, Kastiel Architecture and Interior Design, in collaboration with artist Lauri Recanati. The hotel's centerpiece is chef Jonathan Roshfeld's restaurant, the Alma Lounge.