When Sharon‘s friend, Chedva, contacted me to inquire about a home tour for her pal, it was an easy, easy yes. All she had to do was mention Israel, the Maharal Valley, and Paper Bella. Then there were the photos of Sharon’s home. And then there was the view.
I was hooked. And I was curious, especially, to see how Israel’s ever-changing and charged political climate affects the entire process. Turns out, that’s not even a factor – or, at least, not in the way I imagined. The view, however, is. Enjoy the tour!
Q: Tell us all about this sweet family in Israel.
A: Are you ready? We’re quite a group! I’m the artistic type, which means I’m constantly losing my glasses and then finding them in the fridge. Everyone is used to it by now and try to make up for it. My husband Alon is a businessman which should mean that he’s the grown-up in this relationship, but actually he’s a kid at heart who goes to flea markets on Saturdays at 5 am to collect old transistor radios and antiques, and rides an off-road motorbike.
Yahli, our 10 year old daughter, follows in my footsteps, which means she’s very musical and extremely messy. And then there are Ben and Daria, our twins. Ben’s highest goal in life is being Messi (as in the football player). We call him our Mowgli because he just loves being outdoors as much as possible. Daria is in charge of our family; at just seven years old, she is amazingly responsible and together.
The kids love watching TV with Alon, but their other favorite pastime with their dad is being outside in nature. With me, we spend hours on crafting websites, downloading patterns for paper-cutting projects, and things like that. As a family, we love taking trips, hikes and mini-journeys, and going anywhere where there’s water – like trips to lakes or going to the beach.
And I can’t really describe our family without mentioning our animal family! There’s Chikita the dog, who puts her life at risk every night fighting pigs and foxes. There’s Alfred, a cat who is absolutely positive he’s human. Oh, and we have five more cats who live outside on the porch or in the yard, two guinea pigs, and five bunnies.
Q: Describe your house to us. What makes it home?
A: After studying and living in NYC for a while, I knew I wanted my home to reflect the coastal style I fell in love with when we’d go on vacation and stay in charming B&Bs upstate and in Martha’s Vineyard. It was a big leap for me as an eternal city girl to move to a pretty rural area where my husband grew up. As a son of the moshav, Alon won the lottery – which meant we could choose which land we’d get – and we chose the last plot on the moshav with a forest on the north, pasture behind the house, and the Maharal Valley in front of the house.
It was clear from the starting point that the outside was going to play a huge role in the architecture of our house. We raised the whole structure so the porch would be high enough for us to enjoy the view even when we’re inside, installed ceiling fans so we can stay outside even in the Israeli summer heat, and it all paid off.
We brought a lot of home decor accessories from the States – I’m still a fan of William Sonoma and Pottery Barn – and I even ran eight blocks to Pier 1 when our apartment in NY was already all packedto get a lamp I couldn’t get out of my mind. We have a lot of thrift shop and flea market finds, but most of the furniture is inexpensive; it’s the accessories and the art that tell the story and add personality. I really think what makes our house a home is the mixture of the people and pets that live in it, the amazing feeling of being on vacation even when we’re home, and the unique area where we live.
The funniest thing is that I’d never imagined I’d live so far away from the city! I grew up in Tel Aviv and also lived in London and NYC, and always saw myself as the ultimate city girl. When we moved to Kerem Maharal, I insisted we install a top notch alarm system because I was terrified! Well, suffice it to say, the alarms only worked for two weeks and then I completely forgot about my fear and frequently even leave the front door open…
Q: What makes you love where you live?
A: As someone who has lived in places all over the world, I can say that Israelis have a really unique connection to their environment. I don’t really think it has a lot to do with Zionism; we just have this amazingly strong connection to our roots, and the history just pulls us there.
There’s something about Israel – whether it’s the political situation or the fact it’s a young state or the Middle-Eastern temperament – that makes life in it very intense. Yeah, it can be stressful at times, but somehow it just makes you feel and experience every little thing in the most extreme and palpable way, including joy and happiness and friendships, or just enjoying the view. You should definitely visit and see for yourself.
Q: How does Israel’s political unpredictability and proximity to countries in turmoil affect your daily life? Are there any safety precautions you take at home and while traveling?
A: Life in Israel teaches us to make the most of each day and Carpe Diem! We’re much more likely to jump at risks, and that helps a lot of people make their dreams come true…or at least try. There are a lot of Arab families in our area, and it’s a beautiful example of co-existence. The person who helps us to get ready for all the trade fairs and sales Paper Bella participates in is Safian, an amazing guy from a nearby Arab village who has become one of our closest friends and essentially a part of our family. And hey, the other day we got a message on Etsy from a girl in Libya who wants to purchase one of our rugs! Turns out, there’s no way to ship from Israel to Libya, but we found a way around it.
Otherwise, life in Israel is pretty normal, safety wise, and we don’t need to take any precautions normally.
Q: How would you define your style? Did it change when you added kids to the mix?
A: My style is inspired by American coastal living and based on a very easy-going lifestyle. I learned a lot from the American building style, which unlike the local building, dedicates a lot of the space to vast shared rooms rather than dedicating most of it to private rooms like bedrooms. Merging the inside and the outside is a huge part of our house. The kids’ rooms are all on the ground level, and almost all the rooms look out to the porch and the yard.
Q: You’ve got a gorgeous company! Tell us what you do!
A: Thank you so much! Ever since I was a really young student at Oxford, I used to spend the little money I had on old books and catalogues and technical brochures or science charts. No one was really interested in those at the time, and they cost mere pennies. I didn’t really collect them with an intention in mind; I just enjoyed the aesthetic side of it.
When I moved to NYC to study at Pratt, I continued to scour flea markets in search of what I now know is called “paper ephemera.” We returned to Israel after I left a career in high tech, and I started taking on decorating clients. I soon discovered that I always got stuck on the last step of the process when the time comes to add that layer of personality – all those things that actually tell the story of who lives there. A house can be perfectly designed, decorated, and styled, but as long as the walls are bare it’s lacking something. That’s how I feel.
Anyway, it was hard to find affordable art that doesn’t look cheap, and so I found myself getting back to my vintage collection. I looked at the magazines and catalogs, and added my own interpretation and design point of view to the mix. I had them printed and then used them in my home, in clients’ homes, and even in stores I’d style for photo shoots. At one point almost two years ago, my house was photographed and published in a design book and I started getting a lot of questions and requests for those prints, first from the employees at the publishers’ and then from other people.
Around that time I met Tal, whose twins attended the same school as mine, and she brought a whole new perspective of finding exciting and innovative ways to print my designs on self-adhesive murals, rugs, and more. Thanks to our partnership, we were able to take Paper Bella to the next level. What’s really important to us is the constant search for solutions and products that are attainable and easy to use but not flat – something that would really add a depth and a story and help make a house a home.
Q: Tell us about how starting your business affected your family.
A: Paper Bella is actually a family that consists of four parents, two couples, and six kids…including two pairs of twins! My business partner, Tal, and I only met because our twins go to the same school. Our work is divided between two houses and two families, and that means not only assigning tasks for work but also carpooling, babysitting, trips together, and clothes swapping. (Tal just dropped of a huge bag of clothes for Daria). We also go on trips together every summer; this year it’s going to be Greece! I don’t know if it’s the fact that we have similar views or that we’re just in the same stage and place in life right now, but we have an amazing symbiosis.
Q: How do you try to merge motherhood and running your home with your design life? What tricks keep you sane even when your schedules get crazy?
A: It’s impossible. The guilt is constant. I have no doubt that merging motherhood and work is a huge part of my life story. When I had the twins, I stopped working and only got back to work when they were five years old. My tip for newly working mothers is that I was amazed to discover how the shift from me being only with them resulted in a newfound independence on their part.
How do I actually make it work? I work at home so I’m always there. I do work very long hours but I’m always present. The hours do become pretty bizarre because I’m known for being a night owl. Yeah, one of my eyes is always on the kids while my ear is in the phone and my fingers on the keyboard, but they know I always stop everything else if they need anything.
It’s like the command chain in the army! I oversee everything but I don’t have to have a lot to do with every little detail. And I’m always there with a hot meal and to help with homework or just talk and hang out.
Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What do you already miss?
A: I already know I’ll miss our bedtime rituals, when the kids tell me I’m the best mommy in the whole world. I was single for quite a time before settling down, and so I know how it is to feel alone. Something about having kids, even more than being in a loving relationship, makes you feel like you’ll never ever be alone again.
Q: What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned as a mother? What’s the one part of parenting you adore…and the one you don’t?
A: What really surprised me is that I can be the type of mother I wanted to be. I think as young kids we all say to ourselves “When I’m a parent I’ll never do that” but somehow you always end up raising your kids just as you were raised. I was really surprised by how I managed to stick to my values and beliefs in parenting, and how it really works. As a very sheltered city kid, I now raise a free-spirited, country clan, and I’m discovering that both ways are great.
My favorite part of parenting is having in-depth discussions with my kids and hearing some mind blowing insights from them. My less favorite part is the logistics of it all…You already know that I’m not the tidiest person.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…
A: I wish someone had told me that I’m responsible enough to be a mother of three! Sometimes I wonder how it’s possible that I have a 10 year old daughter. Maybe it’s because I never gave up my kid spirit and I’m still living with my dreams.
Also: It’s possible to raise twins. I did it!
Sharon, thank you so much for letting us peek into your life! And a special thanks to Chedva for nominating her friend! It was fascinating. I love how you describe life in Israel somehow giving everyone the speed to chase their dreams, no matter how great the risk!
Friends, wouldn’t you kind of love to have a company with a good friend? Or would you be scared of ruining the friendship? To me, there’s something so fun about working with friends and family, so I know where I stand on this one! How about you?
[ Update: As you can read in the comments, some thought the post was ill-timed, others felt like it was more than appropriate. A big enough variety of opinions have been shared that I think it’s best to close the comments now, as I’m afraid I won’t be able to monitor them appropriately this week. Thank you to all who participated in the discussion. If you have a compliment for Sharon or her home, feel free to email it to me and I’ll add it to the post! ]