Spreading his Wings
By Gloria Deutsch
Photos by Uriel Messa
Top interior designer, Selwyn Elkin, moved to Israel from his native South Africa in 1978.
He lived in a small apartment in the heart of Tel-Aviv, into which he crammed some of the priceless treasures he had inherited from his parents and brought with him – old European silver, porcelain, linen, sculptures and paintings.
Although it had no parking and no elevator, the compact 80 square meter apartment was still a beautiful thing to behold – because with his impeccable taste and perfect eye, Selwyn can make any place look good. But it was undeniably small.
After 35 years he has moved to Rehovot, reproducing the look of his small gem in Tel-Aviv – but with more space to play with.
“To own a place like this in the center of Tel-Aviv would have been astronomically expensive,” says the designer who has created some of the most beautiful and prestigious homes in Israel. “This apartment in Tel-Aviv would easily cost five or six million shekels.”
He was able to buy the apartment, on the top floor of a 19 storey building, while still in the planning stage and saw immediately that the furniture he had would fit perfectly into the new space.
“The three gold-embossed sofas could be arranged in the lounge in exactly the same configuration with the table in between and the same rug – I didn’t have to go out and buy anything new,” he says with satisfaction.
The same was true for the dining room he had – the only difference being that he was able to spread it all out more.
“Visually it all looks less crowded,” he says.
Although he was happy to keep the lounge and dining room furniture, when it came to kitchen and bathroom cabinets everything was made new and to order. For the kitchen he chose a combination of stainless steel to match the electrical appliances and oak veneer which he chose to tone with the ochre wall color.
All the paintings on his Tel-Aviv walls were transplanted to Rehovot and placed exactly as they had been before.
To hold all the treasures which had been displayed in niches at the entrance to the flat he built two tall Perspex cabinets for the same purpose.
Making the move to Rehovot were many of the things that had been in his family in Johannesburg for years. They include table linens from France, bed linens from Italy, and a set of Victorian silver cutlery, with fiddle and thread design, acquired in London, decades ago.
“The porcelain dinner service inlayed with sterling silver and hand-painted was made for my parents in Bavaria in 1952,” he says. “There are no markings or names on any of the 60 pieces that make up the set; those that wanted this sort of thing knew where to go.”
All the glassware was collected over several years and comes from the prestigious Aspreys in Bond Street, London. Everything, fortunately, survived the journey to Rehovot.
The only large piece of furniture he had to buy was the sideboard which he picked up for a song in Jaffa flea market.
“No-one is buying ‘brown’ furniture any more,” he says.
Over the dining table hangs a magnificent light fitting, another Jaffa market find, which was originally made to be used with candles but which he recently had electrified.
“It was done so well that one can barely see the wiring,” he says.
The two bedrooms are cheerful and sunny with both making use of a wide striped wallpaper. In one of the rooms the stripes are complemented by spots and checks as well as sun-printed pillows. Only a designer of Selwyn’s caliber could have the confidence to mix all these elements and get away with it.
Although the shower is tiled, Selwyn long ago eschewed tiles in the bathroom area, using instead a good matt oil based paint which does the job just as well. Paintings and plants are set against the white and ochre background.
Having left Tel-Aviv after so many years, Selwyn is enjoying the fresh air and wide open spaces of Rehovot.
“I loved Tel-Aviv but on reflection it is a huge ugly city – here it’s quiet and I can sit on my balcony with complete privacy from the hedges on either side. The awnings and blinds are all operated by remote control and there’s a wall television and ceiling fan.”
He may have moved but has certainly not retired.
“My life is my work,” says Selwyn Elkin.