Design couple brings Canadian vibe and Japanese wabi-sabi to their Jaffa home

Design couple brings Canadian vibe and Japanese wabi-sabi to their Jaffa home

Emma and Ofer Shahar are partners in life and work, with a love for lofts and renovating urban living spaces

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Emma (left) and Ofer Shahar, partners in life and work (Courtesy Lior HaCohen Haglili)
Emma (left) and Ofer Shahar, partners in life and work (Courtesy Lior HaCohen Haglili)

Emma and Ofer Shahar love nothing more than a gnarly design challenge.

It was back in 2011 when the couple first spotted the building in which they now live in Jaffa. At the time, it was dilapidated, a “narc hangout,” said Emma Shahar, but with beautiful Bauhaus details, high ceilings and picture windows.

“It was perfect for us,” said Emma Shahar.

She meant it.

The couple — in work and life — thrives on home design and do-it-yourself projects. While they met at a party, their first coffee date was to discuss a design project.

Emma (left) and Ofer Shahar, partners in life and work (Courtesy Lior HaCohen Haglili)

Fast forward a few years later, and the now-couple was looking to buy an apartment. Having found their fixer-upper in Jaffa, they set out to turn the 100-meter apartment into something chic, comfortable and livable.

They had the design chops to take on the job. Together they had set up Craft & Bloom, a design workshop that was an amalgam of their previous, individual design work. Now they were taking on the task of their own home.

“Before Ofer and I got together, we were loft junkies, renovating and moving into lofts,” said Emma Shahar, 32, who grew up in Canada and moved to Israel in her twenties. “In the new apartment, we wanted to leave things a little more wabi-sabi,” referring to the traditional Japanese aesthetic of transience and imperfection.

“I remember telling the contractor that when painting, do your best but don’t go 100%, we want to feel the material underneath,” she said.

They had the right idea.

Seven years later, there’s a warm, serene feel in the Shahar’s home, where darker-toned woods draw one’s attention, whether it’s in the reclaimed wood floors, the long, white laminate and wood plank dining table made by Ofer Shahar, which they use as their joint desk, or the wood and glass, two-tier credenza found and imported from New York.

“We went for a more Canadian vibe,” said Emma, “with darker woods and more detailing to feel a little more traditional Canadian vibe as opposed to the clean, modern Israeli look.”

The living room of Emma and Ofer Shahar’s Jaffa apartment (Courtesy Suzie Cohen Levinson)

There are the specific pieces and details that bring this home together, as well as a close collaboration with architect Sami Shalom Knafo, that created the overall feel.

A reupholstered Eames set of airport seats fills out the seating in the living room, large, well-tended plants bring personality and color, and the large, picture windows are paned with Belgian-style frames, powder coated to create a dull, black veneer that frames the Tel Aviv sunshine.

Emma’s favorite room is the family bathroom, which is completely plastered from Tadlakt, a natural plaster that is smooth to the touch, creamy in appearance and reminiscent of an adobe home.

The apartment includes rights to the roof, a plus in any Tel Aviv living space, and there they used the 120 square meters to expand their living space with a built-in outdoor kitchen, a rough-hewn wooden dining table (also built by Ofer) and a garden of edibles, “because it’s fun to watch the veggies grow,” said Emma, particularly now that they have a toddler and another baby on the way.

“It’s such a dream, we host here all the time,” she added.

The green wall designed and built by Ofer Shahar for his mother-in-law’s Jaffa apartment (Courtesy Moshi Gitelis)

In the meantime, they’ve taken on other projects. There’s Emma’s mother’s nearby apartment, used when she visits and rented on Airbnb when not in use.

It’s a two-bedroom in a new building that didn’t require much work, but the charm of this place is its unusually spacious backyard, which extends the  living space, and to which Ofer added an entire green wall of succulents, grown in planters he built into the back wall.

“It’s for urban living,” he said, “a way of implementing greenery on a limited space and with very little upkeep.”

From there, it’s a short walk to Ofer’s man cave, a music studio the 40-year-old renovated himself and rents out when he’s not using it for his own jam sessions.

Finally, the couple recently put the finishing touches on Opa, a plant-based restaurant in the Levinsky Market where the Shahar aesthetic is clear, with light woods, smooth plastered walls and an entirely open kitchen, with the feel of an aquarium, visible from almost very corner of the small but airy restaurant.

The dining space at Opa, the Levinsky Market restaurant designed by the Shahars (Courtesy Yoav Gurin)

The 35-seat restaurant is run by three women — including twin sisters who are chef and maitre d’ — and is located in what was once a storefront. The Shahars, working with designer Vered Kadouri, created a solid wall in front of the glass, closing it off from the street to create more of an art gallery feel.

“It’s all about how you create a high-end dining experience on a small budget,” said Emma.

For the Shahars, this project and other consulting jobs — including a nearby barber shop — encompass their “jack of all trades” personalities, exploring different spaces and revenue streams for what has become a dynamic work flow.

“People connect to us and want to hire us not just for our design aesthetic, but because of our lifestyle and well-being and it works,” said Emma. “Everything makes sense together.”

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