Ruti Broudo was facing a crumbling marriage and a deep homesickness for New York when she decided to make a change. So she did what she knew would make her happiest: She found a Bauhaus building to remodel.
Bauhaus, the German art school that celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, has had an indelible influence on Tel Aviv, Israel’s second-largest city.
The city is home to the world’s largest concentration of Bauhaus buildings, thanks to a number of German Jewish architects and artists who trained in Walter Gropius’s Staattliches Bauhaus in Weimar, Dessau and Berlin before the rise of the Nazis. They emigrated to what would become the Jewish state, where they and their followers designed and built some 4,000 structures, each marked by Bauhaus’s trademark clean lines and geometric angles.
In 2003, Unesco — noting Tel Aviv’s synthesis of modernist trends and local cultural traditions — designated about half of those buildings, a cluster of city blocks lined with sleek, whitewashed structures and known today as the Tel Aviv White City, as a World Heritage site. But the influence of Bauhaus, which itself was born only 10 years after the founding of Tel Aviv, spreads across the city. Its principles, which favor function over fuss, were a fitting retort to the grand European cities that many of Tel Aviv’s founders had fled. With an emphasis on simplicity and lightweight, cost-effective materials, its designs fit smoothly into a city where humidity is a plague and post-enlightenment ideals remain a mantra.
After the Unesco designation, many of the city’s Bauhaus gems were preserved and restored. But in 2009, as Ms. Broudo decided to set out from her marriage, she was drawn to a building far from the polished Bauhaus buildings of the White City — a neglected structure that felt like a better mirror for her emotional state.
Located in the city’s Yemenite Quarter, just outside of its bustling Carmel Market, it had been built as a private home in 1932. It’s a clear Bauhaus, with a smooth, unembellished exterior, a flat roof and simple cubic lines. It was built, like so many other homes of the era, for utility, not aesthetics.
“The heart of modernism” is functionalism, said Dr. Micha Gross, director and founder of the Bauhaus Center of Tel Aviv, which seeks to raise awareness of the city’s Bauhaus heritage and offers guided walking tours of the city’s architectural treasures. In honor of Bauhaus’s 100th anniversary, they are offering lectures, film nights and exhibitions throughout 2019.
The programming will focus on what made Tel Aviv such a magnet for talented architects at the turn of the 20th century — it was a tabula rasa, mostly uninhabitated, save for a number of small Palestinian villages, and the city was built atop sand dunes just as modernism reached its peak.
“Architects in the beginning of the 20th century were already tired of the old cities of Europe,” Dr. Gross said. “The dream of architects was to destroy the old cities. They came to [what was then called] Palestine and were fascinated by the possibility to work deliberately and freely to create this ideal modern city.”
Over time, many of Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus buildings fell into disrepair. Even the paper trail for Ms. Broudo’s building had been damaged — its architect’s name is lost, and archival documents show only an indecipherable signature. After its first few years as a private home, it was converted into a yeshiva (Jewish seminary) called Yeshivat Lalom, then, in 1993, was given a new roof by the architect M. Abarbanel. It was then used as a fabric factory and eventually abandoned.
When Ms. Broudo first saw it, it was empty, with water damage on the walls of its upper floors and an enclosed central staircase that felt claustrophobic and musty. She decided to buy it the same day. It would take her a half decade to complete renovations.
She had the cash on hand. Ms. Broudo and her husband Mati had, for 15 years, been carefully upending the Israeli culinary scene with the creation of a string of New York- and Paris-inspired bistros, each one featuring meticulous design and creative menus inspired by the decade they had spent in Manhattan as newlyweds. They had formed a corporation, R2M, and had recently opened their first hotel together, as well.
Each of R2M’s businesses was a dreamscape of fresh flowers, ornate tiling and antique silverware. Ms. Broudo had overseen each detail personally and now found herself, at 47, aching to create something just as beautiful for herself alone.
“I met Mati when I was 18, and we got married when I was 21,” she said. “I felt that since I had been married so young, I had never really done something by myself. One of the reasons I wanted to separate is I wanted to finally get to know myself.”
But her plan to have a project of her own did not pan out. By the time Ms. Broudo moved into the building, she had separated from Mr. Broudo but thrown herself into a new romance, this time with Guy Pollak, the chef who manages the kitchens for every restaurant in the R2M empire (she and Mr. Broudo remain legally married and are still business partners and close friends). She and Mr. Pollak began renovating the structure together.
“I moved from one influence to another influence,” she said with a laugh.
Initial renovations on the property took a year, during which Ms. Broudo and Mr. Pollak installed a kitchen and dining nook on the building’s second floor and converted a section of the exposed roof into a third-floor bedroom. They tore down the walls that enclosed the home’s central staircase and installed a custom iron banister and fresh walnut wood stair treads.
Later, they knocked down the interior walls that divided the first floor and created an open-plan kitchen and living space filled with eclectic rugs, stacks of dishes collected in travels across the globe and hundreds of cookbooks piled neatly on coffee tables and in corners.
A four-panel exterior glass wall makes the home’s wild back garden, with its climbing ivy and tumble of potted plants, into an extension of their living space.
But Ms. Broudo was never able to make the home just about her. In the story of the rooms’ colorful, mingled aesthetic, a theme quickly emerges: This is a home whose purpose is to host, and every corner and piece of cutlery was chosen for the express purpose of welcoming outsiders in.
“It’s not only my house, it’s a house for the whole company of R2M,” Ms. Broudo said. “I knew when we built this house the point was to have a place for our entire team to eat and gather.”
Mr. Pollak was given free rein to build his dream kitchen, and he did so with an eye toward large-scale events, splitting the space into two areas. The first has a handmade rotisserie spit, a custom ventilator and an elaborate ceiling-mounted pan rack that he designed himself, repurposing clock pulleys to hang his dozens of pots and skillets. The other, a nook reserved for pastry and cocktails, has a wet bar, dessert oven and ample counter space.
The first floor’s centerpiece is a sleek table of Canadian oak handcrafted by Mr. Pollak’s sister, a carpenter, which Ms. Broudo keeps filled with oversize floral arrangements and bowls of fresh fruit.
The walls of the downstairs bathroom and the upstairs master bedroom are crowded with oil paintings done by Ms. Broudo’s father — paintings that Ms. Broudo says she would not have chosen herself but felt compelled to display because she loves her father and he is suffering from Alzheimer’s.
“It’s true that I have a problem,” she said when I pointed out that most of her design choices revolved around pleasing others. “But this is me. The restaurant and the company — I cannot separate it. It’s who I am.”
Bauhaus, Ms. Broudo said, is much like what she herself has been striving for through her empire of restaurants: an oasis of precision and order in an otherwise chaotic city.
“There’s something about the culture in Israel, maybe because Jews have always been outsiders or because in Europe they lived in ghettos, but they do not invest money in how their homes look,” she said.
Inside her own home, where antique Persian rugs overlap on the floorboards with cheeky pieces from Zara Home, Ms. Broudo has embraced another Bauhaus tenet: that of function alongside form.
“There’s a story to each of my restaurants, and to this house too,” she said. “Nothing is just here because it’s pretty. It’s here because we actually use it.”