In a conversation with Sivan Treger and Michael Ring
Interview by Veronica Yudkevich
Photography by Rani Lurie
The making of a home
S: For a few years we lived in a romantic old stone house standing on a hill, just opposite Tel Yodfat. We had no electricity, neighbors or cellular reception. Those were good years, but after a while, one room with parents and four children became challenging. It was obvious that Michael would be the one to build our home.
M: This house is a product of my craft. The building materials and the construction method are important to me. There’s a mix of local and Japanese influences in this house. I’ve had an affection for Japan and Japanese art since childhood. It runs in the family. My mother does calligraphy, and my father used to make Japanese-style tables and benches. My big brother built a house using a similar construction method but with a strong Japanese orientation. We were really inspired by that.
This was the first house that I ever built. Its outline was pretty clear to me. But I’ve learned so much since then, in terms of materials and technique, that today I would have done it differently.
M: I grew up in my father’s carpentry workshop and learned indoor carpentry. Then I moved on to outdoor construction. It bothered me spending the entire day shut inside a workshop, under the fluorescent lights. In my field of work, I’m mostly outside, for better or for worse. Nowadays carpenters work less with wood and more with plywood and laminates. Construction work feels more real to me - what you make is what you see. Making a structure that you can stand on at the end of the day is exciting. It shows the force of creation.
M: Those drawn to woodworking and interested in it tend to develop their own personal style. With time you learn to narrow down your preferences. That’s why I would have built in a different way now. Indoor carpenters work only with planed wood, and that’s how I built the house. I later discovered how much fun it is to work with rough-sawn timber, and the pergola outside was built later with that material.
How did the building process go? Was it different than for a client?
M: It’s so much harder (for architects as well) to build your own house. I found it the most challenging at the finishing stages. At some point you’ve got to put uncertainties aside and just go with the flow. Whatever is left unfinished until you move in, forget about it for the next 5 to 10 years. There is something on the scale of practicality and beauty that I find interesting, and it works the same with my clients. At the beginning all you care about is aesthetics; then you get used to it, and practicality takes the precedence.
What did you have to compromise on?
S: We don’t have a pantry and enough storage solutions. I didn’t have any experience and didn’t realise how important it is.
M: My original vision was to have a tiled roof, but it’s not allowed according to Yodfat local building codes.
Your home feels minimalist but warm. What’s your stand on ‘less is more’?
S: It doesn’t feel that way to us. We’ve got too much stuff. I do believe in ‘less is more’, but find it hard to get rid of things.
M: Western culture has a thing with exhibiting possessions. Accumulating piles of stuff bothers us.
What’s your favorite space in the house?
S: Our bedroom, with the door closed, is my favorite. I was so excited about the en-suite bathroom when we moved in here. In the previous house I didn’t have my own bathroom or my own room. We had a shower and a toilet in the kitchen, behind a curtain. It was super important to me how it would look. And it was such a dramatic change to be able to own a private space and to be able to close the door.
What do you like about Yodfat, and how do you experience the changes over the years?
M: I think it’s childish to hold on to the idea of how a place used to be. Every place is in a process and has a direction - either it develops or dies. You’ve got to be attuned to the world. Naturally, growth has its price. I think in Yodfat it’s still reasonable and even comes with a lot of advantages. Without growth there wouldn’t have been a school, for example. It’s not the kibbutz it used to be when we were children, went down to the fields and drove tractors. To some extent children here still have a bit of wildness about them.
A person from Tel Aviv would say that it’s a downright periphery, but for us Yodfat is the center. It fulfills its needs internally. A client once asked me: “What’s going on with that place? You’re a woodworker, and you brought a metal worker and a plasterer..” And then it hit me that it’s not obvious to have so many free professionals in a small community. Moreover, they recognize their value and respect their trade, which is not an obvious thing in Israel. For years it’s been bothering me that only university graduates working in high-tech are valued here. As opposed to Europe, craftsmen are not appreciated enough in Israel.
In Yodfat skilled professionals are valued. If someone is a stonemason, he’s respected. That’s how we were born and raised. Yodfat was founded by a group of [Dr Yosef] Shechter’s students from the Hebrew Reali School in Haifa. He offered them a purpose and a way of living. Yodfat was meant to be a place to explore inner, spiritual processes. So any kind of work, done right, had tremendous value. The second generation was raised on these principles. It’s a little bit like Zen - anything you do is important. That’s why I think there are so many free professionals here. Many of them have chosen their work for the ideals or the journey and not as a mere solution.
Another thing that has distinguished Yodfat over the years, as opposed to other kibbutzim, is that the elders have allowed the younger generation to be heard. Other kibbutzim are controlled by rivaling old men. That drives off the younger generation. Most young people don’t leave our community. There’s a good mix of people in Yodfat, and it takes care of its members.
S: Today’s Yodfat has grown, and many people do not belong to any group that does a spiritual work. But there is something you can still feel here; it’s a different kind of energy.
On family & relationships
S: We were matched up. I lived abroad for 7 years. When I returned with little Luca (his father remained in Spain), I moved from Barcelona to Lotem. A month later, Michael’s step brother, who was a good friend of mine, introduced us. It was love at first sight. We started with three very small children - Michael’s Jasmin (4) and Achinoam (3) and my Luca (3.5). Today they’re 17-19 years old. They are almost a threesome.
It was a tough journey. With three kids from torn-apart families you need firm ground to build upon. We’ve come through these challenging years thanks to the strong bond between us. Then Hillel and Avishai were born, and we became a multiple-child family.
What do your kids think about your home?
S: We’ve never asked, but I think they really like being at home and appreciate it. The older ones complain, as we do, that there’s not enough privacy, because of the open space and the proximity.
M: The needs of a home change so quickly, as far as the kids are concerned. Obviously, small children have got to feel connected, but a 17 year old has different needs. Yet again, privacy wasn’t such an issue at 14. We go to bed before our kids, which has its consequences. The deck was meant for our use, with a door that opens to it from the master bedroom, but in the end the older kids hang out there until late.
S: I think parents need privacy. We’ve reached this reawakening point in our lives as a couple. When three young people and their friends are constantly in and around the house, it disturbs the intimacy. People should think about it when planning a home.
Where the family prefers to gather around?
M: It’s an open space. Most of the time everybody is here.
S: In winter kids love to sleep on a blanket by the fire. The little ones sleep in the living room all the time.
What do you prefer to do on the weekends?
S: To rest. We love staying at home, and I love to complain that we don’t get out enough but remain at home. We have this phrase that we always repeat if we do go out of Yodfat: “What’s wrong with staying at home?”.
M: At home, working in the garden. One of the annoying things in this [country] is that there is an almost zero chance of being in nature without tons of people, garbage or noise.
On balance, inspiration and getaways
Sivan, how do you find a balance between home and work, as both are virtually at the same place?
S: First of all I’m not balanced in any field. I’m looking for a balance, but don’t find it. I’m a stay-at-home person. I find it quite burdensome to have to go out. On the other hand, I do want to go and meet other people. So when I sometimes have workshops elsewhere, I have a great time and feel immensely inspired. I’ve tried teaching at other studios, but quickly gave up on that. I need my own space, exactly as I like it. It’s great and convenient that my studio is at home, but it’s also a very quick slide into home chores. It’s challenging. In addition to being unbalanced, I’m also unfocused.
M: I’m balanced and you’re dancing.
S: You’re the anchor, and I’m the ship.
M: No. You’re the ocean, and I’m the ship.
What inspires you?
S: Michael recharges me, and yoga is my serenity island. However troubled I might be, when the lesson starts, it becomes my almost impenetrable place. The bubble we live in, community life and friendships are also helpful. And the nature around us - there’s no need to go far away to see more clearly and breathe in.
M: About two years ago we bought a 300 year old stone house in Liguria in Italy. For me it totally does the trick. There is intense nature and quiet, but no noise or human-made pollution. It really gets to me. It’s also fun to be abroad, in a different place and atmosphere, to get out of the dusty bubble. Then you realise that, actually, nobody wants to kill anyone.
Is it a house to retire?
M: It’s a getaway. Sometimes you have to escape the summer here.
S: To get away for a while from the threatening, political stress. Seemingly in our everyday lives it goes unnoticed, but as soon as you go abroad, you realize how stressful our lives are. Sometimes it makes me anxious. So yes, to get away from all that and to imbibe a more peaceful energy.
M: Following our 40’s crisis, we aim to aspire for a more balanced life, in terms of work and quality time. Europeans have long ago reached the conclusion that you can have a month-long vacation, and everything will be fine. Since local summer is becoming tougher every year temperature-wise, we decided to spend more of our quality time there, and also plan for retirement.
S: There’s no crystal clear plan here. It was a dream or an idea we both had, and we just went for it. We’re happy about it.
M: It’s a beginning of an adventure.