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Facade view of R48 Hotel and Garden, the Bauhaus property of Heather Reisman and Gerald Schwartz

Toronto’s Heather Reisman and Gerald Schwartz have made their mark across finance, retail and philanthropy. But they had never ventured into the hotel business – until now. Recently, they opened the R48 Hotel and Garden in a resuscitated Bauhaus residence on a prime street in Tel Aviv.

The Bauhaus building is one of 4,000 or so boxy 1930s structures that constitute an architectural patrimony which earned Tel Aviv’s centre UNESCO heritage status along with the nickname the “White City.” These buildings were mostly the works of architects fleeing Nazi Germany before the Second World War. Although they are protected, and can’t be torn down, many are in a sorry state while awaiting the financing that would allow them to be restored.

A lounge area with slatted screens at R48 Hotel and Garden, the Bauhaus property of Heather Reisman and Gerald Schwartz

That was the case with the building at 48 Rothschild Boulevard when the Toronto couple bought it. “When I say derelict,” Reisman recounts, “I mean it was completely neglected for over a decade.” It had drawn her and Schwartz’s attention as the dilapidated neighbour of their charitable foundation, the Israeli outpost of which exemplifies the “eclectic” architecture style imprinted on the city in the 1920s. 

They bought the property with the idea of restoring it and reselling it. “You could see the bones of the building were exquisite,” Reisman says. The clincher to turn it into a hotel came soon after a meeting with Ruti and Mati Broudo, owners of R2M Group. The once-married business partners have established themselves as key players in Tel Aviv’s hospitality scene with a portfolio that includes restaurants, live music venues, cocktail bars and the city’s first boutique hotel, the perennially chic Montefiore. The latter spurred other stylish boutique properties, which offered an alternative to the chain hotels that line the beach. These include the Norman, the Levee and Poli House, respectively Art Deco, Ottoman-era and Bauhaus buildings that reflect the city’s architectural diversity, multi-layered history and even sense of urgency. (Tel Aviv was built in a hurry).

A view through a suite's window onto Tel Aviv at the R48 Hotel and Garden, by Heather Reisman and Gerald Schwartz

Their eventual collaboration on the R48 Hotel and Garden has resulted in a dreamy retreat on Rothschild Boulevard, one of Tel Aviv’s swish-est streets. With only 11 rooms, it’s definitely intimate. “It was a home originally and the inspiration was to create a hotel that had the anonymity of a hotel but the hospitality of a private home,” says Reisman. “The idea was to feel like you were going to your best friend’s house.” (The fancy dream comes with a price tag to match. Rooms hover around the US$2,000 mark.)

Reisman admits that she didn’t really know much about building and opening a hotel. “We never asked ourselves some of the important questions. We had all of the learning that comes with that kind of naiveté but there was also a huge passion for excellence and for honouring the building.”  

Still, it was a bold move to hire a local emerging firm, AN+ Architects, to bring 48 Rothschild back to life. The firm’s partners are Belgium-born Avital Gourary and Israel-born Natanel Elfassy. After stints in New York and at Japanese architecture firm SANAA, they are establishing themselves in Tel Aviv as bold minimalists. Their work is also inspired by the quality of Israel’s natural light, its local building materials and Tel Aviv’s culture and lifestyle. They had renovated a Bauhaus property for Mati Broudo but they had never done a project of this scope. 

A bathroom in one of the suites at R48 Hotel and Garden, the Bauhaus property of Heather Reisman and Gerald Schwartz

They won the owners over with “a beautiful model” that included a perfect restoration of the Bauhaus structure, which retained its thermometer window array and wrap-around balconies. (The painstaking retrofit, under the watchful eye of the Israel Conservation Authority, would take almost 10 years.) The architects also imagined a spectacular, yet non-intrusive contemporary addition: A three-storey glass box at the back that would add space and give the building height while flooding it with Tel Aviv sunlight.

Throughout the property one experiences a series of dialogues – between buildings, between Tel Aviv’s living culture and the idea of oasis, between the past and the future. 

AN+ first elevated the original building several metres on stilts, thereby connecting the project to the boulevard. “By floating the building above street level, we aimed to draw people inside and provide them with a fresh perspective on the historical structure,” says Natanel Elfassy. A processional staircase leads up to the side entrance on the original building and opens onto a central lobby space. Here, as well as in other public areas and private rooms, artworks curated by the local outfit Art Source and some pieces from the Reisman/Schwartz collection adorn the space.

Stairwells are often treated as semi-public spaces in the Tel Aviv brand of Bauhaus, and one of the original stairwells at 48 Rothschild was superbly restored, including the bannister railings and terrazzo flooring. But another stairwell was beyond repair. In its place, the architects created a glass lift that’s essentially a vertical room (complete with furniture) to transport guests to their suites and to the rooftop pool. The floor-to-ceiling glazed box soars above old seams of brick where the stairwell was located. As you ride up, you’re offered eyefuls of the city and are given a further sense of the dialogue between historical elements and  contemporary design features. “By incorporating transparency and lightness, the glass lift reinforces the overall concept of creating a harmonious blend between the original building and the modern interventions, ” says Elfassy. “What remains is future.”

A stairwell at R48 Hotel and Garden, the Bauhaus property of Heather Reisman and Gerald Schwartz

French firm Liaigre was responsible for the interiors; it handled everything from the millwork to the layouts for rooms and common areas to the sober and elegant custom furnishing. These include, in some of the rooms, a gorgeous, solid wood headboard that integrates bronze bedside tables and reading lights. Liaigre’s signature essences of wood — tulipwood, African teak, walnut and silk — are present both in the interior architecture and in the furniture design “in order to bring in the homy and residential feeling you expect in a boutique hotel,” said Frauke Meyer, Liaigre’s creative director. 

The majority of the rooms are configurable, via sliding and flush-swing timber doors, and include open-plan living, working and dining space. In the huge, timber-lined bathrooms, the sinks are carved into one long granite vanity top, and the panelled triptych mirrors evoke Art Deco. (Creating rooms in the new wings – with their three walls of floor-to-ceiling glass – originally presented a design problem. Liaigre’s solution: a glamorous Bedouin-tent inspired drapery system).

Typically Liaigre seeks out local materials and aims to create references to the local environment in its projects. As some travertine was partly used for the renovation of the Bauhaus façade, Liaigre applied the same material in the hotel’s public spaces, such as in the alcove leading to the lobby. The colour palette is anchored in geographical and cultural context. White, a reference to the “White City,” dominates. Liaigre also employed pastels, such as soft blue, yellow and green, which “bring a breath of fresh air and remind us of the seaside environment not far away,” Meyer says. The palette and subdued chic of the furniture is soothing, and surprising on a street and in a city where adjectives like busy and electric are more common.

(In fact, Rothschild Boulevard is one of the city’s buzziest streets, full of Parisian style cafes, bars and people zipping about on e-scooters. None of this can be heard from inside. The hotel emanates calm and luxury. It’s an oasis. The glass wing, coexisting with the structure with grace and integrity, adds to the harmony.)

The theme of visual dialogues continues in the feature garden, the work of Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf, whose textural mosaic incorporates perennials and grasses, Levantine flora, and a variety of local preserved olive, oak and pomegranate trees. The garden serves as a unifying element, seamlessly integrating R48 into the surrounding structures, including the eclectic-style building next door as well as a neighbouring post-modern tower. 

“We wanted to establish a connection that would celebrate the diversity of architectural styles within the area,” said Elfassy, “inviting the public to explore and appreciate the beauty of Tel Aviv’s architectural heritage, highlighting its distinct characteristics and creating a harmonious environment that promotes a sense of unity and continuity.”

Oudolf, known for his contribution to such paradigm-shifting projects as the High Line and MVRDV’s Valley, also designed the garden that rims R48’s rooftop pool. The hotel’s nine-table restaurant, called Chef’s Table, is now the place to eat in Tel Aviv. The kitchen is helmed by Ohad Solomon. His 11-course, daily-changing tasting menu takes diners on an experimental global journey. Even the breakfast, with its own cocktail — cinnamon-infused white wine with a dash of oatmeal syrup — is extravagant. It’s best enjoyed on the curved Bauhaus balcony of a guest room, experiencing the architectural story of Tel Aviv.

Bauhaus Reborn: A Tel Aviv Gem is Revived as a Swanky Hotel

Under new owners – the Canadian power couple Heather Reisman and Gerald Schwartz in partnership with R2M Group – a dilapidated Bauhaus building was transformed into the R48 Hotel and Garden by AN+ Architects.

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