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The genesis of the Efendi Hotel began with the connection of two Ottoman mansions who themselves were founded on an older building from the Crusader period (12th century CE) and the remnants of the Byzantine period (6th century CE). In fact, a cross section hotel cut through the building would cover 1500 of the 4000 year history of the city of Akko, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2001.

We worked in collaboration with designer Orit Kolonimos to convert the buildings into a modern hotel tailored to modern needs, all while trying to stay as authentic as possible to the antique architecture. Special consideration was given to conservation and restoration. To integrate amenities such as alarm systems, air conditioning, and elevator the planning intervention had to proceed with surgical precision.

The southern structure, where the hotel’s public spaces are located (lobby, reception, and dining room), includes a basement of Crusader and Byzantine ruins which has been converted into a wine cellar. Beautiful wooden racks are nestled among the meter thick stone arches, providing place for a unique collection of Israeli wines. This part of the building also houses a 400 year old Haman, original to the building and integrated into the jewel-like hotel spa.

Reflective of the period in which they were built, the mansions were designed to express wealth. Painted ceilings, carved cornices, wood friezes, and a stylish range of tiles on the floors and walls formed the basis for the treatment of each room. All of which demanded great preservation and intervention sensitivity.

Hotel owner and entrepreneur spirit, Uri (Buri) Jeremias was deeply involved in defining the design approach.  Uri’s primary desire was to maintain the sense of the time and place. In the early stages of the project there was concern that Arstudio, more than anything, was associated with modern architecture. However, with progressive work and release from the confines of definitions, it was found that there was room for contemporary design solutions amongst respect for the antique. The result is a truly unique building that is both innovative and historically faithful.

The main lobby is the first hint of this encounter between the old and new. In the ancient, impressive space with vaulted sandstone arches towering 6 meters high, sit “sushi” armchairs from Italian company Moroso.  Designed by the graphic and textile designer, Edward van Wyatt, these unique and astonishingly colorful armchairs add sophistication and interest to their austere surroundings. Next to authentic copper serving-trays converted into tables are brass-colored light fixtures standing on industrial cast-iron feet by the extraordinary British designer, Tom Dixon. 

By the same designer are the three cast glass chandeliers hanging over the splendid, six-meter-long dining room table. Tom Dixon’s design was significantly affected by form of ancient oil lamps and the “lighthouses” of ancient port cities like Akko.

In the bedrooms predominately characterized by Ottoman-era ornamentation and colorfully painted ceilings, we balanced decoration with furniture choice; quieter pieces insured that the original design elements remained the focus. In the older parts of the building, from the Crusader period, exposed stone ceilings gave us more room for colorful additions.

Preserved on each level is a central space – the “iwan”. Enclosed by four rooms, the iwan was the sitting-room of a typical Ottoman-era family house.  It has been converted into a lobby while the surrounding private bedrooms have transformed into luxury suites.

The greatest challenge was to find a solution for system integration and – as the buildings pre-dated toilets and private bathrooms – create additional space for restrooms, all without impacting the proportions of the original rooms. It was clear that the standard hotel layout was not an option for us.  Meeting the functional requirements of the Efendi Hotel while remaining faithful to the original buildings demanded great design creativity. Of the 12 rooms (ten original, and two contemporary) no two are identical. Each room boasts its own opulent details and a unique, inspired design solution.

Photography: Amit Geron

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