Built around a family’s faith

Times Staff Writer

When drawing up the plans for their new house, the Gurfinkels called on an architect, an interior designer and God. Every room in their Hancock Park home was designed to make it easier for Marty, his wife Candice and their four young children to observe their Orthodox Jewish faith. Daily, they follow kosher dining requirements; weekly they observe the Sabbath, a day of rest.

The Gurfinkels’ kosher kitchen has two sides -- each with its own sink, dishwasher and set of plates to separately handle dairy and meat products. During Sabbath, when the family cannot use anything electrical, automatic timers wired throughout the house turn off lights, the refrigerator temporarily stops making ice cubes and the oven temperature stays warm but doesn’t cook.

“Their life changes Friday night,” says interior designer Rob Davis. He worked with the family and architect John Andrews to create the elegant two-story house in the Spanish-style that was typical of the area in the 1920s and 1930s.

“The family goes back to an older, less commercial, less modern lifestyle. But both of the Gurfinkels appreciate design; they don’t like an austere life. Marty can talk about Jewish theology and Cuban cigars. They are people who are broadly interested in life and they socialize a lot. We had to make plans for all of that.”


Although in many houses the formal dining room is rarely used, the Gurfinkels’ large dining room is the social and spiritual heart of their home. It’s in the center of the ground floor, with the foyer, small living room, kitchen, family room, guest room and patio built around it.

The dining table seats 12 and it’s usually full on Friday nights with friends and family. Cherry wood cabinets display Judaic silver pieces and store the long platters used for special dinners. A menorah and Shabbat candelabra are prominently placed on a sideboard.

Just outside the dining room, in a small space usually reserved for a butler’s panty, there is a beautiful wooden wash basin. It is for the family and guests to cleanse their hands in before the blessing of the meal, which includes sweet, twisted loaves of challah. Candice says she likes the basin because guests don’t have to walk to the kitchen.

The design of the patio off the dining room accommodates a pole structure with a palm-frond roof where the family dines during the eight days of the fall harvest festival, Sukkot.


“Just as people see a bathroom in their house as essential, that’s how we feel about these amenities,” says Marty Gurfinkel. “We could get by without some of them but we’re grateful to have them.”

The Gurfinkels are a high-tech family most of the week: Rooms have individual keypads to control music and home entertainment systems as well as the temperature. With a flip of a switch, the 8-foot-diameter skylight above the rotunda foyer opens to the sky. A sophisticated security system protects the property.

But when the sun sets on Friday, the widescreen TVs go dark, the family’s five computers shut down and appliances go off. Their Sub-Zero refrigerator is programmed to turn off its light as well as the ice maker and compressor. So, too, with a specially equipped Thermador oven, which stays at 170 degrees and overrides the safety feature found in other ovens that shuts off the heat after 24 hours.

Because the kosher kitchen and intricate wiring for timers and air conditioning were planned from the start, the additional construction costs were minimal. In two previous houses, the Gurfinkels underwent expensive kitchen remodels.


Rabbi Daniel Korobkin of Kehillat Yavneh, a Hancock Park synagogue where the Gurfinkels worship, says they “represent a young, financially successful family that sees no conflict between living an observant religious life and a modern lifestyle.”

A home, the rabbi says, is an extension of the synagogue and Hebrew school. Every doorway has a mezuza -- a parchment scroll with passages from the Torah -- in a rectangular case that “reminds us that we are Jewish and affirms our belief in God, who is very much a part of our lives.”

There are 65 mezuzot in the Gurfinkel residence installed at an angle about two-thirds of the way up doorposts and archways. The one at the doorway to 5-year-old Jake’s room is ceramic with a cowboy boot and a star with the Hebrew letter shin.

Minutes before sundown on a recent Friday, the children were microwaving nachos and bouncing around in front of a burbling lava lamp. Then their mother lighted candles to start the Sabbath, and the electronics were muktzah -- set aside -- and the unplugged activities began.


For the next 25 hours, until nightfall Saturday, the family won’t ride in a car, touch money, use the water heater or even write with a pen.

Jake puts away his battery-operated volcano toy and his tennis shoes that light up. When Emma, 7, and Melanie, 11, walk home with their dad from services at their synagogue, they knock on their front door, where hours before Sabbath, they rang the doorbell. Tova, 9, says she likes her new house because her friends come over to play board games.

“When I think of my younger, single days, Saturdays were very busy,” says Candice, who was raised as a Reform Jew. “I love the beauty of everything shutting down. I think people’s lives are overscheduled and they don’t have downtime without a TV or radio.”

Times staff writer Janet Eastman can be reached at