In many of the fabulous homes covered in my Chai-Style Homes column, two names pop up: Yaacov Golan (unique lighting) and Israel Peljovich, the go-to guy for master-crafted woodwork, dining and kitchen tables, chairs, buffets, shelving, cabinets, built-ins, and vanities.
Peljovich, a spicy, gregarious grandfather, emigrated from Cuba in 1959 and made a circuitous path to Atlanta to put his stamp on well-healed homes and businesses. He and his business manager wife, Lidia, have an inspiring success story with Arts-N-Laminates.
Jaffe: How did you end up in Atlanta?
Israel: The short answer is I followed Lidia (also from Cuba), who eventually became my bride and is related to the Atlanta Kresses, Birnbrey and Saul families. The longer answer is, at 19, I was working for Fidel Castro designing roads and bridges. I donated my salary to his revolution. Then I opened my eyes and supported the counterrevolution (am still waiting).
I then left for a kibbutz for Latin Americans in the Negev for two years, then to Be’er Sheva, where I was a translator for Irish people in the yarn business. My parents, who were in the schmatta business in Cuba, followed me to Israel. I immigrated to New York in 1961. While there, I ran a fudge and taffy business both in the city and in Cape Cod. Soon after, we married and moved to Atlanta, where my hobby became a profession.
Jaffe: How do you win the bids on so many Jewish homes’ decor?
Israel: A lot of positive word of mouth keeps us busy. I also have a tight relationship with quality home builders like Zvi Bekerman. We give a fair price, and people know that. By the way, we just did a 14-foot island for a local home.
Jaffe: Do you create for projects outside the residential realm?
Israel: We also do commercial jobs, like the Falcons’ on-air commentary desk, Turner’s pavilion at the Atlanta Olympics and even synagogues. Note these restored 500-year-old carved doors from Spain. We have done work for B’nai Torah, Or VeShalom and more recently Ahavath Achim’s meeting rooms. I also designed and crafted the interior of a church in St. Louis here and shipped it to Missouri.
Jaffe: What happens in your studio/workshop?
Israel: We are off Peachtree Industrial Boulevard inside 285. I have several master craftsmen, some of whom I trained, working on quality products. We order the raw wood which you see here in oak, maple, zebra, poplar, purple and walnut, and it ends up smooth as glass.
Jaffe: Do you ever return to Cuba?
Lidia: We have been several times, but I no longer identify with them. We eat Cuban food, dance the dances and play dominos. It stops there. I am thankful we made it here as true Americans.
Israel: Today, I don’t see that opening trade with Cuba will give much help to the average Cuban. The government takes 51 percent off the top from one’s business. I know someone who owns a jewelry store there. Whatever he sells, more than half the profit goes straight to the government.
Jaffe: What do you do for leisure?
Israel: I treat myself by driving an original steel 1929 Model A Ford, which has been completely restored.
Lidia: We have wonderful children and grandchildren. Interestingly, my sons are both engineers. One designs airports and is based in Baltimore, Md. The other owns a commercial general contracting company.
Jaffe: So, Lidia, what’s your role here?
Lidia: I’m the business manager. But more importantly, I keep him in line.
Photos by Marcia Caller Jaffe