Bungalow Great

A Hart Wood home relives its former grandeur.

KNOWN FOR BEING CHARMING, GENEROUS AND GLORIOUSLY TALENTED, JON STAUB HAS DESIGNED THE interior spaces of billionaire clients and donated his time again and again to nonprofit events for Hawai’i’s children. When he suffered a sudden stroke in California in June, 2012, there was an almost audible gasp amongst those who knew him; the thought of losing him knocked the breath out of his many circles of admirers.

Luckily for Hawai’i, Staub returned from rehabilitation in San Francisco with both his skills and wonderful take on life intact. The first order of business was a change of homes for him and his spouse, Jeff Finney.

“After the stroke, we wanted a simpler house to live in but not give up entertainment,” says Staub of their new home on Hibiscus Place. “This is both.”

“We were looking to downsize and have an ocean experience. We wanted to be able to travel easily,” adds Finney, noting that they left their Tantalus home of 10 years in part for Staub to be closer to the ocean for daily swims. With the help of Staub’s cousin and business partner, Marion Philpotts, Finney bought, sight-unseen, a 1929 home by renowned architect Hart Wood on the slopes of Diamond Head. The home’s pedigree and location were instant draws.

“I love looking over tiled roofs and Kapi’olani Park toward the water. The ocean is distant, so it’s softer. We can still hear the waves. It’s the perfect mix,” says Staub.

“People who built in the 1920s and could afford Hart Wood chose idyllic locations with views and breezes. When I’m at [the surf break] Tong’s, I can look back and see the house.”

Wood arrived in Hawai’i in 1919 with partner Charles Dickey. Together they produced some of Honolulu’s most notable buildings, including the Alexander & Baldwin Building and Honolulu Hale. Hibiscus Place shares Honolulu Hale’s Mediterranean Revival style, harkening back to a period some call the Golden Age of Hawaiian architecture. Staub and Finney credit former owner Robert Chaffee with saving the home through a painstaking five-year restoration. When Chaffee discovered the home in 2002, “it was a mess, but I could tell that the structure had good bones,” he said. “With the assistance of past owners providing history and old photographs, I was able to recapture the home’s original splendor, bringing back the ‘crown jewel’ of Hibiscus Place.”

Staub and Finney note they do miss the cool nights of Tantalus. “Here there are city vibrations, you can hear planes. You live a bit differently,” says Staub. “But we love the mornings here, the outdoor space,” says Finney, pointing to the Moroccan-themed lanai space where they’ve spent most of their time since moving in.

“We turned it into ‘Club Hibiscus,'” says Staub. “We live out there. It gives the home laughter, a gregarious presence. We’re only inside on the three days it’s rained since we’ve moved here.”

Inside, Staub has reemployed the collection of vintage pieces that served them well in the mountain setting of their old home. “These pieces made the transfer through new upholstery treatment. They went from Gumps’ celadon green to fuchsia,” says Staub, noting the fuchsia in their Warhol print was the impetus for the color choice. “I wanted vibrancy for this house. We took hot pink into the bedroom wall color, the living room pillows.”

“We’d finished a trip to India the year before and it was as if everything we’d brought back was meant for this house we hadn’t seen yet,” says Finney.

While the home exudes charm, its scale is a reminder that Honolulu residents of the 1920s had more modest expectations of space than modern-day homeowners do. Staub says it’s a scale of life they now welcome.

“I describe it as a bungalow,” says Staub with a twinkling smile. “I love the livability, the scale. You don’t need a big house to live well.”

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