What happens when a realtor loves a house, but finds the economy prevents it from selling? For David Buck, the unsold home became a family passion.
“It was a great value, and I had presented it to at least half a dozen clients,” Buck explains. “Since it was early 2008, the subprime crisis of 2007 had already kicked in and the market started to slow down. After trying so hard to pitch this property, I must have subconsciously sold it to myself.”
David and his wife Meghan, who both love mid-century architecture, decided to buy the 1956 Alfred Preis-designed home and embark on the project of renovating it in 2010.
“We wanted a tropical, modern, comfortable feel. We hoped to create a casual and warm but still sophisticated feeling—stylish but not pretentious. We both loved the mid-century masters. Locally, Alfred Preis has become one of our favorites.”
Preis was born and started his architecture career in Vienna, Austria. Of Jewish descent, he fled Austria and emigrated to the U.S. in 1939. He settled in Honolulu, only to be detained at the Sand Island Detainment Camp after the Pearl Harbor attack because of the internment policy of Japanese and German Americans. Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, it was his design for the USS Arizona Memorial that was selected by the U.S. Navy after the war. That memorial is Hawai‘i’s biggest tourist attraction and Preis’ most famous design, though every O‘ahu resident is perhaps equally familiar his design of the entrance to the Honolulu Zoo.
“Locally, Alfred Preis has become our favorite.” explains Buck. “Pries played with roof lines as apparent on The Honolulu Zoo entry and Arizona Memorial.”
Construction on the Arizona Memorial began in 1960. Construction on the Bucks’ residence occurred in 1956, so roughly a similar design period. And the feeling of maritime tribute Preis mastered at the Arizona Memorial is evident to the Bucks at their home.
“We both had a similar feeling that the house was built like a ship. With the efficient and multi-level spaces, storage and large windows there was a nautical feeling. We later found out that the home had been commissioned by a former Navy Admiral.”
The Bucks also appreciated the architect’s signature use of color blocking under the eaves and on exterior panels, typically under a window and the use of diﬀerent elevation levels to create distinct spaces. Unlike the wide-open, sometimes gaping spaces of current architecture, Preis’ home design favors intimate and separate spaces for gathering.
“There are hidden cabinets and pass-throughs from the garage to the pantry and from the kitchen to the living room. With lots of built-in drawer banks, cabinets and counter space, the home was uncomplicated when furnishing.”
The Bucks were determined to preserve all of that as they updated their home to fit their family’s needs.
“We wanted to keep with the original lines and overall style of the home, yet incorporate necessary improvements for modern-day living.”
Without the budget to do everything they wanted, they needed to compromise and get creative on issues such as matching the mahogany paneling on walls and ceilings.
“We had some vendors that wanted to drywall everything. However, that would have completely changed the feel of the house.”
The Bucks chose architect Greg Quinn, son of Hawai‘i’s first governor, to partner with them on updating the structure. “Like us, Greg appreciates the mid-century era design in Hawai‘i and how a home fits into its neighborhood,” says Buck. “He did a wonderful job of matching the rooflines, windows and siding while increasing the living area.”
They replaced the old mahogany with new panels and stained them to match. They patched and painted the interior and exterior brick work rather than stuccoing over it. They completed a master suite addition, pushed the original galley-style kitchen and downstairs bedrooms out to the setback with the single-minded goal of making it all feel seamless.
Buck cites the most interesting part of the home as the dining area oﬀ the kitchen, where Preis’ trademark use of contrasting materials—redwood, mahogany, terrasso, parquet flooring and brick—all connect.
“The most interesting part of the process was learning more about Alfred Preis and his work. We feel he is under-acknowledged for his contributions to architecture in Hawai‘i,” adds Buck, who feels they kept Preis’ ethos pure in their remodel. “Being in a neighborhood that we really love and the opportunity to save a cool piece of architecture. To keep true to the era and not overbuild.”