A Kahala home gets a welcome makeover, starting with breaking down more than a few walls.

From the outside, one might story mezzanine and cast a warm glow on not expect a serene escape lies beyond the elegant. yet discreet rock tile wall that shields this East Honolulu home. But step through the aged copper gate and you’ll discover an intimate oasis that is as welcoming as it is surprising. Here, the subtleties are distinctive: Tall ferns and taro plants line a stone walkway leading to the main entrance.

All photos by Olivier Koning

Inside, clerestory windows brighten the second story mezzanine and cast a warm glow on the modern stringer staircase in the heart of the living room. Dynamic sliding glass doors open the rest of the house unto a lush greenscape and the cool blue waters of a spacious pool in the backyard. “Our goal was to modernize the home and give it more of a Hawai‘i sense of place,” the owners say.

Suffice to say, an earlier iteration of this house was a far cry from the sophisticated retreat it is today. When the current owners first considered purchasing this home in 2017, they appreciated the framework but gave pause at the awkward, partitioned layout. “There was a laundry room here, a breakfast nook there… The kitchen was divided by cabinets and multiple walls,” recall the owners.

Luckily, they weren’t alone. John Sutton of Sutton Construction joined the owners on an initial visit and immediately began identifying solutions, such as replacing individual doors with Fleetwood sliding pocket doors to simultaneously save space while opening up the home and removing a problematic 4-inch step in the middle of the rear lanai that people were frequently tripping over. One priority quickly became replacing the spiral staircase that led to the second floor which was so narrow two people couldn’t pass each other on it. “Every- thing was more or less in the wrong place,” Sutton says. “We started out thinking this would be a fairly simple project because we’re not rewiring or replumbing the house… Well, we eventually needed to.”

As the buildout process began, the scope quickly grew.

For example, the process of moving drains meant cutting big trenches into the floor — where Sutton’s team discovered
the old cast iron pipes beneath the home were corroded and needed to be replaced. The house itself had to be completely rewired. The roof was reconditioned, with additional solar exhaust fans and rain gutters added. Walls became insulated; at least, the ones that remained.

I’d come in and more walls would be gone from the day before. I’d ask our superintendent, Peter, what happened? He would say this wall had to go because otherwise they couldn’t get to fixing some- thing,” says Sutton. “On the outside, the exterior walls are exactly as they were. But inside — structurally, mechanically, everything — this is a new house.”

Sutton and the owners worked with designer Olivia Lucia to help achieve the home’s look and flow. Lucia sketched new outdoor areas and reimagined the bath- rooms to be less cumbersome, while still incorporating distinguished elements, including reclaimed oak, aged steel and Italian marble. She connected with talent- ed tile setter Waylon Helseth, who created intricate glass mosaics for the kitchen island and a powder room that could be eye-catching without creating noise. Lucia even suggested some touches that initially raised eyebrows (such as painting some of the doors jet black), but which ultimately elevated the home.

“What I love is that, because there’s an eclectic blend of modern and old school aesthetics, this house appeals to many different tastes. Older uncles and aunties in the neighborhood can visit and find something to love and the same goes for younger generations,” Lucia says. “When you have beautiful surroundings that also feel comfortable, that’s great.”

Fine artwork located throughout the home—a mix of original works and limited-edition prints by renowned artists, including Jean-Michel Basquiat—as well as a powerful front door with sleek glass paneling (specially built by King’s Custom Koa) lends the property a museum-like quality. However, pull up a chair at the kitchen island where the dark oak bar top with its distressed finish (crafted by Werk Arts) feels more like one you might find in a beloved pub. Or sink into the plush living room sofa and look outside, past the Ti leaves and soft lawn, to take in the sunset at day’s end. It’s easy to feel at home here in more ways than one.

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