Miller and Philpotts’ morning sunroom retreat, with views of Diamond Head and the island’s sunrise

Urban Oasis

Marion Philpotts and Jeff Miller take a home that’s been with the family for almost a decade and make it their own.

Within the forest of Tantalus sits a house that has Changed the lives of its owners, Marion Philpotts and her husband Jeff Miller.

“The mana here is incredible,” explains Philpotts, “whether it’s the land or the house, or a combination of both.”

“I think it’s the light,” adds Miller. “Because we’re on a ridge the light changes through the day. In the morning we watch the sun come over Diamond Head.”

“In the evening there’s a beautiful orange pink glow over the airport toward the West side,” adds Philpotts. “It’s like a little oasis in a forest, like having your mountain house in town. Yet I’m 10 to 11 minutes from my office.”

Philpotts, a partner with the interior design firm Philpotts & Associates and Miller, an attorney, moved to the property from Nu’uanu last December. In the months since, they’ve found their lives have become more peaceful, with far more time spent outdoors.

“This house has made Jeff start gardening and I’ve discovered hiking. I take the dogs and go with friends on the Tantalus trails. We cut ginger, and I take my camera. It’s a great thing for my health, both the social and the spiritual. Then I start a new week on Monday refreshed.”

The unique beauty of the spot might explain why families have been so hesitant to let it change hands. Built in 1926, the home spent its first 68 years in one family’s possession. When Marion’s cousin Jonathan Staub and his spouse Jefferson Finney decided to sell it after having it themselves for nine years, they offered it to Philpotts first.

“We wanted it,” says Miller, “but we had eight days to sell our house to make it happen.” Luckily Philpotts knew who to call-her brother, Billy. “She calls up Billy and says, ‘Do you want to buy my house?’ Billy said, ‘Sure!’ If we had involved an outside buyer it never would have happened.”

“The stars and planets aligned to make it work for us to buy this house,” adds Philpotts.

“It was a perfect sort of trading places. On the morning of December 7th we literally did a switch. The trucks passed each other in the driveway.”

Philpotts and Miller made sure other key family members, daughters Makena and Marée, were happy with the move. “When you uproot kids from one place-they’d had the classic Nu’uanu childhood-sometimes they ask, hey how come nobody asked me?” says Philpotts.

With Makena at college, they brought Marée up with her friends before the move. “She and her friends spread out on the grass in their bikinis and said, ‘This is going to be a great party spot.’ It’s also a retreat for them.”

While her cousin Jon had given the home a spectacular vibrancy with color, Marion wanted to quiet the home down for her own family. Before the move was even complete, she began adjusting wall colors. “We toned everything down on the most part. Painted the whole house taupe and a quiet shade of lavender.”

“Our furniture came with us, but some sections we did away with as there’s a smaller scale to a historic home. I tried a few things on the house. It’s like trying on a dress. In the sunroom I really wanted that to be Moroccan. I tried sparkly lights, but it said garden. It didn’t do Moroccan den.”

The home’s kitchen is closed. The bedrooms and bathrooms are small compared with contemporary homes. Without the modern-day feel of an open room coming off the kitchen, Philpotts and Miller find they don’t live in their kitchen as they did at their former home, using the sun- and living rooms instead, as well as the home’s spectacular grounds under its grand forest canopy.

“We’ll sit in the Adirondack chairs and watch the planes land and take off in the evening. Or I’ll spend some time in the morning in the hot tub watching the rhythm of nature under the amazing trees,” says Philpotts. “It feels more like a second home, like we’re on vacation. It’s peaceful.”

Throughout the gardens are the trails and what Marion calls the “sweet little hidden vignettes” her cousin Jon created throughout the property.

“He and Jeff left us a legacy. This house has that kind of grace. You fall in love with it. You don’t want to leave the mountain.”

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