Blustery winds and an idyllic view guided the collaborative design of a luxury rereat on the island of O‘ahu for a married couple, their four children, and their extended family.
“The site is beautiful, but there are high winds,” says architect Peter Vincent, who’s practiced in Honolulu for 30-plus years. “Having a chef’s kitchen and outdoor dining out of the wind was part of the program.”
The rest of it? There was the renovation of a developer’s 2010 spec house—and a new guest house, swimming pool, and pavilion/dining area/gathering space.
All are aligned along a walkway laid in Peruvian limestone—a travertine path lined by an allée of palm trees—that leads eyes past beach and breakers to a pair of islands. “It separates the more private family spaces on the left and the entertainment spaces on the right,” Vincent says.
The clients searched long and hard to find this site. They looked on the Big Island, only to discover cliff-dwelling homes, not beachfront properties. When they came across this house and its adjacent vacant lot, they rented it for a week—a test drive of sorts.
Within three days, they’d arrived at how to lay out the property. “We knew we had to buy the adjacent lot, put the pool behind it, and the guest house behind that,” the husband says.
Once it had all been designed and built, Vincent recommended local landscape architect Rick Quinn, principal of HHF Planners, and San Francisco–based Surfacedesign. Its founder, landscape architect James Lord, is a graduate of Harvard’s landscape architecture program who cites Italian architect Carlo Scarpa and Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx as key influencers.
Here, that kind of design heft shows up—in spades. “We had a meeting in Los Angeles, and Surfacedesign presented the idea of a tide pool garden,” Vincent says. “I’d envisioned a courtyard and a fabulous landscape, and that’s what they brought to the table, with different levels of pools inside and out.”
Lord and Surfacedesign created a seamless interaction between landscape and architecture, with coral walls that blur the lines between inside and out. They got rid of paved black surfaces, allowing driving on the lawn, an infrequent occurrence here anyway. Then they transformed the entire site into gardens—on the land and in the water. “The way the stones float and meet is the way Scarpa’s designs work,” Lord says.
“I looked at tide pools that trap bodies of water, where little sea creatures come in and are protected,” he says. “A series of low walls out on the lawn act as interfaces with the beach—and we lowered the pools as they move back, so you’re protected and do not lose the view.”
The pool pavilion features a dining lanai, with a gathering space inside. It was designed with 12-foot columns and a 25-foot tall roof. “That’s the height limit, and it’s in keeping with the existing two-story house,” Vincent says. “It’s a really large roof that signifies Hawaiian design, and having the wall height be that tall allowed transparency for the view.”
The clients had looked at other properties on the windward side of the island, and found gusts that blow up to 30 miles per hour. So here, the wind drove the placement of their swimming pool. “The pavilion blocks the wind so we can enjoy the pool,” the husband says. “Conventional wisdom would be to put the pool closer to the beach, but we put it down behind the pavilion.”
It’s three feet below grade, and water flows from it down to a living pond. “Surfacedesign created an area between the pool and the living pond, for a sense of being one with the water and the plants and the property,” he says.
Behind the pavilion, the guest house feels a little lower, though it is 10 feet tall, with three bedrooms and its own interior living space. “It’s positioned so it looks over the pool, through the pool pavilion, and out to the ocean,” Vincent says. “It still feels connected but it’s buffered from the wind—it’s an oasis and a courtyard.”
The client’s wife is a garden and plant lover, and was involved from the get-go in selections both outside and in. “With James, we came up with the idea of plantings in the bathrooms of the guest house,” she says. “There are orchids when you’re taking a shower, because I’m fascinated by blooming plants.”
Outside, the complex is a series of experiential excursions from the moment of entry. “You arrive, passing through a wall at the street,” Lord says. “There’s a second wall inside, and you see out to the islands in the ocean.” Then there’s a secret garden, a new wall, a tidal pool, and another wall. Finally, there’s the immersive blast from those Pacific winds.