Story by Heidi Pool | Photography by Travis Rowen
When the couple we’ll call Alex and Joan first stood on the vacant lot above Lahaina that would eventually become their new home, they spotted humpback whales breaching in the sparkling sapphire ocean below. That sealed the deal. “Seeing the whales felt like a sign that this was the place for us,” says Alex.
But six years passed before they and their two children moved in. “When we purchased the property, it was a big, scrubby lot,” says Alex. “All five acres required extensive grading before we could break ground.” And finding an architect and builder wasn’t simple, either. “It was 2004, and there was a lot of building going on,” he says. “We interviewed several architects and builders, but didn’t feel any of them would be willing to invest the time required to incorporate the features we wanted in the house. We’re patient people, and we wanted to personalize our home.”
The realtor who had helped them purchase the lot recommended architect Randy Wagner. “I’d just returned from a surf vacation in Fiji, where I’d seen a house I fell in love with,” Randy recalls. “It had three detached buildings with steep, double-pitched roofs.” Adapting that concept for Alex and Joan’s home, she designing a house whose three sections form a semicircle connected by hallways. Alex refers to the different sections as the “master suite,” the “main house,” and the “other side.”
The home’s design evolved over time. “When we began, it was going to be a casual beach house,” says Randy. “But as we moved forward, it got nicer and nicer. Especially once Eddie Takayesu [master woodworker and owner of Maui Custom Woodworks] joined the project. When Eddie got involved, the design moved to a higher level. The shape of the house was always the same, but the finishes got more sophisticated.”
The couple showed him photos of woodwork treatments they liked, Eddie says. “They asked me to take those ideas and make them even better. That’s the kind of challenge I enjoy.”
In the master suite, Eddie created an elegant dressing area, using richly hued African wenge wood. A platform of sleek African mahogany cradles the master bathtub, mirroring the cabinetry and sinks opposite. With input from Randy, Eddie even designed and built the master bed frame and a chest at its foot that conceals a pop-up TV. “Alex and Joan’s house is what I call a jewelry-box project,” Eddie says. “Every element is personal, and refined to the users’ particular needs.”
The home’s steep, double-pitched roofline allowed for vaulted ceilings and open crossbeams. Throughout the main living areas, bamboo-weave matting lines those ceilings; Alex sourced it in, of all places, Brooklyn, New York. “I looked everywhere, but had difficulty finding just what I was looking for,” he says. “This matting is like wallpaper, but soft and thicker.”
The home sits on agricultural land, zoning that required submitting a farm-plan application to Maui County’s Planning Department. “When we lived on the East Coast, we had a fully landscaped, three-acre property,” says Alex. “So we knew going in what it means to take on something this big.” He now grows and sells tropical trees, most of them located on the lower portion of the property: upwards of sixty plumerias of various varieties and colors, fifty coconut palms, thirty foxtail palms, several rare white tacoma trees, and numerous fruit trees. “We designed the landscape so you can drive a truck onto the lawn and park near the tree you need to dig up,” Alex explains. They’re of such high quality that Chris Curtis, who was Alex and Joan’s landscape architect, stops by occasionally to purchase some for jobs he’s working on.
Viewed from the air, the property resembles a lush oasis in the middle of a desert. “One day when I was surfing, I met Mike Essner, who owns Fusion Irrigation Hawai‘i,” Alex recalls. “I mentioned what I was doing with the property, and Mike said, ‘I’ve got just what you need.’ I became his first customer.” Mike installed a variable-rate “fertigation” system that uses organic liquid fertilizer to lower the alkalinity of the irrigation water, which results in quicker water saturation and improved plant health. “I can’t prove it, but I believe I use about half the water I would without Mike’s system,” Alex says.
The home’s architecture pays homage to the steep-roofed hale (houses) of old Polynesia, and the use of shake shingles lends a woodsy quality. Knowing this choice also makes the dwelling more susceptible to wildfires, Alex installed fire hoses that can gush water at 100psi all around the house. “If you’re going to have a shake roof in Lahaina, you have to be prepared.”
The roof’s support beams and rafter tails are all solid mahogany. “We took the time to finish the beams and tails properly,” Alex says. “Even though they sit out here in the sun all the time, we don’t have a single crack.”
The couple and their architect give high praise to building contractor Jaime Lobato of Structures, Inc., for carrying out their collective vision. “Jaime put a lot of thought into everything, and was very patient,” Alex says. “Jaime pays a lot of attention to detail,” adds Randy. “He accumulated several notebooks about the project. Elements like the rafters and trim on the front porch may look simple now, but it was a time-consuming process. It’s really complicated to get everything to line up just right.”
The couple’s own patience has paid off. “We didn’t mind taking the time to make this home ours,” says Alex. “Joan and I are both particular. We once lived without furniture for years in a house on the East Coast, because we couldn’t find just what we liked. Some people may think certain things in this house are quirky, but they’re what we wanted.”
Randy Wagner, principal architect
Chris Curtis Landscapes
808-575-2367 | ChrisCurtisLandscapes.com
Fusion Irrigation Hawai‘i
James Tile & Stone
Maui Custom Woodworks
808-877-0239 | MauiCustomWoodworks.com
Structures, Inc. (building contractor)