House Sitting in Hawaii


It was like I walked into a freeze frame of a bygone era. The place I would be house sitting for the following few weeks was a glimpse into mid-century Hawaiian design.

There are plenty of cultural references of the Aloha state in its golden age — tiki barsBlue Hawaii, or Don Ho — but the idea of Hawaiian style has become so cliche that it’s easy to write it off as a bunch of coconut bikini tops, dashboard hula dancers, gaudy plastic leis, and umbrella-clad drinks. One look at this house dispels that notion: it’s an eclectic tour of the island’s past mixed with a good dose of contemporary design, all without being overly ironic. But enough words, I’ll let the photos do the talking:

The living room is graced by this treasure trove of a cabinet that’s a gorgeous mix of new and old, so let’s take a closer look at a few details.

These face of these lovely ladies are each so unique yet reminiscent of many old drawings and photos I’ve seen of mid-century Hawaiian women. I like how every feature, down to their makeup , is so detailed. It make me feel like I’m looking at a group of hula dancers from back in the day.

On the bottom shelf is this little wahine playing the ukelele — what this taught me is that it was apparently standard totally acceptable back in the day to play the ukelele topless, so long as you wore a lei! She’s surrounded by a stunner of a porcelain bust with a flower in her hair and some worn-in woven hula fans in the background.

A whole wall of the place was lined with old books recounting historic Hawaii, showing old photos, and all sorts of other adventures. My favorite of the lot was this collection, perhaps because they were sandwiched by these austere-looking, yet delicately crafted bookends. The book ends seems to me like a Polynesian version of the guards at Buckingham palace. Do you see what I mean? (Perhaps it’s just me and my strange thought processes.)

This couch was my makeshift office while I house sat. Having grown up in a house with huge windows, I’m drawn to light like a moth and this little nook of the house was beautifully lit from sunrise to sunset. Floral patterns aren’t usually my thing but the upholstery on this couch really works for me. Though the boomerang-shaped table in the front there, with all that cool stacked looking wood detail, really made me swoon.

Speaking of detail, a lot of the linens throughout the house had all sorts of beautiful patterns, like the branch detailing on this quilt. I probably don’t need to remind you, but I’m a big fan of mixing mustard yellow and slate grey so this was easily my favorite of the linens.

These was also some gorgeous woodwork in the house like this bamboo edging and abstract awapuhi (ginger) plant detail on this drawer, which I believe is made with native Hawaiian, koa wood.

This sideboard had a calla lily detail —  my mother’s favorite flower — carved into the front.

The house also had mementos and hand-me-downs from the past like this framed immigration certificate. Check out the wall its hanging on, by the way — the whole place had mint green wainscoting covering at least one wall in each room. It contrasts beautifully with that blue banana leaf dish too.

Atop the bar was a whole family of matching milk glass candle holders and vases in absolute pristine shape.

And a whole collection of vintage fishing floats — I mean, that’s enough to fill a huge salad bowl! In case you haven’t seen these before, they’re pretty hard to find in good shape and are coveted by many of my friends who live throughout the South Pacific.

Everyday some new treasure caught my eye be it another book, table, or tchotchke. What drew me in so much was the mix of eclectic, totally unrelated elements in such a seamless way, like this Jina statue that sat amidst the ferns in the front yard. Milky white and iridescent in the full moonlight, this statue was made from the treasured marble that I saw all over India. The owner’s grandfather came across the statue on a trip to Jaipur, India (one of my favorite places while I was there) to get this, the 1920s and then, get this, had it shipped across the world to eventually end up in Hawaii.

This house was a trip through time that has stayed with me and has inspired me to bring a few design elements of Hawaii back home.

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