Paradise Found: A Minimal, Modern Home in Hawaii
Designer Nicole Hollis balances nature and contemporary style in this chic family home.
For hundreds of years until recently, Hawaiian families had made their homes in traditional hales, multiple wood structures that each served a different function on a single piece of property. Some were intended for hosting meals, others for sleeping, and still more for storage—all open to the islands’ temperate ocean breezes and gentle tropical elements. With their thatched roofs and stone flooring, the hales were both practical and spiritual in their design: they made use of local resources, but they also allowed their residents to maintain a connection to nature that informed much of their daily lives.
It was with this concept in mind that San Francisco–based interior designer Nicole Hollis conceived a modern family home on the Big Island for a couple who set roots down in the area long prior to her arrival on the scene. Brett and Danielle White are Southern California natives who came to love the Kona coast before they had ever even met: he used to camp on the shore during surfing trips in his youth, and she grew up visiting the region every year with her parents. When two four-acre lots on lava fields overlooking the Pacific Ocean became available a few years ago, the Whites seized the opportunity to create the kind of retreat that would help their own children form a lasting bond with the land. “Really reflecting what Hawaii means to them was a major goal of the design,” says Hollis. “The surroundings were paramount, and the indoor-outdoor approach was extremely important.”
To highlight the link between Hawaii's historical past and the Whites' present lifestyle, Hollis established a series of seven contemporary open pavilions that seem to rise fully formed from the surrounding environment. “I spent a lot of time at the site before and during construction, understanding the landscape and working closely with the architect,” says Hollis of the puka lava–tile flooring and coral-block walls that are found throughout the home. Aesthetic touches were also dictated by the local terrain. In the great room, American artist Michele Oka Doner created a chandelier and lighting inspired by the kiawe branches that she found on the property. In the dining room, Hollis commissioned a balsa-wood table from a local surfboard maker, who used traditional carving and shaping techniques to build the piece—a nod to both Brett’s passion for the sport and Hawaii’s iconic pastime.
The rest of the home’s five bedrooms, seven bathrooms, and various public spaces hew to the same natural sensibility, embracing a neutral color palette that’s rooted in the landscape while eschewing clichéd tropical motifs. “We wanted to avoid literalism while exploring the theme of locality, especially through materials,” says Hollis. To that point, you won’t find palm fabrics, wicker chairs, or ukuleles in this house. Instead, there are cork accent tables and richly grained wood surfaces, natural-fiber rugs and rough-hewn linens—materials that appear in all of the home's structures in differing degrees. With their variegated finish, sleek basaltina stone countertops evoke the lava fields themselves. “They were looking for elegance, ease, and luxury,” says Hollis of her clients’ minimalist leanings. “The experience of the property from indoors to out and back again is very fluid.”
Indeed, the flow between the various rooms Hollis has created is a reflection of a greater relationship between nature and fabrication. “There is a very modern embrace of materials and textures, a study in contrasts, and an emphasis on the Whites’ family dynamic,” the designer says. “But it was important to create tension between the elemental and elegant.” With her carefully curated concept, Hollis has struck a fine balance, showing deference to an age-old way of life all the while honoring a very contemporary one.