Paradise Found: A Minimal, Modern Home in Hawaii

Designer Nicole Hollis balances nature and contemporary style in this chic family home.

For a family with personal ties to Hawaii's Kona coast, designer Nicole Hollis created a series of open pavilions inspired by traditional Hawaiian architecture.
For a family with personal ties to Hawaii's Kona coast, designer Nicole Hollis created a series of open pavilions inspired by traditional Hawaiian architecture.

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.

Paradise Found: A Minimal, Modern Home in Hawaii
A bowl of lychee adds a colorful burst in the home's neutral kitchen. Basaltina stone countertops and puka lava–tile flooring channel the lava fields on which the houses were built. A chandelier by artist Michele Oka Doner was inspired by native kiawe branches. An angular pair of armchairs lend contemporary style to the natural setting in the living room.
A bowl of lychee adds a colorful burst in the home's neutral kitchen. Basaltina stone countertops and puka lava–tile flooring channel the lava fields on which the houses were built. A chandelier by artist Michele Oka Doner was inspired by native kiawe branches. An angular pair of armchairs lend contemporary style to the natural setting in the living room.

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.”

Paradise Found: A Minimal, Modern Home in Hawaii
Dark-stained wood lends moody contrast in the master bedroom. As elsewhere, a dual vanity in the adjoining bathroom remains open to the elements. An outdoor soaking tub gains privacy thanks to an inconspicuous lava-stone wall that's tucked into the landscape. Natural textures define an understated kids room.
Dark-stained wood lends moody contrast in the master bedroom. As elsewhere, a dual vanity in the adjoining bathroom remains open to the elements. An outdoor soaking tub gains privacy thanks to an inconspicuous lava-stone wall that's tucked into the landscape. Natural textures define an understated kids room.

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.”

A guest bedroom features cerulean accents that channel the sea. Coral-block walls and richly grained wood combine in an elegant guest bathroom. Hollis commissioned a renowned surfboard maker to create a dining table using traditional methods. Cozy texture adds warmth and breaks up the home's neutral color palette.
A guest bedroom features cerulean accents that channel the sea. Coral-block walls and richly grained wood combine in an elegant guest bathroom. Hollis commissioned a renowned surfboard maker to create a dining table using traditional methods. Cozy texture adds warmth and breaks up the home's neutral color palette.

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.

Streamlined furnishings create a seamless transition between indoor spaces and outdoor areas.
Streamlined furnishings create a seamless transition between indoor spaces and outdoor areas.
A series of stone pathways connect each of the 10,000-square-foot home's discrete structures.
A series of stone pathways connect each of the 10,000-square-foot home's discrete structures.
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