Beach Chic

This Kailua home mixes relaxed oceanfront living with a sophisticated style, making it a resort for two.


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Tip:   A cedar shingle roof keeps the house in character with the neighborhood.

Photo by Olivier Koning

Most people lucky enough to score an oceanfront property overlooking Kailua Beach are looking for a house that makes the most of the outdoor lifestyle to be found on one of the world’s premier beaches. The words “casual” and “open” come up a lot, as do “bungalow” and “cottage.”  When this Newport Beach couple bought their Kailua property in 1999, to be closer to the wife’s aging mother, they were looking for some of those same qualities. But they had an additional one to throw into the mix: sophisticated. “We wanted everything to be warm and open and inviting and casual,” says the husband. “But we wanted it to be more than just a beach house. I recall using the word resort-y.” 

After making do for a while with a 50-year-old cottage that had come with the property, the couple decided they’d like something new that could more fully take advantage of the stunning vistas just outside their window. They had heard of Peter Vincent Architects’ reputation for crafting upscale beachfront homes (The last Peter Vincent home written about in this column, in 2005, was a Bali-inspired Lanikai beachfront home) and after inviting Vincent over for an introductory tour of the property, were eager to move forward on their Kailua dream house. 

The architectural team’s solution to the couple’s requests: a plan that included a front courtyard as an integral part of the house, but left out most of the interior walls and corridors in favor of an open format that invited an easy flow between the inside and the outside areas.

Architect Max Guenther says he and the other architects were inspired by the classic home theory of Vladimir Ossipoff. “I had worked with Mr. Ossipoff quite a while ago, and I noticed that in a lot of the houses he designed, you enter the property at some outside fence, and then you’re in,” Guenther explains. “And then it’s all informal. It’s not like New England, where you enter through a foyer and a staircase. Here in Hawaii, there’s not as much of a need for it.”

The front gate acts as the home's de-facto front door, leading directly into the front courtyard area.

Which is not to say that the entrance to the house hasn’t been carefully planned for maximum impact. In fact, the experience starts out on the driveway, where the old blacktop driveway was ripped up in favor of neatly laid lava stone. “It really sets the tone  when you drive up,” says the husband.

The front gate, an oversize wooden affair that opens easily on a pivot, acts as the home’s de-facto front door, leading directly into the front courtyard area, and offering an almost immediate view of the ocean through the open windows of the house. Guenther says he thinks of the courtyard as the real living room. “This is the heart and soul of the house right here, this outdoor area.”

As such, it’s more carefully manicured than many outdoor gardens. It’s paved, for one thing, to encourage people to use it more often, and the landscaping elements work in an almost sculptural way. The trio of short, fat bottle palms, for example, have a more human scale than would regular coconut trees. “We call them the three amigos,” laughs the husband.

Photo by Olivier Koning

The house bends itself in an L-shape around the courtyard, but the main area, which includes the kitchen, living room and master suite, is as open as structurally possible. “One of the most important concepts of this house is that the courtyard connects to the ocean,” says Guenther. “By opening up the sliding doors, you can sit in the courtyard and have a direct view of the ocean.”

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