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Builder’s Delight

Kawika Dowsett builds luxury homes for a living. But when it came time to create a place of his own, he went for simple, open and Island-style.


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Dowsett’s post-and-beam construction shows off its connecting hardware. The bracket at the top had to be custom-fabricated.

Part of Dowsett’s DIY approach was practicality—doing his own work dramatically lowered the total cost of the house. But he says he also relished the process of creation. “We took our time, because I wanted to build it with my own hands. I wanted something that nobody else had,” he says.

He certainly got that. It’s apparent, walking through the front door, that the place is a celebration of the rough beauty of home construction. Metal joining brackets have been left exposed, rafter tails have been routered and capped with copper.

The real stars of the house are the eight huge 14-by-14-inch timber columns from which the entire house is cantilevered. Instead of settling for more common glue-lam beams, which are composed of many small bits of wood glued together into a larger whole, Dowsett went with the real deal: kiln-dried, FOHC Douglas fir lumber. (“FOHC” stands for “free of heart center,” meaning the lumber is taken from the sides of the tree, and not the center heartwood, which can be prone to checking or cracking.) In a domestic setting, the effect of single pieces of wood too thick to wrap your arms completely around is impressive.

Materials such as these command a premium, of course—Dowsett estimates that post-and-beam construction can double the cost of a home, compared with a more conventional stick-frame method. It’s not just material costs, either. Dowsett’s 14-by-14-inch beams were so heavy they needed to be moved into place with a crane. “My company has one, fortunately, so I brought that home on the weekends to get the work done,” says Dowsett.

But the difficulties and cost of post-and-beam construction paid off handsomely, in the form of a nicely open layout, one that’s enhanced by a simple and dramatic roofline.

“A lot of architects think that the more hips and valleys and angles they can cram in, the better a roof will look. I disagree,” he says. “There has to be a balance.”

Dowsett added many thoughtful touches thoughout the house, such as these windowpanes above the entrance to the staircase, tinted for privacy.

Apart from a single dormer, the roof drops in a straightforward slope to low-hanging, eight-foot eaves that protect from the hot Waialua sun. Working with a roofline like this made for some interesting design challenges, as the inside spaces had to conform to the ceiling, instead of the other way around. “Every room has a different ceiling,” Dowsett points out. “You’re always aware of where you are within the house.”

The first-level areas weren’t much of a problem; the open-beam layout gave the living room a lofty, cathedral feeling, and allowed for a 12-foot ceiling in the kitchen. But fitting a second-floor master bedroom and bathroom into the space where the roof peaked turned out to be a trickier task. Dowsett’s elegant solution involves a space-efficient open-air shower area next to the bedroom, and his-and-her walk-in closets that make the most of the edge area, where the ceiling slopes down to the floor.

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Honolulu Magazine November 2017
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