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A House Divided

With a boxy, corrugated exterior and an interior filled with rich, imported teak, this Puna home splits the difference between clean modernism and old-world warmth.


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Thanks to a large picture window, even the master bathroom's shower stall is a room with a view.

Photo: Olivier Koning

Inside, the layout of the house has been kept very simple; the central staircase bisects the house into two wings, and each level of each wing functions relatively independently. The second floor, for example, keeps the kitchen/living room area on one side, and the study on the other. “It’s a straight box with an orderly arrangement of spaces,” says Tozier. “That makes it seem very Old World, in a way.”

“When I have guests, I can lock up my bedroom and my office, and they have the whole rest of the space to use,” Ambrose says.

The separate areas also lend themselves to his preferred mode of entertaining. “When I’ve had parties, you’ll find smaller groupings of people throughout each of these spaces. There’s no one large space for everyone to congregate in. I like to circulate.”

Palimanan tiling remains cool underfoot, making it perfect for the sunny outdoor lanai.

Photo: Olivier Koning


Had it been up to Tozier, the interior of the house would have followed in the stripped-down spirit of the exterior. But Ambrose wanted to incorporate some of the colonial elements of the architecture he had seen abroad in the course of his travels. “I love modern design, but I don’t think modernism works as well right by the sea, if you’re using traditional modernist materials like metal, which rusts. I wanted wood.”

Indonesian hardwoods, specifically, such as merbau and teak. Ambrose had friends in Indonesia who helped him find sources of raw timber and manufacturers who could fabricate window hardware, doors and furniture at much lower prices than he could get in Hawaii. Even the central staircase was constructed in Indonesia, and shipped back to Hawaii in large sections.

And so Ambrose filled the place with dark, dramatic woods, everything from the flooring to the custom window hardware to the furniture, much of which he designed himself. While the mauka side of the house is cool, spare and streamlined, the makai side is warm with natural textures, and dominated by windows and doors that can be thrown open to invite the ocean breezes in. “The combination of materials just felt like they would work together,” says Ambrose. “I’ve lived in colonial countries, and loved the way they do tropical architecture. Transom windows, French and bi-fold doors. There’s just a simple elegance to it.”

Almost everything in this kitchen and dining area was custom designed and then fabricated in Indonesia, from the furniture to the window hardware.

Photo: Olivier Koning

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Honolulu Magazine April 2018
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