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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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Teak flooring and other dark hardwoods give the house an old-world charm.

Photo: Olivier Koning

There are nods to old-world tropical living throughout the house. Ten-foot ceilings give each room a gracious, open feel. Ambrose ditched closets in his bedrooms in lieu of stand-alone wardrobes, and went with open shelving in the kitchen, in order to minimize the number of hiding places for critters. “The last place I was in, all the cupboards were full of cockroaches, spiders, geckos,” he says. “Here, they won’t go inside because it’s all open.”

Other custom additions were more personal, such as a central vacuum system to make cleaning quick and painless. Ambrose even took his dogs into account when designing the staircase. “I used to live in an old pencil factory in Jersey with very steep stairs, and I had to carpet the stairs, because my Scotty would slide and fall all the way down them,” he recalls. “So I made sure these risers were easy and wide enough for a Scotty. It sounds funny, but it’s part of my life.”

Some creative elements of the house came out of Tozier’s efficient engineering. In order to keep the plumbing as simple as possible, for example, he stacked the bathrooms and the kitchen along the mauka wall. At first glance, this killed Ambrose’s hopes of giving each bathroom an ocean view, but they solved the dilemma by installing large windows into each of the shower compartments, giving them a view of both the ocean and the bedroom area. And vice versa. “There’s a little bit of a voyeur aspect to it,” says Ambrose. “I remember these houses on Fire Island [New York] where you could walk by and see people in the shower or in the pool. I like that look.”

The additions raised the cost of the home, of course; the initial budget of $150,000 climbed to roughly half-a-million dollars by the end of the project. But Ambrose says he’s more than happy with how things turned out. “How many times was I going to build this house?” he asks rhetorically. “I’d rather spend the money the first time and have it built right.”

Now that it’s completed, the house looks like absolutely nothing else in the area, and yet it manages to make a tall box of gray corrugated steel and dark hardwood seem perfectly at home overlooking the black lava rock and ocean beside it. Says Ambrose, “I wanted to show that you can use conventional materials in unconventional ways, and do something interesting and beautiful.”            

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Honolulu Magazine December 2017
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