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Back to the Future

When this couple found an aging mid-century modern house in Kahala, they didn’t tear it down—they lovingly updated it. Turns out the 1950s are looking better than ever.


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Entertaining is a snap with this large passthrough between the kitchen and the lanai area.

Photo by: Hal Lum

In one sense, Kahala is one of Oahu’s most fertile sources of custom residential architecture. Many of its well-to-do residents pursue interesting, new architect-designed homes. But the neighborhood’s high median income also makes it prone to McMansions—those glitzy, blue-roofed, dolphin-gated, hermetically sealed palaces that could just as well have been built in San Diego or Scottsdale.

These outsize newcomers are even more noticeable in a neighborhood that originally developed in the 1950s and ’60s under tight strictures from landowner Bishop Estate. Back then, leasehold provisions specified single-story homes, 25-foot setbacks from the street and 12-foot setbacks from each of the properties’ side borders. This ensured a cohesive feel for Kahala, and guided the sleek modern style being developed by influential Hawaii architects such as Vladimir Ossipoff, Ernie Hara and Frank Haines.

The bathrooms in this house aren't as large as in many modern Kahala homes, but the exposed ceilings manage to give each room an expansive feel.

Photo by: Hal Lum

As leasehold Kahala properties converted to fee simple, the restrictions disappeared, opening the door for larger visions of luxury, but many still look back fondly on the mid-century modern look that once defined Kahala.

When Bill and Cindy Jarvis moved to Hawaii from Berkeley Hills, Calif., four years ago, they were looking for just that kind of 1950s ranch-style home. “I knew I wanted something single-story, with a horizontal, relaxed feel,” says Cindy. “Something that reminded me of my aunties’ and uncles’ houses when I would visit here as a child.”

Furthermore, they wanted the real thing, not a newly minted facsimile. The object of their search turned out to be harder than they expected to find—Cindy recalls investigating more than 80 homes—but when they walked into this Kahala house, it was obvious that they had found what they were looking for. “We instantly fell in love with it,” she says. “We didn’t even see the whole house, we just had this reaction to it.”

As it turned out, the house had a great pedigree—it had been designed and owned by noted Hawaii architect Frank Haines (Coincidentally, we recently spoke to Haines for our December issue in connection with the work he did for the new edition of Architecture in Hawaii.).

The house, completed in 1956, was a great example of the kind of low-profile, cleanly designed residential work Haines did in the 1950s before he turned his attention primarily to commercial architecture as a partner of local firm Architects Hawaii. As a bonus, the structure was in reasonably good shape; not too much termite damage, and recently re-roofed to boot.

The bones of the place were great, but the Jarvises did want to reconfigure and modernize it. Haines had expanded the house over the years to accommodate his growing family, and Bill and Cindy needed something that would more closely suit their life as a couple.

Walking through the front door leads directly into this covered lanai area—true indoor/outdoor living.

Photo by: Hal Lum


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Honolulu Magazine January 2019
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