Edit ModuleShow Tags

Castle in the Sky

For a busy single mom, this Hokua penthouse apartment has become the ideal home—after a few tweaks, of course.


(page 2 of 2)




A large pool area looks out over Ala Moana Beach Park.

photo: courtesy of the kobayashi group

Of course, having found the perfect apartment, the first order of business was to rip everything out and start fresh. You might think that a multi-million dollar penthouse would come lavishly appointed with the finest interior finishes, but, in fact, Hokua’s developers left the units relatively bare-bones: white carpeting, plain white walls, metal door frames. At this price point, customization is expected.

The owner’s realtor, Maria Hsu, hooked her up with architect Richard Peterson, who specializes in high-end redesigns. After touring the place, Peterson decided that job No. 1 was toning down the white-on-white color scheme. The huge windows offered an amazing view, but they also let in a blinding amount of light; the white walls only accentuated the glare.

A simple paint job wouldn’t do. “We just went for it,” says Peterson. “We gutted the place—except for the kitchen—tore out all the doors, the door frames, the carpet, the baseboards. We basically took it back down to an empty concrete box.”

Left: Brazilian cherry wood flooring and an eclectic mix of furniture enliven a formerly stark bedroom. Right: The master bedroom as it originally appeared.

photos: hal lum, courtesy of richard peterson


Peterson then filled the unit with darker, warmer colors: African mahogany paneling in the central hallway, Brazilian cherry wood flooring through most of the apartment, rich gold walls in the living room. “The actual building itself is very contemporary,” he says. “We took those contemporary lines and softened them into something a little more traditional. We wanted high-end without being glitzy.”

Peterson says that it was a good thing the fundamental layout of the place required little to no tweaking, because modern high-rise construction technologies don’t leave much flexibility for extensive reworking under the surface.

“The floors in here are only six inches thick; it’s the tensioned steel cables running through them that gives them their strength,” he says. “In the older condos, the floors are a foot thick, and we could drill into them without worrying, we could move electrical and plumbing. I did a place at the Wailana at Waikiki, which was built in the ’60s or ’70s, and everything was made of hugely thick concrete. We completely redid the master bathroom area, because we were able to chip down into the concrete and move the plumbing. In these new buildings, you can’t do that.”




What a difference— Richard Peterson created a welcoming entranceway using African mahogany for the paneling, the doors and the trim. Hand-made Italian glass sconces give the hallway a warm glow.
INSET: The apartment as it originally appeared.

photo: hal lum.
inset: courtesy of richard peterson

In fact, Peterson was limited to drilling five-eighths of an inch into the floor, only enough for tasks such as anchoring the draperies. Any more would have required expensive X-rays to avoid hitting the hidden steel cables.

As a result, the master bathroom got fewer changes than most of the other rooms, although the owner plans to replace the shower area’s travertine walls with a marble mosaic.

When it came to furnishings, the owner decided to pursue an “East meets West” philosophy, pairing hand-painted Asian pieces with elegant Victorian ones. None of the furniture is part of a matched set; the owner aimed for an eclectic, comfortable feel. “I didn’t want a showroom,” she says. “I wanted my daughter to be able to actually sit on the couch and watch TV. It’s important to be practical.”

For the owner’s walk-in closet, Peterson created a custom shelving system, designed to her specific wardrobe needs, using African mahogany to mirror the paneling in the hallway. “I like to take one material and run it throughout the design of a place,” he says.

The entire renovation took about four months, and cost $400,000, which sounds like a lot until you take into account the initial purchase price: $3 million.

The owner moved into the apartment in October 2006, and she says living in the heart of urban Honolulu has been all that she had hoped for. Her daughter’s school is just minutes away, as are her own downtown meetings, and all the diversions of Ward Center are right at their doorstep. “I couldn’t be happier,” she says. “We can walk to the movies, walk to the mall—everything is walkable.” And the area continues to fill with new, cool stuff; the owner is particularly looking forward to the opening of Whole Foods in 2008.

For many of her needs, she doesn’t have to leave Hokua at all. The condominium boasts a fully equipped gym, a large pool area, a dog park, tennis courts and open-air cabanas with Wolf grills for outdoor barbecues. “My daughter’s favorite feature is the playground,” the owner says. “And the staff here is awesome. They know we live here by ourselves, so they really look out for us. They have dry cleaning service, so I just drop it off downstairs and they’ll deliver it right to my apartment.”

Above: Hokua’s posh lobby features artwork by local artists such as sculptor John Koga.

photos: courtesy of the kobayashi group


There’s even a feeling of community at Hokua, with an active social committee and special events for residents. “There are a lot of well-known people who live here, and I think because of that, it’s like everyone knows everyone else in the building,” says the owner. “It’s like a big family. It’s a nice feeling.”

Everything she needs is right in Kakaako. Does she ever regret not getting a traditional house for her daughter to grow up in? Not at all, she says. “Usually, when you live in a condo, the kids don’t have a yard to play in. But we have Ala Moana Beach Park right in front of us, so really, she’s not missing out on anything.”



Automated roll-down bamboo shades from Castec help block out the morning sun. The hand-tufted Marilyn sofa from Randolph and Hein is the comfiest seat in the house.

photo: hal lum




Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Subscribe to Honolulu

Honolulu Magazine May 2020
Edit ModuleShow Tags



9 Greatest Honolulu Homes

Great Homes

Stunning, historic, extraordinary.


Can the Mainland Do Poke Right? Do We Want Them To?​


Martha Cheng, author of The Poke Cookbook and former line cook, talks about how a New York City publisher decided Hawai‘i’s favorite pūpū was for everybody.


50 Essential Hawai‘i Books You Should Read in Your Lifetime


The most iconic, trenchant and irresistible island books, as voted by a panel of literary community luminaries.


Everything You Need to Know About Local Fruit in Hawai‘i


Fruits are part of our history and culture, a way for us to feel connected to our community.


A Local’s Guide to Buying Reef-Safe Sunscreen


Five Hawai‘i brands have created reef-safe sunscreens that are safe for your ʻohana and the ocean. 

Edit ModuleShow Tags