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World Beat

A Manoa home combines mystery, art and environmental sensitivity.


Within moments of meeting with Nancy Peacock, AIA, ASID, it's obvious that this Manoa home represents a personal best for the architect and interior designer. For one thing, she's excited to show a couple of plaques-the home scored big in the 2002 Design Awards of the Honolulu Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. It won the year's top prize, an award of excellence, for its overall design. It also took the sustainability award for its environmental sensibilities, in the first year that the AIA-Honolulu Chapter ever gave an award for sustainability.
The owners’ new home wraps around an existing monkey pod tree, a sensitivity typical of this design. The house even conserves the rain water that runs off the roof into a water tank, then uses it to irrigate the yard. Photos: Linny Morris Cunningham

But she's more excited to pore over the photos and plans, explaining how this home incorporates everything she thinks is important about Island architecture. "This project is very relevant in Hawai'i," she says. "It shows what you can do with a new house in an old neighborhood. It shows that you can be very sophisticated, fitting into the texture of the neighborhood, without copying it exactly."

It even shows that a home can have two entirely different faces.

The living room has been designed around this Javanese Muslim house façade. Built into the very structure of the house, it is softly lit from behind so that, at night, its delicate grillwork glows.

Some background. The owners are empty-nesters, with an extensive collection of arts and crafts from Southeast Asia, South America, Mexico and Europe. Originally, they had only intended to renovate their Manoa home, turning it into a living gallery of their art. However, closer inspection revealed that the house could not be saved. "It's not my desire to ever tear houses down, but this one was falling down," recalls Peacock.

One way this home evokes mystery is its use of screens and transparency. A grille at the end of the home’s deep la-nai reveals the old tree the house was built around.

They decided to build a new home on the footprint of the old, keeping its low, horizontal proportions. The tear-down was conducted carefully, to save an old monkey pod tree. "I think we had to take off one branch, but that was all," says Peacock. In fact, the new home is practically wrapped around this tree, its canopy sheltering the roof.

The home's exterior would take after a 1970s carport and pottery studio attached to the old house, with an earthy, dark, rough-sawn redwood exterior, and deep la-nai running like an arcade down the back. It was Peacock who suggested that they not take this dark, arty look all the way around the home but instead, do the public, street side in a light colored board-and-batten treatment.

"That's what the surrounding neighborhood is like, with a lot of 1920s board-and-batten construction," says Peacock. The owners were skeptical, at first. The board and batten of the original home had left them convinced it would be a maintenance headache. And, of course, it struck them as odd not to have the front of the house match the back.

"I told them they'd hardly see it," laughs Peacock. "I was really adamant that I wanted this side of the house to be in harmony with the neighborhood and not look like it just came down from Mars, which is what happens a lot around here."

Adjustable louvered bi-fold doors separate the master bedroom from an adjoining library.

Ultimately, they went for it. "They trusted me enough to try it and ended up loving it."

This home may wear its civic sensitivity on its sleeve. Less obvious, but running even deeper in its design, are its environmental sensitivities, the touches that earned it the AIA's sustainability award. For example, the entire roof is a water collection system, gathering the frequent Manoa rains into a 1,500-gallon rainwater catchment tank tucked under the home's long la-nai. This water is reused to irrigate the landscaping.

The home goes easy on energy costs, too. It reuses an existing solar water system. Many of the new appliances-stove, clothes dryer, backup water heater-are gas. And the home requires no air conditioning, designed to keep cool naturally. The old monkey pod helps, shading the home. It's also designed to take advantage of the trade winds, with large, operable windows and folding glass doors. Throughout the home, wooden grilles that Peacock designed let air move about freely while screening one room from another.

The lanai has the proportions of a long living room, one without an exterior wall all down one side. But at its windward end, the la-nai is sheltered and shaded by this wall, with an Asian-inspired grille in the gable and windows that can thwart a Manoa squall while still letting in a breeze.

"The screen detail is part of the Asian aesthetic of the home, giving some visual interest," says Peacock. "But environmentally, this house is really Hawaiian, it's not Southeast Asian. In Bali, for example, they don't have a lot of wind, while we have a phenomenal amount of wind. You have to shelter a Hawai'i house from those trade winds. This house takes advantage of the trade winds, but can be shut down when the storms come."

Of course, if it were just environmentally conscious and politely integrated into its neighborhood, this house probably wouldn't have earned so much notice. It also has a strong sense of style, one that's more mysterious than the typical Island home, where the usual Tropical Pretty aesthetic rules. This feeling of mystery seems channeled by the architect from the homeowner's collection of art and architectural details from around the world.

"They have an aesthetic that I would describe as very earthy, very artistic," says Peacock. When client and architect both have such strong personal styles, how does Peacock begin? What is her creative process? It starts with just listening. "You take in millions of little tidbits of information and you try to holistically recompose it all so it starts to look like a building," she explains. "It's listening and integrating, until it emerges as a little freehand sketch. In the beginning, the client provides all the information, then I start providing information."

Peacock starts with a floor plan, drawing them big and including every end table, chest, cabinet and chair, so the clients can understand the scale. "If I can put in the pieces and show them that they all fit, they start to feel comfortable.

This home has two faces. Its private face is dark, lean and modern, dominated by a long arcade of a la-nai facing the back yard. The public face, however, presents white board-and-batten walls to the world, harmonizing with the surrounding neighborhood of older Manoa homes.

"One of the biggest mistakes people make is they make their rooms too big," says Peacock. "Everyone thinks bigger is better, but it's often not, it's not intimate and it's hard to furnish."

The home has high ceilings, but plenty of intimacy. It is basically a one-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath house. At times, the owners' art and Peacock's architecture are literally one and the same. "At the focal point in the living room, I needed something very dramatic at the end of the wall and the client at first didn't really have anything that would live up to the caliber of what I needed," she says. "We were able to locate this Javanese, Muslim house façade, and buy it while I was still in the design process. Then I was able to design it seamlessly into the end of the living room. And this thing is there forever."

Built solidly into the living room wall, the façade is also lit softly from behind, so that, at night, its delicate screens glow.

This home needs no air conditioning, its ventilation perfectly suited to Hawai‘i’s climate. Woven bamboo in the ceiling and the Balinese temple door (at left) connecting the living room to a secluded galley kitchen speak to the owner’s interest in Southeast Asia.

In the bathroom, another artifact of the site's original home still serves the homeowners-a footed tub, the only fixture kept from the torn-down house. Now it's joined by Spanish tile, with an intricate Moorish pattern, something the owners collected in Europe and saved for just this purpose.

Two Balinese temple doors also grace the home, one serving as the main entry, the other connecting the living room to the galley kitchen. (In a time of great rooms and vast, open kitchens visible from the living room, this house seems almost a throwback to another time-its narrow galley kitchen is just big enough to accommodate one serious cook, just the way the homeowner wanted it.)

Finally, the home fits the owners' lifestyle as much as it does their aesthetic sense. A la-nai that is every bit as deep and substantial as any living room lines the private, backyard side of the house. In shadow and packed with décor from Mexico and Central and South America, this la-nai merges the owners' ideals with Peacock's ideas for how to shade and shelter the home to best suit its climate. From the street, one would never guess that this house also presented such a romantically moody aspect.

That, of course, is by design.

Peacock on Exhibit

Architect and interior designer Nancy Peacock is one of three artists featured in an exhibit opening this month at The Contemporary Museum, titled “Designer Drawings.” Her site plans, floor plans and elevation drawings for a recent Lanikai Beach cottage will be displayed. The exhibit also includes gouache renderings of textile designs by Emma Jewell Howard and Annette Kemp.

Designer Drawings
Nov. 2, 2004, to Jan. 23, 2005
The Contemporary Museum Café
2411 Makiki Heights Drive

Home Details

Architect and interior designer:
Nancy Peacock, AIA, ASID
General contractor: Richardson Construction
Structural engineering:
Hayes Structural Design

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Honolulu Magazine May 2018
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