What is it like to live in a historic Hawaii home?

Homes on the Historic Register are beautiful relics of an older Hawaii, but what are they like to actually live in?

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Old homes might be brimming with character, but they also might have creaky floors and leaky ceilings, or maybe drafty windows and high utility costs. Maintaining a historic home in keeping with its original intent can be costly—and tax credits and incentives only go so far to offset the expense of hiring skilled craftsmen and replacing decades-old elements.

But for many, the appeal of living in a vintage home outweighs any of the disadvantages owners might face—there are more than 250 designated historical residences on Oahu alone. We talked to two historic-home owners who like having their houses listed on the state register, and one who hasn’t yet been convinced to take the plunge.
 



Living in a historic home doesn't necessarily mean forgoing convenience—LeGrande, for example, has had her kitchen renovated with modern appliances.

Photos: Olivier Koning

LINDA LeGRANDE

Lives in: The Ida MacDonald Residence
Address: 2243 Mohala Way, Manoa
Architect: Lewers & Cooke
Style: Craftsman bungalow with Dutch Colonial elements
Built: 1926

Linda LeGrande, a fiscal education secretary for Punahou School, has lived in her historic Manoa home for 35 years.

“It needed love and attention and I just enjoy the aesthetics of an older home,” LeGrande explains. The house had been a rental property for 40 years, with all the wear and tear that entails, but LeGrande’s husband at the time was a restoration contractor, so the couple felt up to the task—especially for this three-bedroom home on Mohala Way. “I’d always wanted to live in a house on a hill,” LeGrande says.

When her home was built, in 1926, Manoa wasn’t as crowded, and owners still had a choice of location. Looking out at the valley from her deck, she says, “It’s like a little respite here.”

For 18 years, LeGrande has served on the board of Malama Manoa, a two-decade-old community organization founded to preserve the architecture and older homes in Manoa, while also protecting the valley’s environment, history and sense of community. “It all works with why I live in this house,” LeGrande says. “It’s sort of a mission of mine to see that we keep many of these houses.”

LeGrande’s home—a Craftsman bungalow—was originally owned by Ida MacDonald, a teacher from Nova Scotia. “It was a very modest home for a school teacher,” she says, pointing out that the shingle-style home’s rooms aren’t very large and the ceilings aren’t particularly high. It belies the common perception of historic homes as grand estates. LeGrande points out that as many as half of the homes on the register, including her own, are valued at less than $1 million.

The home’s exterior is full of character, with features such as complicated patterns, a chimney, dormers and gables. Even before the home was placed on the Hawaii Register of Historic Places, LeGrande kept the exterior intact to preserve a sense of the home and the original intent for which it was built. “I wouldn’t want it any other way,” she says.

Inside, the kitchen has been redone, but that’s the only major change to the structure, LeGrande says. In fact, the kitchen still has a vintage gas stove.

Inside and out, LeGrande’s home is an exercise in reducing, reusing and recycling. “It’s a challenge to not get anything too contemporary,” she says, pointing to her computer as an exception. Otherwise, the art, fixtures and even collectibles are in keeping with the home’s era.

The result is a charming home with a warm, welcoming kitchen and dining area, perfect for entertaining. “I love having my girlfriends over. We just sit and kibitz for hours,” LeGrande says.

She’s salvaged bricks from an old bus station for the garden. She’s made stairs out of old curbs—there’s even some red paint from a no-parking zone. Brackets from another old home in Manoa have been turned into a wine rack. Cabinets and door faces were once in a school in Nuuanu. Even the glass in the kitchen cabinets was salvaged.

“I’m a real scavenger,” LeGrande says. “My life is a treasure hunt.”
 

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