Bali Hale

A Lanikai home avoids the blue-roof McMansion syndrome, with natural materials, exotic hardwoods and not too much house.
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The makai yard looks directly out on beautiful Lanikai Beach. photos by Linny Morris

Back in the 1930s, when it was first developed, Lanikai was a rustic beach community of small cottages. As property values have shot up, though, the neighborhood has turned into more of a mini-Kahala Avenue, with more than its fair share of lot-filling, columned mansions.

Bill Gheen bought a beachfront Lanikai lot in 2001, but wanted something different. Originally from California, he moved to O’ahu seven years ago for the weather and the natural environment. When it came time to build his home, Gheen wanted to take advantage of his surroundings, not shut them out. "I didn’t want it to be this standout, bizarre, ugly thing on the street, with a bright blue roof or something," he says. "I didn’t want a huge, white palace. I wanted something that would blend into the location, something more natural."

His partnership with Peter Vincent and Associates, then, was a good fit. Architect Peter Vincent, AIA, says he’s been championing a return to the simple, beach-friendly architecture of the ’30s. "We try to design Lanikai homes that are closer to that original cottage aesthetic. Upscale, and commensurate with the value of the property, of course, but keeping that smaller, more neighborly feel."

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Use of stained hardwoods for exterior elements such as the doors and column enclosures can be high-maintenance, but, given the owner’s habit of spending a lot of time out in the yard, is well worth it.

To achieve a mix of natural and upscale, Gheen and Vincent decided to go with a Balinese- and Hawaiian-inspired design for the house. In the course of traveling through Asia, Gheen had become a big fan of Indonesian art and architecture, and had picked up quite a few pieces of artwork, as well as a unique aesthetic. "I’ve always loved natural materials: wood, stone. I like looking at stuff that’s not totally factory made and refined," Gheen says.

He walked into Vincent’s offices with a rough sketch of his dream house. Joey Marshall, AIA, who led the design project, says the biggest challenge was fitting Gheen’s vision onto the 11,193-square-foot lot. "I think Bill’s original plans included one more bedroom than what’s there now. He wanted a lot more yard, and a big pool. He wanted something that would fit on a lot twice the size. So it was a balancing act, giving him the right amount of yard, the right amount of house, making it all work together."

Marshall and Gheen worked together for a year on the design, tweaking, compromising, perfecting. In the tug-of-war between house and yard, Gheen placed more priority on the latter, and so decided on only three bedrooms, including the guest house over the garage, and few extraneous rooms. No dedicated workout room, for example, and only a small plunge pool and hot tub. The house, at 5,181 square feet, including la-nais, takes up less than half the lot.

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Exotic hardwoods such as kwila, African mahogany and cumaru enrich the color palette of the master bedroom. A vaulted ceiling and windows on three sides keep the room from getting too dark.

What Gheen got in return for his restraint was space: two expansive yards, one on each side of the house, and a broad corridor connecting the two. Not only do they look great, they’ve allowed Gheen and his family to be outside more. "Sometimes it’s too windy to even be on the ocean side, so we can do something on the other lawn, move the barbecue from one side to the other, depending on where the best weather is," he says.

The house itself is a rich, colorful place, filled with tropical materials and exotic hardwoods. Kwila, a tropical hardwood found throughout Southeast Asia, is used throughout the house for doors, windows and interior trim work, as is stained African mahogany. Flooring of cumaru, a durable Brazilian hardwood, graces the second floor.

With so much dark wood, there’s always the danger of turning a home into a murky steakhouse. Marshall avoided any oppressive feel by contrasting the kwila and mahogany with light-colored walls and pale Italian travertine flooring on the ground level. Upstairs, vaulted ceilings and large windows brighten everything with natural light, and connect each room to the outside, for a more open feel. Almost every room has at least a little ocean view. "It actually is a pretty big house, but you don’t get that sense when you’re inside," Marshall says. "We were somewhat restricted with regard to the windows, because Lanikai can be very windy, but we wanted to keep that openness," she says.

Reds and yellows in the interior furnishings complement the hardwoods’ deep colors, and give a luxurious ambience to each room, as does the Indonesian art scattered though the house.

Since Gheen works mostly from home, Marshall designed a spacious and well-appointed home office facing the ocean. A secret door affords direct access to the master bathroom from the office; no more inconvenient trek through the master bedroom.

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left: The owner’s eclectic art collection and love of bright colors make the living room an inviting hang-out.

right: Dark woods can dominate a room, but large picture windows, light-colored walls and Italian travertine flooring all keep this space bright and open.

Gheen’s passion for natural-wood finishes did come at a price, in the form of additional maintenance. Ocean-front living is grand, but the constant ocean breezes wreak havoc on all exposed surfaces. "Periodically, we have to wipe down the entire front of the house. It’s like a large piece of furniture, really, and you have to keep the salt spray off of it. We’ve had to re-varnish and re-trim [parts of the makai side of the house] about two or three times since we’ve been here. I knew from the start, though, that it was going to be a high-maintenance job."

Gheen says little moments make all the effort worthwhile–relaxing in the plunge pool with the ocean clearly in sight, or walking out onto the master bedroom’s lanai first thing in the morning to take in the view. "I don’t know how well the house would fit other people’s lifestyles, but it’s worked really well for us," he says. "When we were designing the house, I wasn’t thinking about reselling the house. I wanted to fit the house to our needs, do the basics right."

Home Details

Architect: Peter Vincent and Associates, 524-8255

Interior Design: Peter Vincent and Associates
Contractor: The Renovators, 239-2100.