Beach Chic

This Kailua home mixes relaxed oceanfront living with a sophisticated style, making it a resort for two.

Tip:   A cedar shingle roof keeps the house in character with the neighborhood.

Photo by Olivier Koning

Most people lucky enough to score an oceanfront property overlooking Kailua Beach are looking for a house that makes the most of the outdoor lifestyle to be found on one of the world’s premier beaches. The words “casual” and “open” come up a lot, as do “bungalow” and “cottage.”  When this Newport Beach couple bought their Kailua property in 1999, to be closer to the wife’s aging mother, they were looking for some of those same qualities. But they had an additional one to throw into the mix: sophisticated. “We wanted everything to be warm and open and inviting and casual,” says the husband. “But we wanted it to be more than just a beach house. I recall using the word resort-y.” 

After making do for a while with a 50-year-old cottage that had come with the property, the couple decided they’d like something new that could more fully take advantage of the stunning vistas just outside their window. They had heard of Peter Vincent Architects’ reputation for crafting upscale beachfront homes (The last Peter Vincent home written about in this column, in 2005, was a Bali-inspired Lanikai beachfront home) and after inviting Vincent over for an introductory tour of the property, were eager to move forward on their Kailua dream house. 

The architectural team’s solution to the couple’s requests: a plan that included a front courtyard as an integral part of the house, but left out most of the interior walls and corridors in favor of an open format that invited an easy flow between the inside and the outside areas.

Architect Max Guenther says he and the other architects were inspired by the classic home theory of Vladimir Ossipoff. “I had worked with Mr. Ossipoff quite a while ago, and I noticed that in a lot of the houses he designed, you enter the property at some outside fence, and then you’re in,” Guenther explains. “And then it’s all informal. It’s not like New England, where you enter through a foyer and a staircase. Here in Hawaii, there’s not as much of a need for it.”

The front gate acts as the home’s de-facto front door, leading directly into the front courtyard area.

Which is not to say that the entrance to the house hasn’t been carefully planned for maximum impact. In fact, the experience starts out on the driveway, where the old blacktop driveway was ripped up in favor of neatly laid lava stone. “It really sets the tone  when you drive up,” says the husband.

The front gate, an oversize wooden affair that opens easily on a pivot, acts as the home’s de-facto front door, leading directly into the front courtyard area, and offering an almost immediate view of the ocean through the open windows of the house. Guenther says he thinks of the courtyard as the real living room. “This is the heart and soul of the house right here, this outdoor area.”

As such, it’s more carefully manicured than many outdoor gardens. It’s paved, for one thing, to encourage people to use it more often, and the landscaping elements work in an almost sculptural way. The trio of short, fat bottle palms, for example, have a more human scale than would regular coconut trees. “We call them the three amigos,” laughs the husband.

Photo by Olivier Koning

The house bends itself in an L-shape around the courtyard, but the main area, which includes the kitchen, living room and master suite, is as open as structurally possible. “One of the most important concepts of this house is that the courtyard connects to the ocean,” says Guenther. “By opening up the sliding doors, you can sit in the courtyard and have a direct view of the ocean.”


The house is full of modern gems such as the Holly Hunt coffee table, designed by John Houshmand, and the Michael Berman end tables.

Photo by Olivier Koning

Interior designer Jamie Jasina says, “one of the first things the owner told us was that they like a lot of color. They like playfulness.”

Looking into the house from the beach, the entire place appears to be a single room, an elegant layout that actually took quite a bit of time to hash out. The architects and owners spent a year on the design alone, much of it in refining the original sketch, and figuring out the subtleties of social interaction within the spaces.

The custom kitchen island, for example, was carefully angled to allow natural conversation between the cook and someone watching television, or at the dining table, or even in the living room by the fireplace, and at the same time offering up the million-dollar ocean view to each respective position.

Above: A custom-designed concrete countertop fabricated by Lokahi Stone defines the kitchen area.

Tip:  Floating shelves and Venetian plaster give the master bathroom the feel of a spa.

Below: The entire master bedroom is fronted by windows, for a spectacular view of the beach. Black-out shades roll down to give privacy when needed.

Photos by Olivier Koning

Design-wise, the house is full of singular, modern touches. The long main interior space is anchored on both sides by eye-catching, complementary set pieces: The swooping, multisegment poured-concrete kitchen island at one end, and an outsize blocky fireplace at the other.

PVA interior design manager Jamie Jasina says, “One of the first things [the owners] told us was that they like a lot of color. They like playfulness. Our job was to do that in a sophisticated way, without being kitschy.” Wood stains and Venetian plaster finishes helped give areas such as the master bathroom the feel of an upscale spa.

At the same time, the architects were careful not to make anything too tony. The owners’ oft-repeated mantra was, “Not SoHo.”  Natural materials throughout ensure that the place doesn’t lose its beach cottage roots. A cedar shingle roof in favor of a metal standing-seam one, Honduran and African mahogany trim throughout, and a range of natural-grain flooring products, including coconut in the master bedroom—all contribute to a relaxed, friendly feel.


As with any oceanfront project, much thought was put into combating, and even making use of, what is actually a harsh environment. A sophisticated air-conditioning system with an electric reheating unit and ultraviolet filters dries out and disinfects the damp, salty air. Copper trim on the house has quickly turned a pleasing blue-green shade—the designers planned ahead and matched some of the interior color scheme to this anticipated change. But some sacrifices were inevitable; the combination of huge picture windows and the constant salt spray blowing up from the beach requires a diligent schedule of window washing, to head off the buildup of scum.

A sophisticated air-conditioning system with an electric reheating unit and ultraviolet filters dries out and disinfects the damp, salty air.

Another unique concern was ergonomics. “My husband is six foot four, and I’m five foot two,” says the wife, “so we’ve learned over the years that we have different body territories.  He feels comfortable with high ceilings. And then we go into another room and we drop the ceiling, because it’s a little more cozy for me. We’ve learned to compromise in terms of things like that.”

The entire project was substantially completed near the end of last year, after more than three years of work. After spending their first Christmas in the house, the owners are happy to report that the finished product is everything they’d hoped for. It’s destined to be a part-time residence for the time being, but could a beach resort for two work as a year-round home?

 “Boy, it would for me,” enthuses the husband. “I’m so comfortable in that house, because it’s so open and relaxed. It’s just inviting.”       


ARCHITECTSPeter Vincent, AIA (principal in charge), Max Guenther, AIA (project designer), Lupe Zarate, Assoc. AIA (project manager), Yvette Ortega-Garrison
LANDSCAPING: Randall Monaghan
CONTRACTOR: Sutton Construction