Builder’s Delight

Kawika Dowsett builds luxury homes for a living. But when it came time to create a place of his own, he went for simple, open and Island-style.

Kawika Dowsett is a North Shore kind of guy. His father worked at Dillingham Ranch, and Dowsett spent his high school years in Kahuku, surfing and enjoying the relaxed pace of life. He’s even been able to find a way to make a living in the area: building custom luxury homes along the North Shore with his contracting business, Imagine Development. He does so much work building homes costing $750,000 to $3 million in places such as Laie, Shark’s Cove and Pupukea that he rarely ventures into urban Honolulu.

Kawika Dowsett and son Koamalu relax outside their Waialua home.

“The surf is definitely a big part of why I’m living here,” says Dowsett. “Doing work you love and being able to do it in this area has been a blessing.”

When it came time in 2002 for him to build a place of his own, then, it made perfect sense to settle in Waialua, just minutes from the beach. Although he could have easily done something over the top, Dowsett wanted something simple, that reflected his surf lifestyle. “A lot of people, when they have money, they just want to go off,” says Dowsett. “All the fanciest finishes, all of the modern conveniences, automation systems, the whole nine yards. But I didn’t need that for my own place. I just wanted a comfortable, open, family home, that was affordable for us to build.”

Dowsett also wanted the experience of creating a home for himself, from the ground up. He drew up the plans for the structure himself, a sturdy, four-bedroom, three-bathroom post-and-beam construction that proudly shows off the inner workings of the house. And then he erected the house in whatever spare time he could find, with the help of a few workers from his Imagine Development crew—carpenter Mike Daley and laborers Douglas and Filipo Franco.

(left) Massive Douglas fir timbers define this living room space. Sakamoto book shelf from Bali Moon. (right) A broad lanai makes for easy entertaining. Pictured: Amazon lounge chair, coconut-inlay coffee table and Indian and Thai dining sets, all from Bali Moon.

All in all, construction took a year and a half. In the meantime, Dowsett and his family actually lived at the job site, five people crammed into a 780-square-foot cottage that Dowsett built in preparation for his main project.


Dowsett’s post-and-beam construction shows off its connecting hardware. The bracket at the top had to be custom-fabricated.

Part of Dowsett’s DIY approach was practicality—doing his own work dramatically lowered the total cost of the house. But he says he also relished the process of creation. “We took our time, because I wanted to build it with my own hands. I wanted something that nobody else had,” he says.

He certainly got that. It’s apparent, walking through the front door, that the place is a celebration of the rough beauty of home construction. Metal joining brackets have been left exposed, rafter tails have been routered and capped with copper.

The real stars of the house are the eight huge 14-by-14-inch timber columns from which the entire house is cantilevered. Instead of settling for more common glue-lam beams, which are composed of many small bits of wood glued together into a larger whole, Dowsett went with the real deal: kiln-dried, FOHC Douglas fir lumber. (“FOHC” stands for “free of heart center,” meaning the lumber is taken from the sides of the tree, and not the center heartwood, which can be prone to checking or cracking.) In a domestic setting, the effect of single pieces of wood too thick to wrap your arms completely around is impressive.

Materials such as these command a premium, of course—Dowsett estimates that post-and-beam construction can double the cost of a home, compared with a more conventional stick-frame method. It’s not just material costs, either. Dowsett’s 14-by-14-inch beams were so heavy they needed to be moved into place with a crane. “My company has one, fortunately, so I brought that home on the weekends to get the work done,” says Dowsett.

But the difficulties and cost of post-and-beam construction paid off handsomely, in the form of a nicely open layout, one that’s enhanced by a simple and dramatic roofline.

“A lot of architects think that the more hips and valleys and angles they can cram in, the better a roof will look. I disagree,” he says. “There has to be a balance.”

Dowsett added many thoughtful touches thoughout the house, such as these windowpanes above the entrance to the staircase, tinted for privacy.

Apart from a single dormer, the roof drops in a straightforward slope to low-hanging, eight-foot eaves that protect from the hot Waialua sun. Working with a roofline like this made for some interesting design challenges, as the inside spaces had to conform to the ceiling, instead of the other way around. “Every room has a different ceiling,” Dowsett points out. “You’re always aware of where you are within the house.”

The first-level areas weren’t much of a problem; the open-beam layout gave the living room a lofty, cathedral feeling, and allowed for a 12-foot ceiling in the kitchen. But fitting a second-floor master bedroom and bathroom into the space where the roof peaked turned out to be a trickier task. Dowsett’s elegant solution involves a space-efficient open-air shower area next to the bedroom, and his-and-her walk-in closets that make the most of the edge area, where the ceiling slopes down to the floor.


Downstairs, the kitchen has been given the best view in the house, with a large window looking directly out at the Waianae Mountains. In fact, Dowsett oriented the entire house due north on the lot, for just this purpose. He says, “When I first positioned the house, people asked me, ‘How come your house is crooked?’ I believe that the kitchen is the heart of a house, and I always wanted to give the best view to that area. I set this kitchen window big and cut the eaves back, just in this section, so I can see the tip of the mountain.”

The kitchen is a focal point of the house, with rich Brazilian cherry wood flooring and cabinetry, and a large picture window looking out on the Waianae Mountains. In the right-hand corner, a buffet made from recycled teak, by Bali Moon.

When it came to the interior design, Dowsett took inspiration from Indonesia, staining the posts and beams to a dark, rich shade, and complementing the wood tones with a colorful scheme of oranges and reds. The floors and the kitchen cabinetry are Brazilian cherry wood and the kitchen is tiled with river-washed granite.

In order to make the most of all this, Dowsett installed more than 200 dimmable light fixtures throughout the house, both inside and outside, making it possible to customize almost every room to fit the occasion. “It’s so nice to walk into the kitchen after dinner, and there’s just a soft glow in the kitchen,” he says.

The Dowsett’s master bedroom fits cozily under the peak of the roof. Pictured: Nemo lamp, shag leather carpet, flat-screen TV console with coconut inlay, all from Bali Moon.

The lights also throw attention onto beloved pieces of art, and brighten up the high-ceilinged areas. “When you have an open-beamed home, and you’ve got this cavernous space up there, you need to properly light it, or else you really lose a lot of the effect of having that space,” Dowsett says. “It’s important to illuminate the canopy.”

To that end, he placed PAR (Parabolic Aluminized Reflector) lights, more commonly used for stage lighting in the theater, above each rafter, to throw light all the way up to the ridge beam, and also under the eaves, to cast a warm glow over the exterior of the house.

In the end, Dowsett was able to complete the house for under $300,000, significantly less than its current value. Of course, the work is far from over—Dowsett is finishing the landscaping around the house, and prepping the back half of his 2-acre property for projects that will maintain its agricultural zoning designation. In the works: a greenhouse and a small plumeria farm.

But he is definitely enjoying the results of his labor. Gesturing about the living room, he says, “When I sit here at night, I always look up and have little memories about when I was sanding that bracket, or bolting that nut right there. It’s such a good feeling to know that I drew up the plans, poured the foundation, picked out the finishes, the windows, everything in this house, I did. It’s truly our home.”

Kitchen cabinetry: Eric Forgerson of Creative Cabinets

Bali Moon furnishings: recycled teak buffet, $1,825; Amazon lounge chair, $595; coconut inlay coffee table, $595; Indian and Thai dining sets, $58; Sakamoto book shelf, $1,195; Nemo lamp, $165; shag leather carpet, $225; flat-screen TV console with coconut inlay, $1,275.