Hillside Modern

A hillside home in Lanikai takes a modernist approach to Island living.


A flat roof and clean lines mark this Lanikai home as a modernist dwelling. Architect Peter Vincent’s remodel kept the home’s essential character (see photo below), while subtly reconfiguring the windows and sliding glass doors and connecting two previous isolated lanai.


What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words a home in Lanikai? If you imagine a cozy, kama‘a-ina-style beachfront cottage, you’d usually be right. But not this time. This month, we look at a recently remodeled house that defies expectations about the way a Lanikai home can look and feel.

The first thing that distinguishes this Lanikai house from most of its neighbors is its location, perched halfway up the bluff behind all the beachfront homes. It is nestled amid a rain forest and rocky outcroppings, a raucous, primeval atmosphere. It also juts out from the hillside, offering an expansive view of the neighborhood below and the turquoise ocean beyond.  This singular location inspired an equally singular residence—a lean, modernist home designed and hand-made in 1970 by its first owner, an architectural designer named Alvin Badenhop.

About a decade ago, Badenhop sold the house to its current owners, who, after living with its idiosyncrasies—not all of them positive—brought in Honolulu architect Peter Vincent to remodel the exterior and major upstairs living areas. “The home had a funky kind of charm that the new owners and I really liked,” recalls Vincent. “We definitely wanted to keep a lot of what was working.” However, some things weren’t working at all, such as the leaky rook, the somewhat irregular plumbing and wiring and an interior that was far too rough-hewn and dark. “The inside reminded me of a Buzz’s Steakhouse,” describes one of the owners.

How did such an eclectic home, so full of pluses and minuses, come about? You could say that Badenhop learned from the master of idiosyncratic residences—he was trained in architectural design at Frank Lloyd Wright’s campus in Arizona, Taliesin West. This influence comes though loud and clear in Badenhop’s Lanikai home. At first, it’s apparent in the home’s spare, modern lines and flat roof, all emphasizing the horizontal. The influence is even more apparent when walking through the home. Badenhop seemed to have really taken to heart Wright’s principles of “organic architecture,” which call for a building to feel as if it sprung naturally from its site.




For example, the physical and spiritual heart of the home is a massive concrete form, roughly pyramid-shaped and filled with large, visible lava rocks that could easily have come from the site. This concrete form rises straight up from the hillside, through the downstairs bedrooms, then up through the second floor living areas, terminating in the greenhouse-enclosed entryway. The entire home seems to project out from this massive structure, as much as it does from the hillside.

Wright’s homes were often centered on such stone anchors, usually, though not in this case, functioning as fireplaces. “This Lanikai home actually had a small, separate fireplace off on the side,” says Vincent, “But we always thought of this concrete structure as the hearth of the home.” (Perhaps not coincidentally, this concrete-and-stone form looks remarkably like the concrete foundations of Taliesin West.)



Living Room, Before and After


Badenhop’s design also has a characteristically Wrightish pattern to its spaces, and the way they unfold as one enters the home: a snug, twisting entryway of stairs leads to a top floor of the home’s most spacious, public spaces, with bedrooms mainly tucked away downstairs. The top floor’s living, dining, kitchen and enclosed länai spaces all flow together, facing the front of the house and its ocean views. The open plan of the top floor lacks conventional walls and doors, the spaces defined more by different floor heights. As a result, the home has a comfortable, indoor/outdoor feel.

Those were the elements the new owners and Vincent wanted to keep and enhance. But there was plenty of work to do. Thirty years of Windward O‘ahu weather had taken its toll on the structure, so much so that the home’s indoor-outdoor feeling had become closer to “living in a rattley tent,” as the owners describe it. The ocean-side länai looked rickety enough to make people nervous about standing on it. The new owners wanted a higher level of material refinement and to brighten all the dark interiors, to better suit their lifestyle (married couple, no kids, he’s  an attorney, she’s an artist).


The spiritual heart of this home is this massive concrete and stone form, probably influenced by similar structures at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, in Arizona.


Vincent also wanted to lighten the interior. In his view, the dark beams, rafters and interior walls were actually working against the home’s otherwise effective indoor-outdoor dynamic. “Physically, in terms of openness and air flow, the indoors and outdoors were very much integrated,” he explains. “But those dark beams, when they were backlit in the daytime, were just visually jarring.” The home’s interior was oddly lost in a daytime gloom, much like when you take a picture of someone indoors against a bright window, only to find that you can’t make out their features in the photo.

In the new interior, all the dark, rough-sawn redwood sheathing that made up the walls and cabinetry has been painted, or replaced with maple. The dark beams and stained redwood rafters have been painted a light color. The interior no longer feels like a cave. The interior paint choice also had a serendipitous consequence. “It’s taupe,” notes the artist owner, with her eye for color, “but all over the house, it picks up different tones.” The taupe walls appear greenish near the mauka windows, bluish toward the ceiling, golden near the länai; colors that change in intensity throughout the day.


The remodel tugged a bit at the open floor plan—enlarging the kitchen, for example, or pushing out the front wall of the living room—but kept its essentials. In fact, this extensive remodel added virtually no new square footage to the modestly sized 2,800-square-foot home. No extensions, no new rooms. The final effect is an interesting blend of architectural approaches: Badenhop channeling Wright’s modernism, plus Vincent’s clean, contemporary approach bringing the home up to date.

The owners still have everything they loved about the home in the first place, and none of what they perceived as drawbacks. “It’s exactly the same,” they say, “just a little more elegant.”


Kitchen, Before and After