Home: 1+1=Great Renovation

Ever wish you could knock down a wall and take over your neighbor’s apartment? This couple did just that, to stunning effect.

Annexation—it’s a fundamental human impulse. To conquer new territory, expand a personal empire, what could be more fulfilling? And while Genghis Khan-like behavior is generally frowned upon in these civilized times, just about every apartment dweller harbors at least a few Napoleonic urges. Is this a load-bearing wall? we wonder, tapping on the barrier separating us from the neighbor’s apartment. How much better would my place be if it were twice as big?

Joining two adjacent apartments created a long, expansive living room area. On the far wall, a vintage 1960 scroll from Fine Arts Associates.

When an apartment adjacent to their came up for sale, this couple actually answered those tantalizing questions, buying the unit, knocking down the dividing wall and creating one impressively spacious apartment with the newly unified space.

The original apartment was a gem in its own right. Located in the Waikiki Townhouse, a high-rise condominium originally built in 1977 as a hotel, it boasted one of Waikiki ’s least cluttered views, looking out on Diamond Head and the ocean.

Personal touches make this apartment, such as the custom-made Japanese cabinetry, the room divider that incorporates antique cedar doors and the 19th century Japanese scroll that graces the far wall.

The owner we spoke with had fallen in love with the place even before buying it. It had belonged to a friend, Maris Ozolins, a well-regarded set designer and art director from Los Angeles who had made it into a beautiful, unconventional vacation retreat for himself. “The whole place was so well thought out, but in a very understated way,” says the owner. “Maris would have a nondescript little clay pot sitting out, and then you’d find out that it was actually a 12th-century, Han Dynasty relic.”

“I told him, if you ever want to sell this place, I’ll be first in line,” the owner recalls. He got his wish in 2003, when Ozolins sold it to him for $135,000, leasehold. With such an established aesthetic already in place, the new owner changed very little, even going so far as to buy several of Ozolins’ antique furniture pieces and decorations. “It may be Waikiki, but I wasn’t interested in anything with pineapples or palm trees,” he says. “As much as I love the Hawaiian vernacular, one of the key reasons I moved to Hawaii was that it was a stepping stone to Japan.”

And so life was good. Then, in 2005, the adjacent apartment came up for sale. It was about 100 square feet smaller, and cost $100,000 more than the original unit, but the owner and his partner jumped at the chance to buy it. They had a great apartment already, sure, but new lands awaited them, just to their left.

“The whole idea was to leave everything organic and urban and loftlike.”

As the couple was still enamored of the original apartment, the challenge would be to re-create its look in the new space, uniting the two into a seamless whole. “We didn’t want to change the look of the place too much,” says the owner. “The whole idea was to leave everything organic and urban and loftlike.”

The easy part was making the major, structural changes: knocking down the dividing wall, and enclosing the second, mauka lanai, which, because of its location on the windy side of the building, turned out to be practically unusable.


The owners converted the second apartment’s kitchen and lanai into an enclosed dining and buffet area. Notable furnishings include a large 19th century temple lantern and a late Ch’ing Dynasty Chinese bronze incense burner from Shangri La’s Asia Gallery.

Since the owners didn’t need a second kitchen, they took out the appliances and converted the former kitchen/lanai area into an eminently useful dining room. What was once a kitchen counter became a natural spot for placing buffet dishes.

In order to mirror the cabinetry of the original apartment’s kitchen, which had been constructed by a master craftsman in Japan who had since passed away, the owners commissioned Marc Cloney, a local custom woodworker who was able to create convincing replicas.

The owners did leave the second kitchen’s plumbing fixtures, however, hidden behind the new dining room cabinetry. When the building’s condo association approved the project, it did so on the condition that any renovations be reversible, in case future owners wanted to revert back to the original configuration.

The second apartment’s kitchen and lanai areas as they appeared before the owners renovated them.

This requirement also meant preserving the front doors to each apartment, at least the sides visible to the outer hallway. Inside, the owners walled over the original apartment’s door, to reduce visual clutter along the newly lengthened living room. Jokes the owner, “It just means we can hang two wreaths at Christmas time.”

The small details of the remodel were trickier. Re-creating the subtleties of Ozolins’ design gave the owner a renewed appreciation for his friend’s talents. “Not only did he have amazing taste, but he was such a perfectionist. When I repainted the apartment, I found out that he had used eight different shades of white for a 600-square-foot apartment. That’s just the type of eye he had.”

On the lanai, an English Victorian table base with a contemporary concrete top, chairs from Crate & Barrel, and a 1920s French deco concrete planter.

The owner didn’t use all eight whites again, but he did take advantage of several, almost imperceptibly different shades to help visually define different areas of the apartment—a cool gray in the hallway, and stark white as you turn the corner into the living room, for example.

The interplay of whites and almost-whites is really only effective thanks to the larger, neutral color scheme that exists throughout the apartment. The most dramatic element of this scheme is the bare concrete of the ceiling and floor—another Ozolins touch. The idea sounds cold and industrial, but, in fact, the concrete’s texture and color turn out to be surprisingly organic, complete with embedded wood patterns left over from the construction molds.

As the owners continued to remake the new space in the image of the old, they found that it was most often a process of subtraction, rather than addition. “When I think back on the greatest designers, they were the ones who were excellent at paring down, removing the unnecessary,” says the owner. “The famous Pauline de Rothschild, for example, married a baron, and had access to absolutely everything you could imagine, but she lived almost in a monastic way. She constantly edited the world around her, and, by doing so, created beautiful environments.”

The mirror hanging above the guest bed was originally from the old Kahala Hilton. Chair from Mitchell Gold.

Accordingly, the furnishings and decorations that remain in the apartment are treasured and well thought out. The mirrors hanging over the beds in the master and guest bedrooms are vintage pieces taken from the Kahala Hilton Hotel. The Japanese wall hangings are actual centuries-old hand-painted scrolls. “People tell me I’m crazy to keep them out in the open, exposed to sunlight,” the owner says. “But I love having them around.”

A large, wooden mirror frame that the owner designed and built is held together with exposed brass bolts that match the ones in a preexisting cedar room divider of Ozolins’, and cost $37 apiece. “It’s a small detail,” notes the owner, “but so worth it, in a way.”

The master bedroom features a custom headboard designed by previous owner Maris Ozolins and an antique Chinese blackwood chair from Shangri La’s Asia Gallery. Also in photo, the owners’ mini dachshund, Miss Bea.

Even with the renovations complete, the editing process is ongoing. “Like all people, we tend to acquire things, just in the course of life, so it takes a lot of effort to edit, and keep things to a minimum.”

The reward for all the renovation and editing is an expansive residence that manages to feel luxurious and ascetic in equal measures. Even almost doubled in size, the place measures just 1,000 square feet, but it feels much larger, thanks to the heroically wide living room that greets you as you enter the front door. The muted colors and clean lines make the apartment feel like a refuge from the teeming streets of Waikiki.

“Joining the two units really makes the apartment,” says the owner. “It was a neat place already, but when we opened it up and got that wraparound view from the mountains to the ocean, it just made a huge difference. When I go away and then come back, the place still manages to take my breath away when I walk through the front door.”