One to Watch: Hawai‘i Architect Deirdre Stearns

For this stylish local architect, the best designs are bold, beautiful and about making the world a better place.
Dierdre Stearns


One of the best parts of our job is getting to meet stylish, kick-ass local women with cool, creative jobs. Case in point, architect-on-the-rise Deirdre Stearns, whose love of clean lines extends from a wardrobe of sharp pencil skirts and slim-cut trousers to modern, sophisticated designs she dreams up for Architects Hawai‘i Ltd.


The Seattle native first earned her stripes in L.A. and Amsterdam, putting her slant on commercial real estate around the world. Since moving to the Islands, she’s tackled major projects for Royal Hawaiian Center and Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa. Currently, she’s leaving her mark on Mana‘olana Place, the buzzy new Mandarin Oriental tower set to hit the Honolulu skyline in 2021, and on the next generation of architects as vice chair of AIA Honolulu’s Emerging Professionals Committee.


Manaolana Place


StyleList: What first sparked your interest in architecture?

Deidre Stearns: My dad—he used to drive me around Seattle to show me different types of buildings. I spent considerable time in my childhood designing my dream home, too.


SL: How would you describe your design aesthetic?

DS: Modern sophisticated lines, strong forms and volumes, and pops of color. I love the juxtaposition of different forms, color, materials and texture. On a macro level I believe the best designs are influenced by your surroundings and the history of a place but that influence can be developed in a new and modern way.


SL: Tell us a little about your background.

DS: I’m a licensed architect in Hawai‘i and California. I first moved to the Islands with my parents and brother in 2001 to attend UH Mānoa’s school of architecture, from which I earned my doctor of architecture degree. After graduating I moved to L.A., where I spent more than seven years working on commercial retail projects domestically and internationally.


I also spent a year working in Amsterdam being influenced every day by European designers, away from my car, getting everywhere on my Dutch bike! It was a defining moment in my life both personally and professionally. During my time in L.A. and Amsterdam I worked on projects in Southern California, New York, Canada, Russia, China and Thailand. I returned to Hawai‘i with my husband and daughter in 2016 because I always wanted my daughter to grow up here.


SL: In what ways did your time in Europe influence your design style?

DS: I learned that creating fun and unique environments is equally as important as how a space functions. I also learned not to avoid unusual materials and intense colors just because they could be outdated someday. Successful design can be bold and timeless.


Dierdre Stearns


SL: Where do you seek inspiration?

DS: Dezeen Magazine for all things design. It’s a globally minded magazine that also has a great website of content for all things architecture, interiors, furniture, industrial design and fashion. I also love Pinterest for all forms of inspiration. I started sewing a year ago and I love to make and build things for my 2-year-old daughter.


SL: How would you describe your personal style?

DS: I like simple cuts and patterns with unique details. I do wear a lot of black (like the typical architect) but have tried to embrace more color since moving to the Islands.


SL: Any favorite fashion brands/designers?

DS: I love G-Star—I fell in love with that brand when living in Amsterdam. It has the best jeans. I don’t follow a specific designer but I love when I find a well-made item with unique details from Zara that feels so modern and unique. 


SL: Are there any parallels between fashion design and architecture that you enjoy?

DS: Form and function. Architecture is most effective when the details enhance our designs and raise the quality level of a space. I think fashion is similar in that way. Small well-thought-out details can enhance how you feel wearing something.


SL: What have been some of your favorite Hawai‘i projects?

DS: The Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa guest room renovation was my first hospitality project at AHL. Our interior design department put together a design for the more than 500 guest rooms that embraced the specific Hawaiian history of the site in a very modern but timeless way with clean lines and pops of color. I worked on completing the design development and construction documents to show how the design could be modified to accommodate all the different room types. The property is one of the most beautiful areas of Maui and this refresh really opens up and modernizes the guest experience.


Sheraton Maui
Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa


SL: The Mandarin Oriental seems like such an exciting project! Can you tell us about the work you’re doing for it?

DS: AHL is the Architect of Record for the project, which is set for completion in 2021. I’m a part of the design development team that is responsible for finalizing the design details. This 36-story tower will be the largest project I’ve worked on in Hawai‘i so far. It’s exciting to have an impact on the Honolulu skyline.


SL: You’ve been lauded by your peers for being incredibly supportive of up-and-coming architects. How does your role as vice chair of AIA Honolulu’s Emerging Professional Committee play into that?

DS: The Honolulu chapter of AIA is the most community-oriented and supportive chapter that I’ve ever had the pleasure to be a part of. It can offer newly licensed and soon-to-be licensed architects so much in terms of education, information, community interaction and just plain camaraderie with other architects. As a member of its board of directors and vice chair of the Emerging Professionals Committee my hope is that I can help empower my generation and the next generation of architects here in Hawai‘i.


SL: What do you love most about your work?

DS: I love how my job is constantly changing depending on the scale and phase of the project that I am working on. Sometimes I am purely doing design work, and sometimes the work is extremely technical in nature. I am constantly learning! I also appreciate that my work contributes to environments that people will enjoy, hopefully making the world a better place one project at a time.