Tour a Michael S. Smith-designed home on Hawaii’s Kona Coast
After 20 years, the views from the Kona Coast remain spectacular. It was the interior of the house that needed a refresh. That was the confession an elegant couple, well-travelled art collectors, shared with interior designer Michael S. Smith about their 2001 Kailua-Kona exhibit originally designed by San Francisco architect Sandy Walker.
“It was still a beautiful house, but a bit like a beautiful tailored suit made for someone else,” Smith says Conditions. The designer with couturier flair knew how to correct the fit. He would, like any Obama White House graduate, begin with history, of the area itself and that of its colorful residents over the years. There was, of course, Shangri La, which Doris Duke conjured up after her travels in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, and also Geoffrey Beene’s modernist oasis in Honolulu.
“Hawaii is so sophisticated,” says Smith. “There is extraordinary architecture from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s that has always inspired me, the result of all these rich cultures coming together. Some homes in Honolulu look like they could be in New England. I wanted to incorporate all of that into this project.”
Echoing this clash of sensibilities, Smith assembled treasures from Thai antique dealers alongside newly commissioned works by contemporary decorative artists. The juxtaposition of these finds in the 7,000 square meters of the house became his signature. This was not supposed to be a summer beach cottage, but a place where the couple gathered for vacation with their children. “It shouldn’t be about a tiki bar and a sweeping ocean view,” says Smith. “Not that there’s anything wrong with either of them.”
Instead, 18th-century Japanese folding screens lined collectible rooms, including a coffee table by Rose Tarlow, a custom-made tree branch chandelier by David Wiseman, and Chinese Art Deco rugs, all surrounded by rich teak walls. In fact, the material turned out to be a continuous phantom thread.
“The teak creates this beautiful box to display these different pieces, creating an immersive experience,” says Smith. He asked Californian artist Maria Trimbell to also paint the ceilings in teak and gild them with Japanese-inspired cherry blossoms and cloud swirls, like those you might see in traditional lacquers and textiles. Potted plants throughout invite the outside in, gently blurring the boundaries of the four lanai-style bedrooms that seem to float above the pool, one of the largest on the Big Island.
“It’s hard to tell where the pool ends and the ocean begins,” says Smith. The bedroom wing is so close to the water that you can step into a movie scene from the main suite. Smith had exactly that in mind. “I have this romantic notion that if you photograph a house in black and white, it should look like it was 40 years ago or 10 years from now,” he says. “It should be cinema quality.” A timelessness, in other words. In this patch of land the Beach Boys once dubbed “Island Mecca”…garden paradise in the South Seas, this is a natural resource in wondrous abundance.
This story appears in the April 2022 issue of City Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW
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