When Minnesota’s notorious winter season rears its head and temperatures begin to drop below zero, many snowbirds find themselves fleeing to more forgiving climates. While coastal states like California and Florida are always popular choices when it comes to choosing where to build warm-weather nests, the island of Hawaii is a less common (but no less dreamy!) locale. So, when local interior designer Lisa Peck was approached by a previous client to design the interiors of the new vacation home they were building on the Big Island, she was thrilled.
“We had worked with the clients before on their home here in Minnesota; we did a fairly large kitchen remodel and ended up creating a wine room as well,” explains Peck, owner and principal designer of Minneapolis-based LiLu Interiors. “We had a good working relationship, so it was a fun opportunity to collaborate again.”
The client had been working with a local Hawaii-based architect, Craig Monaghan, who also has a mainland office in Oregon, to design a 7,500-square-foot vacation home and retreat that would cater to their entire family—which includes four grown adult children, their spouses, and a dozen grandchildren. “They all love getting together with the entire extended family, with all the cousins, nieces, and nephews,” Peck says, “so the main goal of the project was about creating that perfect space where everyone could enjoy each other’s company and enjoy nature in a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere.”
While the vibrant scenery and sweeping ocean views are, of course, the main attraction, the entire house was designed to support what the locals refer to as “Big Island life,” with plenty of public areas perfect for congregating in large groups along with cozier, private spaces for guests to escape to when needed. A main building, surrounded by four separate living quarters, acts as the central heart of the home, and is outfitted with everything one would find at a luxury beachfront resort, including an exercise room, billiards room, and wine room.
“All the main services you would want are located in that building: the kitchen, living room, dining room, laundry,” Peck explains. “The house is really more of a compound; it was very thoughtfully designed in a way [that is] common in warmer climates, where the bedrooms are in individual little outbuildings or casitas.”
Colors and materials were chosen for both functionality and to reference Hawaiian life, from the ocean-inspired color palettes to the generous use of the island’s dark lava rock and native wood, koa, for custom-built furnishings and mahogany for cabinetry and millwork.
“We thought a lot about the Big Island and its landscapes—it’s one of the most diverse places on earth in terms of all the little microclimates there—and we really wanted to put an emphasis on those unique local materials,” Peck says. “The mahogany wood and lava rock are both staples of island construction, so we made sure to use a lot of it.”
While the beautiful mahogany wood can be found throughout the entire estate, it’s particularly prevalent in the main building, where the vaulted ceiling’s exposed beams and plentiful kitchen cabinetry make a striking statement. In the kitchen, a mosaic tile backsplash of hazy blues and greens creates a refreshing contrast to the warm wood, as does the fishhook-shaped island’s countertop of Lemurian Blue granite.
“The client is a consummate cook and fisherman, and really wanted the island to be in the shape of a traditional Hawaiian fishhook,” says Peck, who expertly managed to fit both a prep sink and refrigerator drawers into the curved layout. “Figuring out how to arrange it so the cooktop faced the ocean while still having all the equipment nearby and easily accessible was a fun challenge, as was the custom acacia paneling with the seaweed design that wraps around the great room.”
Like many vacation homes situated in gorgeous tropical settings, the outdoor spaces are characterized by the incredible waterfront views. However, this one is enhanced by the addition of a 60-foot sliding pocket door that opens up the entire main building to the outdoors. When retracted, the kitchen, dining, and living areas all naturally flow out to the expansive pool deck, which is paved with the same porcelain material as the flooring inside to further blur the boundaries between indoors and out. In the same spirit, finishes and furnishings were specifically selected to accommodate bare feet and wet swimsuits, such as the enormous A. Rudin sectional in the living room that features indoor-outdoor, performance-friendly fabric. “We wanted to design everything with the mindset that you could get right out of the pool and step on anything, sit on anything, and not have to worry about it,” Peck says.
When it comes to the individual living quarters, eight bedrooms (including two bunk rooms for the grandchildren to enjoy sleepovers) can easily accommodate the entire family. Each building also features its own bathroom, outdoor shower, and playful references to Hawaiian life, from airy fans that keep fresh breezes circulating to whimsical watercolors and tropical tile motifs.
“One building was designed to be like its own little standalone resort—larger, with a kitchenette, and located closest to the pool and outdoor kitchen—so a single family, friends, or business associates can stay there even if the clients themselves aren’t there,” Peck says.
The private outdoor showers made of lava rock were built by talented local artisans, as were several hardworking furniture pieces such as bed frames and console tables. Cynthia Davis, a local artist who specializes in glass etching and sandblasting, designed the doors that close the exercise room off from the rest of the great room, and the intricate sea turtle mosaic tile designs found on the bottom of the infinity pool—Peck’s own favorite element—are the work of Gupton Gallery’s Alex Gupton, another talented Hawaiian artist.
“It was so fun digging into new artisans we hadn’t worked with before and being able to leverage those creative talents,” Peck says. “For the pool mosaics, we chose a marlin because it’s the client’s favorite deep-sea fish, and the mama sea turtle and two little ones to honor the children and grandchildren.”
Finishing touches include accessories sourced from local shops around the island, and treasured heirlooms collected from the client’s travels around the world are the perfect way of making the family’s new vacation home feel like, well, home. “The clients are firm believers in ‘Ohana mau loa,’ which translates to ‘Family forever,’” Peck says. “Most of our clients value that connection to family, but this project in particular put such an emphasis on it. Everything was very intentionally done to create deeper connections with family members, and the results really speak for themselves.”