This Hawaii holiday home strikes a delicate balance between two opposing forces in nature.
Along a rugged stretch of coastline in Kona, a sunny district on Hawaii Island, a family’s holiday home perches on a mountainside of lava rock, fronted by the dramatic vistas of the Pacific Ocean. On the mountain side, dark lava formations conjure up a dramatic backdrop; on the other, the close proximity to the turquoise oceanfront makes one feel as if they are standing on the edge of the earth.
“We needed to manipulate the site so the buildings would blend in with the landscape, while providing a graceful and multi-layered experience from mountain to sea,” says Greg Warner, the principal of Walker Warner Architects.
The design team envisaged a calm and contemplative vacation retreat for the homeowners to host their family and guests. At the Kua Bay Residence, a name derived from the namesake it’s overlooking, the rooms and spaces unfold as a series of curated experiences and are designed in such a way that the land and sea seamlessly transition into one another.
It’s a concept that perhaps best embodies the spirit of “Mauka-Makai”. In native Hawaiian language, “mauka” means “towards the mountain”, whereas “makai” means “towards the sea”; together the phrase denotes the symbolic flow of lava and water from the mountain to the vast ocean.
Journeying through the home begins with a private driveway pierced into a dramatic 15 foot- high lava rock formation. When the design team visited the site, they discovered the entry drive and much of the building site was carved 10 feet down into the lava bed. This surprising feature hides the ocean from view upon arrival, but offers a unique view of the remaining rock formations.
“While most people want to build the house up to get a view, we actually dug down to embed the building. You don’t see the house next door because you’re below it. You’re kind of in your own world here,” Warner says.
The driveway leads to a sunken car park with a garage, hidden from the rest of the property by decorative corten steel panels that also conceal a small guest house. Cloaked by a green roof, the guest house blends into the lava rocks which tower over it.
“The roof is clad in lava rock and native grasses, further referencing the house’s surroundings,” Warner explains.
Large windows from the guest house’s bedroom suite display a small mountain- facing terrace with a private outdoor shower. The terrace takes the form of a rocky grotto with a reflective water feature designed to mimic molten lava.
For Warner, his favourite part of the project was the composition of the three buildings and the spatial presence of the courtyard.
Towards the house’s main volume, an elevated courtyard runs alongside more reflective pools. It’s a private gathering spot for guests to immerse in the panoply of nature. Parallel to the other side of the courtyard are a cluster of lush trees and an expansive lawn, at the end of which, the oceanic panorama is revealed through the floor-to-ceiling glass doors.
The geographical context also has a profound influence on the materials used. “The goal was to conceive a house so versatile you can sit around in a wet bathing suit and later attend an elegant chef-prepared dinner – all in the same room,” says Nicole Hollis, founder of NICOLEHOLLIS, the award-winning firm at the helm of the interior design.
Taking a contemporary minimalist approach, the light-coloured Alaskan yellow cedar contrasts with darker basalt and steel to form the residence’s main volume.
Inside, the interior, approximating 9,000 square-feet, is filled with similarly light, neutral and casual furnishings to offset the darker surroundings, leaning towards light-coloured sofas and chairs to counter the dark lava and basalt. Ample sunlight washes the interior in warmth and comfort, endowing dynamism into the space.
Starting with an entrance tucked into rustic lava rock, the traverse culminates in a sweeping view of the deep blue sea: at a terrace bedecked with intimate outdoor gathering spaces, the pool seemingly merges with the vast Pacific Ocean beyond. There, the water becomes a canvas as the shadows change patterns throughout the day. Kahoʻolawe, the smallest of Hawaii’s eight main volcanic islands, appears to float on the horizon.
The co-existence of the volcanic landscape and expansive views of the Pacific Ocean is one of the many things etched into the memories of those who have set foot on the Hawaii Island. By curating a sequence of serene spaces inspired by the two elemental forces, the design team has created a true home away from home, where the mountain meets the sea, and the lava meets the water.