This west Maui dwelling owes its design to the elemental attraction of water.
At the top of Kapalua, in the West Maui Mountains, JoRene and Gunars Valkirs have carved out a slice of paradise. Their spacious residence has a full-time cook, a serious garden (with a devoted agricultural assistant), three rescued dogs and a haughty feline who reigns over the entire operation.
The path to creating their dream home started years ago, before Gunars and his partner sold the company they cofounded.
“We had been visiting Maui for years, for a week or two at a time,” Gunar recalls. “One year we rented a house in Kapalua and stayed for a month.”
“While watching the kite surfers in Oneloa Bay, Gunars got the notion he could live here,” adds JoRene. “When he said ‘I’d like to try that someday,’ I knew he was hooked.”
A few years later the couple purchased a three-and-a-half-acre lot in Kapalua’s Honolua Ridge; a few years after that, they began working on the place they now call home.
“We had a large property in San Diego,” Gunars explains, “so we wanted acreage. Honolua Ridge was one of the few places within a resort [on Maui] where you could get that.”
The pair hired Rick Ryniak to design their home. Before starting the plans, the Maui architect flew to San Diego and stayed with the couple for a long weekend.
“I was able to see how the Valkirs lived and learn what was important to them. They showed me pictures of a home whose pool was tucked inside the U-shape of the building. Water and their relationship to water were important,” says Ryniak.
“There’s nothing in this house that we sacrificed for resale value. A lot of people build with that in mind, but we have no intention of selling this house,” Gunars tells me.
The result of building a home entirely on their own terms is one of the most appealing estates on Maui, a haven whose quiet is laced with birdsong and lit by afternoon rainbows.
Enter the estate through the iron-and-glass butterfly gate designed by Dale Evers, and notice how the sky is mirrored in reflection pools on either side of a walkway that leads to a broad, covered lanai connecting the home’s two main structures. Beyond the lanai, an infinity-edge swimming pool creates the illusion of spilling into the sea. Below the house is a grassy plateau where the Valkirs dogs love to romp. An expansive garden, Gunars’s passion and pastime since retiring, completes the estate.
“We grow everything from seed in the greenhouse,” he says. “The tall grasses around the garden form a natural barrier to erosion and pests. That particular variety grows roots five feet down into the soil. This way we can keep the garden all natural.”
The home was designed as two separate living areas, one for guests, the other to accommodate the couple’s daily life. Massive glass walls retract to allow the outside in so effortlessly that it’s easy to lose track of where the house ends and the natural environment begins.
To enable such seamlessness, Ryniak designed the home without intruding columns. Rather than being built from the ground up, the house hangs from an unseen steel I-beam superstructure that allows the broadest possible ocean vista.
The guest quarters’ two bedrooms each have en suite baths and individually controlled entertainment and media options; an electronics center hidden in the heart of the house allows access to thousands of tunes and movies with the flip of a switch. A breakfast nook lets visitors power up in their private quarters whenever they like.
“We have a lot of guests, sometimes for weeks at a time,” says JoRene. “We want them to feel at ease and not worry about intruding.”
A separate entertainment room in the guest wing features sumptuous furnishings and decor, including prized artwork collected from the couple’s journeys to Africa.
Around the corner is JoRene’s art-and-craft room, where she creates pastel portraits and jewelry. Next door to that is the workout room, which is decorated with old family photos, some in original frames, including one of Gunars and his brother when they were young boys.
“This wall is a montage of snapshots from life’s minor and great moments,” Gunars says. “Kathy Merrill, our interior designer, suggested doing this and we thought it a great idea.”
The house rambles across the property on a single level, avoiding dark corners and hallways through the use of transition areas whose glass walls look out onto landscape features or works of art.
The great room opens to an ocean vista that stretches from Lana‘i to the far edge of Moloka‘i. Hidden behind the kitchen, the wine cellar/pantry features “his” (Chef Riko’s), “hers” (JoRene’s) and “the sommelier’s” (Gunars’s) sections.
“Riko’s area is much more organized than mine,” JoRene admits.
Despite the great room’s size, the Valkirs were keen on maintaining a feeling of coziness and warmth, while preserving the view. Architect Ryniak accomplished this feat by varying the ceiling heights, creating curved surfaces that both define and bring fluid continuity to the kitchen, living and dining rooms.
A curved hall leads to the couple’s master bedroom, which they happily share with canine family members and a big old fluffy cat. Handcrafted cabinets provide an entire wall of storage. The closet is practically the size of an off-Broadway stage; one of JoRene’s visiting friends, a ballerina, tour jete’d her way across the space!
A pastel portrait of their formidable feline, painted by JoRene, hangs above her vanity. It recalls the day the couple rescued her in Escondido, California.
“We had to bottle-feed her for five weeks. She terrorized us for the first six years of her life. I have scars from this cat,” JoRene laughs. Now the thirteen-year-old cat lounges nearly camouflaged on Venetian marble behind her owners’ ocean-view bath. Although the dogs get the lion’s share of their owners’ attention, hers is the only portrait that graces the walls of the couple’s home.
“Zara! Zara!” the couple call out in unison as the youngest, newest member of the family runs outside after snatching a rubber slipper from the closet. “I see you out there in the mud!” Gunars chides.
“This is why we have tile floors throughout the house,” JoRene laughs.
Setting, decor and attention to detail make the Valkirs’ house a standout, but it’s the owners’ sense of humor and aloha spirit that make it so livable and inviting.