Story by Diane Haynes Woodburn | Photography by Jose Morales
“All of our married lives, we lived in the manager’s home provided by the plantation,” explains Fatima Cameron, “so when we began looking for a home of our own, we were already spoiled.”
I am at Fatima’s kitchen table, visiting with her as she puts the finishing touches on a dish for tonight’s dinner party. The home is warm and comfortable, with furnishings reflecting generations of island living. One would think she has lived in this house for most of her life. And yet, it wasn’t until her husband, Dick Cameron, retired from his position as plantation manager for Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company that a home of their own became necessary.
Originally from the Azores, Fatima is of diminutive frame, yet possesses a dazzling spirit and effortless charm. Confident and decisive, she is also a woman who clearly knows what she wants. The couple looked at many properties, but none had the magic combination of seclusion, beautiful gardens, and proximity to town that Fatima wanted. When their realtor suggested this Upcountry property, she turned down the opportunity to view it—three times. “I knew the property, and I really didn’t want to see it. There was nothing here. Just a little house, no landscaping, a few eucalyptus . . . just nothing.”
When finally she agreed to see it, “I saw potential,” she smiles. The home was small, but had a big living room. “That was my major concern, because we entertain a lot. And, of course, there is the piano.” A gift from Dick’s grandfather to his mother in 1915, the cherished Chickering heirloom required a generous setting, which this living room clearly could provide. The house had good bones: high ceilings, an inviting fireplace, and a gorgeous view. “I was very impressed with the land [4.25 acres], and it had the right feeling. I called my husband immediately.” The next day the Camerons brought their architect, Tim Farrington, to the site—and submitted their offer the following day. After eight months of major renovation, the unremarkable little house was transformed into a comfortable country home.
The country design was inspired by the original living room, which Farrington kept, complete with vintage French doors that opened to pastures and an expansive ocean view. He expounded on the theme by adding two wings: a kitchen and formal dining room on one side, a library and three bedrooms on the other. He incorporated a covered lanai; accessible from both the living and dining rooms, it’s perfect for entertaining. He also had French doors reproduced for the new dining room, right down to the same hardware. Today those doors open to lush gardens for which the home has become renowned.
But a home is not complete without a great kitchen. The renovation did away with the original interiors, including an adjoining laundry room. The addition of a generous bay window takes advantage of the garden view, and provides a comfortable and cheerful space for a kitchen table. The cooktop is built into a central island. This allows Fatima to enjoy her garden view—and engage with guests who invariably gather around the kitchen table.
The kitchen and adjoining pantry (remember the laundry room?) are walled with floor-to-ceiling maple cabinets, many with glass fronts. “It makes it more cozy. I practically live in the kitchen; I cook, I have my computer here, I read the paper. I want it to be warm.”
And it is. Light streams in from the bay window, brightening the small vase of roses on the table. Outside, agapanthuses, roses, hydrangeas and tropical rhododendrons strike a happy mix of color. A few steps beyond lead to an upper lawn whose rock walls add texture, depth, and something more. “The gardens were designed by Hunton Conrad,” Fatima explains. “He added the rock walls to remind me of my home in the Azores.” Like Hawai‘i, the Azores are volcanic islands. “Everywhere,” she motions with a sweeping gesture, “in the mountains, in the towns—there are rock walls overgrown with wildflowers, mostly hydrangea and dahlias.” Fatima dashes into the library to find a book about her girlhood home.
I follow her into a reader’s paradise. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves hold a treasure trove of books and memorabilia. A comfy sofa hugs the fireplace. A game table awaits players. Many of the books are from Dick’s childhood, including rare editions from old Hawai‘i. Dick’s family came to the Islands in 1919, after World War I. “There was nothing left in Scotland after the war,” Dick explains. “My father emigrated to the Big Island to work for Theo H. Davies.” He tells me that so many Scots emigrated to Hawai‘i that the area in which they settled became known as ‘the Hamakua Coast of Scotland.’”
The Camerons are consummate hosts, entertaining eight to ten dinner guests at least twice a month. The large formal dining room flows seamlessly from the living room, and is accessible from the kitchen. The distinctive hand-carved dining set, circa 1800, is a point of pride for Fatima. It belonged to her grandmother and was brought here from Portugal when her mother’s home was closed. Many of the china pieces on display are from Dick’s family; some are over 100 years old.
This is truly a country home: warm, welcoming and filled with garden views. Works by Hawai‘i’s finest artists grace the walls, along with sentimental treasures from Portugal, Brazil, the Philippines and many other ports of interest the couple has visited throughout the years. I am fascinated with the history, the art . . . and the aroma of Spanish spices coming from the kitchen.
Fatima is checking on her ragout of pork Catalan. The evening’s guests have begun to arrive. While some join Fatima in the kitchen, others gather outside to enjoy the temperate air, crisp conversation and the promise of a gorgeous sunset. “Join us on the lanai,” Dick suggests. “Cocktails are served.”