At Home with the Sea

1963

Story by Jennifer Aly  |  Photography by Steve Brinkman  |  Tropical Light Photography

Wailea Maui homeAs I walk through the wooden gate, a sigh escapes me. I’ve entered an oasis of tropical foliage, and follow a river-rock path that flows like a stream toward the home. Mike, my host, stands in the courtyard beside tall, wood-framed glass doors. As we step inside, his wife, Becky, warmly greets me.

So does the sea. The living room opens to a wide view of Maui’s southern shore, a few palm trees silhouetted against the ocean and a bright azure sky. That view, that next-to-the-water proximity, brought Mike and Becky to this place a decade ago.

She grew up on the beaches of Georgia and Florida. He grew up in the snowy Midwest, watching the television series Adventures in Paradise and dreaming of the South Pacific. In 1998, after coming to Maui for years for business and pleasure, they moved here for good.

“We bought a house in Wailea Kai, and enjoyed it,” says Mike. But what they wanted was a home on the beach, where Mike could swim in the ocean every day, paddle his one-man canoe, and enjoy long, leisurely walks along the beach with Becky. The couple’s three children are equally avid about the water. Their daughter won a swimming scholarship to UCLA; both sons were All-American water-polo players.

“But finding a true beachfront property on Maui, close to resort activities, is hard to do,” says Mike. Eventually he and Becky found a property on a gorgeous Wailea beach, with a house that had been built before regulations required a sizeable shoreline setback.

Begun in the 1950s, and added onto haphazardly over the years, the old house was deteriorating; after three years of trying to reinforce it, Mike and Becky decided to rebuild. They turned to Durwin Kiyabu and Clayton Nishikawa of Architectural Design & Construction, Inc. Their wish list: an open floor plan that would make it easy to go between home and the beach, and materials that required very little maintenance.

“We wanted a house that was both an elegant house and a beach house,” says Mike. “That was the difficult thing, to achieve that contradiction.”

“Difficult” turned out to be beautifully doable; in 2005 the home received an honor award from the Maui Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. “This home combines environmental spatial elegance, refined detailing, and careful planning for indoor-outdoor island living,” wrote the jurors, who also commended the two-story, linear floor plan’s intelligent use of the relatively deep and narrow lot.

Kitchen, dining room, living room, lanai—the main living areas flow together and look out over the ocean. Upstairs, the master suite and a guest room have deep, sheltered decks with glass railings, managing to provide both privacy and unobstructed ocean views (and occasional sightings of spouting whales). Downstairs, large, sliding windows and eleven-foot-high sliding doors create an expansive sense of openness, while generous overhangs shade the lanai, creating a welcoming space to linger.

It’s also part of an energy-efficient design that incorporates natural ventilation; concrete roof tile, insulated walls and attic to deflect the heat of the South Maui sun; and individual concrete pads in the drive court and entry that minimize storm runoff.

That same combination of practicality and aesthetics helped Mike and Becky achieve the easy-to-care-for elegance they wanted in a home. Persis Hataria, of Ahura Designs, lent her expertise to the interior design, working with Becky to select surfaces of marble, granite and teak. Each bathroom has a different, distinctive countertop, from rainforest marble, to fossil stone. It was Becky who decided the kitchen should be open, “since I’m in there a lot,” she says. She chose quartzite counters for their indestructibility, louvered teak cabinets, and windows that provide every workstation with an ocean or garden view.

The children are grown and gone now, but with five bedrooms, plus an exercise room and an office/den that can be pressed into duty as additional guest quarters, there’s more than enough space for family reunions. Most mealtimes, you’ll find everyone seated around the large wooden table Mike and Becky keep on the lanai, a souvenir from the original home.

“It’s also a given,” says Becky, “that every day we’ll watch the sunset.”

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