Story by Heidi Pool | Photography by John Giordani and courtesy of Eddie Takayesu and Andaz Maui
Thirty years ago, master woodworker Eddie Takayesu dreamed of creating high-end furniture in his garage in Kula. “But when I had kids, things changed,” he recalls. “People weren’t knocking on my door, asking me to make $20,000 tables. But they were willing to invest in custom cabinetry for their kitchens.”
This epiphany prompted Eddie to found Maui Custom Woodworks. At first he worked on location. “I’d bring my table saw and craft the components right inside the home,” he says. “But the houses kept getting larger, with the same time frames for completion, and this method soon became impractical.” So Eddie switched gears — leasing a small shop and delivering finished cabinetry for installation at the building site.
Nowadays, Eddie employs twenty crackerjack tradespeople at his 12,000-square-foot production facility in Kahului. Like the maestro of a symphony orchestra, Eddie conducts as many as six different jobs in various stages of production. And oh, the harmonious pieces Eddie’s crew creates with instruments like miter saws, planers, and sanders.
“My shop is one huge assembly line,” Eddie says, “from staff members who translate conceptual designs into drawings; to those who do handwork, assemblies, and finishes; to the ones who pack up the completed cabinetry in shipping containers.”
Although the rheumatoid arthritis he developed ten years ago makes it difficult for Eddie to actively work in wood, he’s very involved in the company’s design, materials, finishes, and quality control. He approves all drawings before they go to the shop, but relies on his right-hand man, Jason Lewis, to keep an eye on day-to-day activities. “I still breathe the sawdust and make sure our clients are getting exactly what they want,” Eddie says, “but I also spend a great deal of time marketing and bringing in new projects.”
Like the oceanfront villa in Wailea that Eddie and his crew recently completed. “The woodwork in that home is all Big Island koa, which varies wildly in grain and coloration from tree to tree,” says Eddie. The client wanted all the woodwork to look like a particular section of one board. How to fulfill those wishes? “I found three trees with highly consistent grain and coloration,” he says. “We used them to form veneers for the interior doors, jams, baseboards, and crown molding. It has the look of solid koa; it’s gorgeous.”
Most of Maui Custom Woodworks’ projects involve designing, constructing, and installing cabinetry for high-end homes. But last year, Eddie and his crew completed their largest commission to date: They crafted a majority of the woodwork in the public spaces at Andaz Maui at Wailea — Hyatt Corporation’s newest Maui hotel — most notably the demonstration kitchen in the resort’s signature restaurant, Ka‘ana Kitchen, and the apothecary lounge in the ‘Awili Spa. “I’m still amazed Hyatt selected us,” Eddie says. “Usually large enterprises bring everything in from the Mainland or China. It was wonderful to be embraced by corporate people who genuinely valued our work.”
Walking with Eddie through Ka‘ana Kitchen — the largest demonstration kitchen in the state — feels like participating in a group hug with a forest of walnut trees. “We worked closely with Rockwell Design Group [the architectural firm that designed the hotel] to create the warm environment in this restaurant,” Eddie tells me. “Our job was to make sure everything not only looked great, but functioned properly.”
We make our way downstairs to the ‘Awili Spa’s apothecary lounge. “This room is my favorite space at the Andaz,” Eddie declares. “It’s like a woodworker’s womb.” My eyes take in the room’s floor-to-ceiling drawers (there are 320); tree stumps employed as display shelves for spa products (“We had to source just the right-sized trees to pull that off.”); screens in geometric patterns; and the piece de resistance: a colossal blending bar that serves as the room’s focal point.
“The inspiration for this room was Chinese herb drawers, a centuries-old concept,” Eddie explains. “But Rockwell’s designers wanted the drawers to be twelve inches by twelve inches, and run floor to ceiling, which is very difficult to accomplish, because these types of buildings aren’t geometrically perfect. I remember walking into this room when it was just a shell and thinking, ‘They want us to do what?’ But we did it.”
Much as Andaz’s spa consultants blend herbs, fruits, and flowers to create custom lotions for spa guests, Eddie’s team built the walnut blending bar from “hundreds of pieces of wood, each carefully measured and glued. We had to make sure the bar was geometrically sound so it would run in a straight line.”
Eddie says the Andaz was the team’s most creatively challenging project to date. “For a bunch of local guys in a shop with some tools, I think it’s quite amazing.” His most gratifying moment was when his employees first laid eyes on the results. “We had a celebratory breakfast at Ka‘ana Kitchen,” Eddie says. “Then we went down to the spa so my guys could see how all those pieces they’d put together at the shop came together. When the two men who’d built the blending bar saw it in place, it was a special moment. I still get a ‘We did this’ feeling when I walk into the spa.”
Michael Stephens, Andaz Maui’s general manager, says the Hyatt’s faith in Maui Custom Woodworks has been amply rewarded. “Our guests tell us all the time how impressed they are with the woodwork. It’s a major ‘wow’ factor.”
Eddie likens custom cabinetry to a commissioned work of art. “It’s our job to accomplish our clients’ visions. The art is in clarifying exactly what the vision is, and figuring out how it can be realized. Every client has their own lifestyle, taste, and expectations; and it’s our task to meld creativity with functionality. When we take a project from conception to function, it completes the circle.”