Story by Diane Haynes Woodburn | Photos by Randy Jay Miller Images
Sitting in Jennifer Nguyen’s kitchen, I am all smiles. Who wouldn’t be? Marc Taron, Jennifer’s friend and award-winning architect, has joined us and we are happily sharing recipes, stories, and food. Although the home is just five minutes from town in Wailuku Country Estates, if feels a world away.
From my comfy perch on a kitchen stool, I can hear the susurration of a running brook, our conversation punctuated by the splash of koi. A cool breeze circulates through the home’s open design. Looking across the sizable black-granite counter and state-of-the-art cooktop, I admire a carved stone Buddha outside the window. He sits contently above a waterfall that spills into the pond at the edge of the gardens. Beyond is a lush array of flowers, fruits and vegetables, much of it grown specifically for Jennifer’s popular Wailuku restaurant, A Saigon Cafe.
“My intent,” she explains, “is to make the restaurant totally organic. I’m looking at plans to convert the koi pond into a tilapia farm. It’s very exciting.” Marc shakes his head. “She’s always thinking,” he says. “This home was so much fun to design. Jennifer is very knowledgeable about feng shui. Her enthusiasm pushed me to learn a lot about Eastern design philosophy.”
For example, the waterfall’s specific number of tiers (three), and orientation (it faces the house) are meant to bring prosperity. Jennifer also subscribes to the belief that each person has a kua number. Jennifer’s kua number dictates that she always face east. “Every room in the house has a different function,” Marc explains. “Each had to face east to a certain degree. And the driveway — I never spent so much time designing a driveway. It had to flow like a dragon!”
Jennifer acknowledges that she gave her architect many challenges. “This is the third home I’ve had built, and Marc is the best I’ve worked with,” she says. “When you have an idea, he comes up with ten different ways to execute it — then it’s your choice to pick what you like best.”
The home shows no shortage of thoughtful ideas. Beyond the specifics of correct feng shui, it had to be friendly, and (since Jennifer is also a chef) suitable for cooking classes. “I have one tomorrow,” she smiles. And it had to be easily adaptable for entertaining. Jennifer loves a good party and often hosts — from informal gatherings with friends, to large fundraising events. “So,” Marc explains, “we designed the living room to open seamlessly onto the lanai.” Not only does this afford sweeping views of the valley and ocean; with all the doors open, Jennifer can entertain 100 guests, even though the home is just 3,600 square feet.
“I didn’t want a house that was flashy or ostentatious. I wanted simple but beautiful — only the bar is flashy!” she laughs. And it is. A bold splash of chili-pepper red, the sexy little bar adds just the right amount of spice. A special automotive paint achieved the shiny red finish. Barstools in black leather and chrome complete the inviting look “At every party,” Jennifer says, “everyone ends up at the bar!”
A twenty-foot ceiling in the grand entry creates a sense of spaciousness and balance. Here, a pair of Foo dogs sit sentry, and a custom mosaic in the travertine floor ensures double happiness. The rest of the home features extra-tall doors and ten-foot ceilings with crown molding. Bamboo flooring adds a soft sheen and warmth. Rather than hallways, all the rooms offer multiple access; one needn’t take the same path in and out. And every room has a door to the outside. “This adds fluidity,” Marc explains, “and reinforces a peaceful flow.”
Perhaps this is the design’s most surprising and pleasing accomplishment — an extraordinary balance of sophistication, fun, and harmony with nature.
“I am at peace when I am here,” says Jennifer. “I can hear the water running, see my garden, gorgeous bicoastal views, koi swimming. And I wake up to a Maui sunrise every morning. I travel all over the world, but I’m happiest when I come home.”