Sky Barnhart | Photography by Tony Novak-Clifford | Rick Allred | Photo Styling by Michele Lin
“Wonderful white noise” is how Sunny Jordan describes the 30-foot waterfall in her front yard.
The waterfall rushes down from Upcountry reservoirs, pouring over sheer rock cliffs into a deep pool in front of Jordan’s house, before charging downhill through Maliko Gulch into the ocean. The house, tucked into the riotous vegetation, comes an obligatory second to the fall’s intoxicating presence. Even during the dry months of the year, chalky markings on the rock face shout of the heady plunge during the wet season.
“It takes three weeks of rain to get the waterfall really going,” Jordan says. “We usually have it through the whole winter.”
Although weather in Ha‘iku has been dry for a few weeks, I’m still hoping for a sudden deluge as I drive past the iron gate into Wild Ginger Falls. Winding down a gravel driveway beneath a towering forest of bamboo, coconut palm, and Christmas berry, I smell the fragile yellow blossoms that give the place its name.
When I get out of the car, I have to look straight up to see the sky. As Jordan tells her houseguests: “Don’t come here expecting to see the sunset. We’re in a hole.”
For a “hole,” it’s pretty gorgeous. Surrounded on three sides by 40-foot basalt cliffs, much of the 2.2 acres is steep jungle, leaving only about an acre for Jordan and her partner, Bob Flint, to live on. It’s enough.
The front lawn, rolling down to the stone pool beneath the falls, invites a blanket and a bottle of wine. A whimsical gazebo in a clump of creaky yellow bamboo begs for a leisurely afternoon tea. An orchid house and ceramics studio tell of happy hours spent in creative contentment.
The orchid-tender (Jordan) and ceramics master (Flint) come out to greet me. They’re dressed in their Sunday clothes—jeans and T-shirts, grubby with the joyful grit of outdoor projects. They bought the property in 1997, fulfilling Jordan’s lifelong dream to live by a stream. (“When I saw the waterfall, I just said, ‘Yes!’”)
For Flint, ceramics work comes with an added bonus: he gets to stay home. “Bob is on the property all day, and he does everything,” Jordan says. “He works nonstop on projects. Because he knows a lot of people, we’ve been able to do things fairly reasonably.”
Aside from extensive outdoor improvements that began with clearing rampant cane grass, Flint and Jordan spent about $200,000 renovating the house “out and up”—from a small, low-ceilinged dwelling to a gracious two-bedroom, two-bath hideaway.
“The place has evolved over time,” Jordan says. “When we bought it, I had a vision of what it could be. I started out with graph paper and did my floor plan and elevations.”
Years of experience in the art world will give you a pretty good sense of scale. Jordan relied on that, along with folders of magazine clippings, to manifest the home’s true potential.
As we talk, I realize I’ve been so riveted by the waterfall that I’ve hardly noticed the house. Rather than competing with its spectacular setting, the house rests gracefully in the background until you are ready to address its charms. I’m ready.
We walk up the curving path and enter a screened porch, furnished simply with cushioned wicker sofas. The breeze blows through, nodding a potted purple orchid gently in time to French music playing from another room. The floor, tiled in cool slate, makes you want to slip off your shoes, which we do.
Stepping inside, the first thing I see is an enormous wall hanging made entirely of twigs tied with tiny copper wires. The two-piece hanging, commissioned from Maui artist Claudia Johnson, casts flitting shadows on the cream wall behind it.
“When you live in Hawai‘i, you have choices, so your environment doesn’t need to be ordinary,” Jordan explains. “We like the more creative and artistic.” Like the waterfall, the piece commands attention, and it takes a few minutes before I can drag my eyes away to see the whole room.
This is the great room, with vaulted ceilings that arch over the dining room and kitchen, bringing soft light down from a row of skylights. A built-in bookshelf topped with a carved Balinese panel holds thick books on Hawaiiana, gardening, and art. The floor is tiled with orange Mexican pavers integrated with tiny colorful tiles made by Flint. He also made the bright blue-and-green leaf-shaped ceramic tiles that adorn the fireplace, over which resides a huge Yvonne Chang painting.
At 1,800 square feet, “our house is so small that everything has a purpose,” Jordan says. “It’s a living house. We created it to be functional. All the art and artifacts are things that we love, things that were given to us, things from our travels or from our favorite shop, Duck Soup.”
From the dining room, glass doors open onto a pretty, rock-walled garden. In case of rain or mosquitoes—both frequent Ha‘iku visitors—the garden can be enjoyed from the comfort of a screened back porch.
We cruise through the restaurant-quality kitchen (both Jordan and Flint love to cook): granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, compost and recycling bins, built-in wine rack, and latte maker. They roast beans from their own 200 coffee plants, producing about 70 pounds of coffee a year.
Off a short hallway, we enter the master bathroom. An antique Chinese cabinet has been modified by the ever-handy Flint to accommodate the scoop of a porcelain sink. Towel racks adjacent to the limestone-tiled soaking tub are carved with turtles and alligators. Another pot of Jordan’s orchids—the frilly “chocolate” variety—laces the air with a heavenly cocoa scent.
Smooth aqua river stones massage my feet with every step. But the real treat comes when Jordan opens the door at the end of the room, and we arrive in an outdoor Balinese shower. Although the landscaping is not yet complete, the backdrop of vine-covered rock outside already takes the shower experience into another realm.
We complete the tour with a quick peek into the small office and exercise room; the guest bedroom, where an ukulele collection adorns a shelf above the Hawaiian quilt-covered bed; and finally the simple master bedroom, with wooden shutters opening to a waterfall view. A small green staircase leads up to an unfinished loft designated as a reading getaway. Like many aspects of Wild Ginger Falls, it’s still “evolving.” [picture]
Back outside, we come again to the waterfall and gaze down into the tempting pool. Because of a pig farm upstream, the water is not safe to swim in, but Jordan doesn’t mind. “We just enjoy it with our eyes.”
Watching the waterfall is the kind of enjoyment that can last for hours. For Jordan and Flint—self-described “nesters”—it’s the kind of enjoyment that will last for life.