Story by Heidi Pool | Photography by Jessica Pearl
As owners of a sizeable vineyard and winery in California’s Napa Valley, Jack and Gail Laird know a thing or two about horticulture. So when a prime oceanfront agricultural lot in Olowalu went on the market in 2003, the Lairds jumped at the opportunity to buy it, and began turning the property into an orchard. “We planted every kind of fruit you can imagine,” says Gail. “Jack likes experimenting to see what thrives and what doesn’t in different climates. He has a love affair with growing things.”
At the time, the couple had a home in Kapalua, and on most days during their periodic visits to Maui, they’d drive to Olowalu to work in the orchard. Jack says it proved very different from cultivating grapes back on the mainland. “In Napa, the growing season begins in March, we harvest in September and October, and after that we only need to prune the vines occasionally. Here in Olowalu, there’s always something to harvest; tending the orchard is a year-round job.”
Eventually, Olowalu’s climate and natural beauty won them over, and they decided to build a home here.
“We didn’t want a big house,” Gail says. “We spend most of our time outside, so we don’t need a lot of indoor space. And we wanted to avoid the considerable maintenance that’s associated with a huge home.”
So in 2007, with the help of Ha‘iku architect Linda Lange, the Lairds designed and built a one-bedroom, two-bath cottage of just under 1,000 square feet. The exterior features Balinese gables, a cedar-shingle roof, and horizontal shiplap siding.
Inside, rich walnut flooring creates a striking contrast to the white floor-to-ceiling wainscoting. Gail is an antiques dealer (she says it’s her “retirement job”), and the home is filled with furnishing she’s procured on buying trips; their vintage character reflects the couple’s appreciation for things that have stood the test of time.
The centerpiece of the compact, efficient kitchen is a white porcelain farmhouse sink set beneath a window that overlooks the orchard. A gleaming subway-tile backsplash placed horizontally counterbalances the home’s vertical wainscoting, while an integrated Sub-Zero refrigerator/freezer is indistinguishable from the cabinetry.
Indoors, there’s a cozy table for two, but Jack and Gail share most meals out on the expansive lanai, which they’ve furnished with four ultra-comfy wicker lounge chairs and a pair of glass-topped wicker tables. A whimsical palapa tiki bar is the ideal spot for enjoying a cocktail at sunset. While the front of their home has plantation-style railings, Jack and Gail didn’t want to diminish the ocean view at the back. So architect Lange designed the lanai with steps that lead down to a lawn and 300 feet of ocean frontage. The couple often spot whales and turtles without leaving the lanai.
A breezeway leads from the house to a spacious den that Gail calls the “tool room.” She and Jack planned to install bunk beds for visiting grandchildren, but “Our children and grandchildren lead busy lives on the mainland, so we turned one side of the room into an office,” says Gail. A colorful couch and brightly painted antique tables on the other side of the den create a perfect spot for reading or enjoying the view of the nearby islands of Kaho‘olawe and Lana‘i.
Back outside, Gail shows me a place on the lawn where nene like to gather. These native geese, Hawai‘i’s state bird, are considered endangered, but they roam freely throughout the Lairds’ grounds. “One time we counted twenty-two of them,” marvels Gail.
Olowalu Stream borders the Lairds’ property at the north end, close to where the house is situated. Maui’s recent rainy winter and spring have swollen the stream, and the sound of coursing water harmonizes with the birdsong that fills the air.
“We treasure this property, and we’ve put so much of ourselves into it,” says Gail. “The orchard is a labor of love, and the house is perfect for the two of us at this stage of our lives. The beauty of these acres is in the land. Why have big, fancy living spaces if you’re not going to use them?”