Along the island’s southern coast, a classic eighties beach house honors its Hawaiian heritage.


Story by Heidi Pool

Maui beach house

These three principles lie at the heart of Hawaiian-style residential architecture: A dwelling should fit its site and surroundings. It should be understated, not boastful. It should offer a sense of welcome. Hale Makena may be one of the best examples of those tenets on Maui.

The home occupies an acre and a half of oceanfront land between tiny, sequestered Pa‘ako Beach (a.k.a. “Wedding Beach”) and the 3,300-foot-long expanse known in Hawaiian as Oneloa (long sand), in common parlance as “Big Beach.” It’s a site that could easily have been surrounded by opulent resorts, had it not been for a grassroots organization formed in the 1980s by Mauians determined to preserve the last major undeveloped beach on the island’s southern coast. Calling themselves SPAM (for “State Park at Makena”), the group successfully lobbied County, State, and Federal officials to buy back from private developers the stunning stretch of golden sand now known as Makena State Park.

Mark Sheehan was a founding member of SPAM. He knows Hale Makena’s owners, and says that the privacy-loving couple have something in common with the people who fought to keep Makena from development: a respect for place.

Makena beach house
From an outdoor dining nook tucked in the angle formed by the kitchen and living room, a travertine path descends to the sea.

“Most people I know who could afford a property like this, in a location like this, would want to raze the house and build a McMansion,” he says, adding that its the rare individual who values such a setting enough to “settle” for a home of so modest a scale.

I’d wondered what lay behind the lava-rock wall surrounding this property. As the decorative wood-and-metal gate designed by local craftsman Larry Padilla closes behind me, the sounds and dust of Makena Road disappear and I begin to experience how secluded this property is. A main house, a cottage, and a garage that’s been converted to an entertainment suite sit amid lush landscaping that’s maintained without pesticides, according to the owners’ wishes.

Maui home dining room
The clean geometry of dining-room table and chairs establishes a subtle counterpoint to the room’s wainscoting. The painting at left is from Nest, a home furnishing store in Kihei.

The moment I enter the main house, I’m greeted by an unobstructed view of Kaho‘olawe Island, framed in floor-to-ceiling windows that open for seamless indoor-outdoor living. The 2,300-square-foot home has a split floor plan with one bedroom on either side of the great room. Smooth bamboo flooring throughout the home echoes the golden sand of Oneloa; creamy wainscoting, exposed-beam ceilings, and a guest bathroom with a claw-footed tub recall a bygone era. All of these elements blend to create a sense of graciousness in a home that’s in perfect harmony with its extraordinary surroundings.

Interior designed Michelle Sewell created Hale Makena’s island-style ambiance. “I wanted the home to have an earthy feel,” she says. “My vision was to keep it simple so that guests will take time to look at the ocean and not be overpowered by the interior.”

Asian wool rugs in Maui beach house
The living room’s windowed walls draw the eye across the channel to Kaho‘olawe Island. Wide-weave chairs and couch, and Balinese table, are from Duck Soup in the Central Maui Baseyard.

Asian-wool rugs define three distinct conversation areas in the great room, where Michelle has incorporated multiple textural elements to establish a warm, approachable space. A cream-colored pune‘e occupies one corner; such daybeds have been a tradition in Hawaiian households since ancient times.

Beyond each bedroom’s bay windows, luxuriant tropical foliage brings a heightened sense of coziness and serenity. The master bedroom’s deck is a perfect place to watch ocean sunsets; an adjacent outdoor shower makes it easy to rinse away sand collected along the property’s 600 feet of ocean frontage.

Makena Maui beach house
A sandy path leads from the guest cottage toward Oneloa Beach.

Travertine paths wind through the property, one leading to a cottage whose French doors beckon you to enter, another to a hot tub secluded behind red ginger and bougainvillea, yet another to a pedestrian gate (again by Larry Padilla) that opens to a sparkling stretch of beach where the surf pounds jet-black lava rocks before breaking on the shore.

Tucked behind artfully landscaped native plants, an aboveground lap pool sits next to a paved court for basketball and pickleball — a racquet sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis.

On the south end of the property, a stately ficus stands sentry, its complex root system snaking into bright green kikuyu grass. Another gate leads me down to Wedding Beach, and — not for the first time — to a renewed appreciation for the way Hale Makena combines modest scale, verdant landscaping and million-dollar views. In this era of supersizing, how refreshing to discover an island-style home that preserves both a sense of place, and a sense of history.


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