Story by Heidi Pool | Photography by Ryan Siphers
Robert Suzuki’s artistic expression takes many sizes, shapes, and forms: oil paintings, sculptures, pastel and charcoal renderings, houses. Wait . . . houses? Indeed. Last year, Robert completed his ultimate art project — the home he lives in with his wife, Carol.
Located in a Wailea subdivision, the house is the fourth one the Suzukis have built together. Their previous home, in Pukalani, had a Hawaiiana ambiance and featured rich, dark koa and cherrywood furniture. “We wanted to do something completely different with our new house,” Robert says. “We decided on a contemporary, minimalist theme, but we also wanted it to be casual, comfortable, and suited to a ‘beachy’ lifestyle.”
Maybe not completely different — the couple liked the layout of their Upcountry home, so Robert used its basic design as a model for the new house, with modifications to fit the Wailea lot’s characteristics. “We wanted to utilize the natural topography, and take full advantage of the ocean view,” he explains. “This lot slopes, so we positioned the main living quarters and the pool on the upside, and created a lower floor on the other.”
Robert and Carol selected Ivo de Wilde, owner of Wildco Construction, to be their contractor. “We wanted someone willing to collaborate with us to achieve our vision,” says Robert. “Ivo was the perfect partner.”
The Suzukis say the master bedroom’s generous use of windows and glass doors makes them feel as though they’re living in a tree house. Bright turquoise pillows and bedside lamps give a splash of color, echoing the blue of the swimming pool steps away.
A stroke of luck (or was it fate?) led Robert and Carol to their interior designers. “We attended a party at a home in Kula, and admired the newly remodeled kitchen,” Carol says. When they learned that their hosts’ daughter, Jessica Guard McLellan, had done the design, “I said to Robert, ‘We have to talk to her.’”
Jessica and her partner, Wendy Takemoto, own HUE Interior Design & Home Furnishings in Kahului. “We loved the idea of having a blank slate to work with,” Jessica says. “And Robert and Carol were very open to our suggestions for materials and furnishings.”
The design scheme began with a table. “Robert and Carol walked into our showroom and fell in love with it,” Jessica recalls. “They were drawn to its clean lines and driftwood texture. That table set the tone for the remainder of the house.” On a family trip to Japan, Carol had spied some ultramodern white plastic chairs whose curved armrests and backs brought to mind al fresco dining. Jessica and Wendy were able to source them in Honolulu. “The dining chairs are my favorite things in the entire house,” Carol declares.
In the kitchen, an expansive backsplash of sea-foam glass tile manages to be at once understated and a showstopper. But carving out rectangles to accommodate electrical outlets required a water jet cutter so as not to shatter the glass. “Ivo found a fellow in Lahaina with the right equipment,” says Robert. “He’s apparently the only person on Maui who does that type of work.”
In each of their homes, Robert has designed a genkan — a traditional Japanese entryway where guests remove their outdoor shoes and don indoor slippers. A sizeable oil painting, depicting a tree trunk and boulders, greets you as you enter. Robert created it for the space. “I imagined the painting as a transition from outside to inside,” he explains. “The boulders in the painting mirror the rocks outside the front door.” The floor tiles in the genkan are another nod to Robert’s cultural heritage. “They have a texture similar to that of a Japanese raked garden,” he explains.
The move to Wailea has allowed Robert to be closer to his clients, and the choice of a neutral color palette makes the new home a showcase for his art. “My approach to designing this house was to treat it like a huge art project,” he says. “Usually, a home is built, then afterwards you find space for art. I did it in reverse order — putting a great deal of thought into where I wanted to place my paintings, then creating specific areas where I could prominently display my work.”
An open staircase of white oak and metal leads to the lower floor; it too, is a work of art. “Whenever I saw an open staircase that appealed to me, I uploaded a photograph of it to my computer,” Robert says. “This staircase is an amalgamation of all the ideas I accumulated.” Mounted on the wall next to it is a true-to-size carousel horse. Its whimsical nature is so unlike the rest of the home’s Zenlike decor, you know there’s got to be a story behind it. “I promised Carol I’d carve her a horse for Christmas,” says Robert. “I just didn’t specify which year. It ended up taking three!” Originally painted as colorfully as a horse you’d find on an actual carousel, it now sports a whitewashed finish better suited to the muted palette of its new digs.
Transforming the carousel horse was easy. Shifting from a Hawaiiana theme to a contemporary, minimalist style required parting with much of the furniture Robert and Carol had accumulated during more than thirty years of marriage. But not all. “Carol had quite a few koa chests of drawers she wanted to incorporate into their new home,” Jessica says. Placed in alcoves, those treasured pieces “bring a homey feeling to the house.”
The Suzukis’ two sons and daughter-in-law came to visit this past Thanksgiving. “All three young people slept in late every morning,” Carol says. “I told Robert, ‘If they’re that comfortable here, we did something right.’”
Chris Curtis Landscape
140 Apuwai St., Ha‘iku
1367 S. Kihei Rd., #3-110, Kihei
Hue Interior Design & Home Furnishings
210 Alamaha St., Kahului
Maui Marble & Granite
(countertops, flooring, tile)
874 Alua St., Wailuku
Suda Shades & Design LLC
226 S. Church St., Wailuku