In Hawaii, A 1979-Build Balinese Pod House Is Restored As A Vestibule For Asian Artifacts

  • 3 Jan '24
  • 1:55 pm by Beverly Pereira

Purchasing a period home in dire need of renovation is most certainly not for the faint-hearted. It’s a decision best left to those who see potentiality in antiquity. This was exactly the case for a couple who had decided to leave all the comforts of the Bay area in San Francisco to build a new home in Mauna Kea, Hawaii. After a long and hard search, they chanced upon a property situated on the Big Island of Hawaii within the famous Mauna Kea Resort known for its exclusive residential living with luxurious amenities and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. The home, a 1979 exotic build, was originally built by a German baron for his mistress who was a member of Thai royalty. It was a beautiful home in need of a major rehaul, for which the couple enlisted the services of Hawaii-based Philpotts Interiors, architect Paige Wilburn and landscape architect David Tamura for this grand project

Interestingly, the couple lived in the home for a year before renovations. With time, not only did they develop a greater appreciation for the original 1970s design, complete with its unique exterior features, but they were also increasingly reluctant to let go of its unique character. Fortunately, the home came with strong bones that the owners recognised from the very start. And, so began the meticulous process of restoring the home to its former glory and refurbishing it to suit modern times. The interior design features a hybrid approach with a combination of custom furniture as well as one-of-a-kind pieces that infuse the home with new life and an Asian aesthetic.  


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The home looks out onto a Japanese garden and pond reimagined by Tamura. Image Credit: Nicole Franzen

The original home consisted of living pods with Balinese elements— a primary suite, living room, dining and kitchen, an au pair room for staff, and a guest and laundry wing. The au pair room was converted into a media room to suit modern times. These pods spread across 4,300 square feet, are set around a serene and authentic Japanese garden and koi pond. 

The pod house was evidently in need of repair due to negligence on the part of the previous owner, and the couple even considered tearing it down to the ground, says architect Wilburn. At the same time, they knew that they had ‘lucked out’ with the purchase of this new home which was built using some of the finest materials available during the 1970s. They recognised the longevity and beauty of teak wood, harvested from old-growth forests, employed generously across the home—from its ceilings and flooring to windows, shutters and even the lanais, or the porches and verandas. 

Freshly sanded Ohia poles lend this home in Hawaii a touch of the vernacular. Image Credit: Nicole Franzen

The home’s original architecture comprises pavilions that wrap around an interior courtyard via outdoor breezeways. This meant that the visual connection to the indoor courtyard with its koi pond remained seamless. Landscape architect Tamura was roped in to further reimagine the original landscape and pond, lending the home the ambience of a Japanese garden. 


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The living area, or great room, carries a unique vocabulary of a couture mix of Asia-inspired design elements and furnishings. Image Credit: Nicole Franzen

In the living area or great room, the existing ceiling skin was preserved and its beams restored. The Teak wood flooring was refinished for a spruced-up look, while raised ceilings furthered the impact of the restoration process. When it came to interior styling, Philpotts Interiors wholly acknowledged and embraced the clients’ collection of Asian artefacts and objects. The team then layered the space with new design pieces and chic furnishings that spoke to the well-established Asian aesthetic of the home and its dwellers. 

The living room’s feature wall is adorned with Elitis wallpaper featuring abstract gold discs. The remained walls are embellished with textured grasscloth wall coverings. A Batik hand-dyed painting by Honolulu-based artist Yvonne Cheng found a fitting home in the great room, as did light sconces by Luminense Fixtures and Holly Hunt metal floor lamps that fit in quite comfortably with older period lighting fixtures. The beautiful living room is complemented by a Tucker Robbins Design sofa, lounge chairs by A. Rudin Design, a coffee table by Caste, a canopy by Stephen White, a rug by Indich, and Dinka floor lamps by Liagre.  

“The selection of furnishings for the project represents a fusion of Pan-Asian inspirations, incorporating elements from Thai, Japanese, and Chinese cultures. The collection is comprised of exquisite antiquities that harmonize with the original architectural style of the home creating a unique and culturally rich vernacular. This diverse mix of influences from various Asian traditions infuses the space with a sophisticated character,” says a spokesperson from the Philpotts Interiors team. 

Left: In the media room, this handcrafted Peacock chair was sourced from Place. Right: This bar with a Japonesque Tansu-style design is inspired by Japanese kitchen chests. The wall sconce is by Stephen White. Image Credit: Nicole Franzen

The astute team at Philpotts Interiors was also cognisant of the museum-quality lighting fixtures that originally dotted the home. These rare fixtures, art objects in their own right, were imported from Germany back in 1979. In today’s world, they are perfect for highlighting the clients’ art collections. 


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When the oversized door separating the dining room and kitchen is closed, the dining room appears like a silk-lined jewel box. Image Credit: Nicole Franzen

With lush courtyard views, the dining room is reminiscent of a floating tatami room. Here, a series of Asian antiquities like statuettes and objects inform the dining room’s cultural richness, as does the hand-painted mural of cherry blossom branches that adorn the canvas-panelled walls. 

An expandable McGuire dining table is paired with a set of six comfortable leather high-back chairs by A. Rudin Design. A trio of meticulously crafted Aqua Creation silk lanterns completes the mood evocative of a Japanese tea house, while a wool and silk rug anchors the space and enhances sound absorption within this sanctum-like space. 

The well-appointed kitchen was given a modern overhaul with onyx slabs, copper inlays and clever storage. Image Credit: Nicole Franzen

“The kitchen was created out of multiple spaces that we reclaimed to make a larger functional kitchen for today’s use, rather than the tucked away small type of kitchen that was used years ago by the staff of the home,” says architect Wilburn. Now, the new and modern kitchen features a beautiful island crafted from onyx slabs purchased by the homeowners themselves. The Onyx Island is perfect for food prep. It’s also apt for a quick breakfast or cocktail, thanks to the inclusion of counter stools by McGuire. 

Custom cabinetry is yet another highlight of the kitchen. Enhanced with thin copper piping that naturally took on a beautifully lustrous green-blue patina finish, the cabinet doors are indeed a striking addition. Visualised and executed to perfection by Steve Alterman, known for his exceptional rod inserts, and Rocky Mountain, known for their distinct pulls, the cabinets exude a unique artistic expression. Interestingly, this full wall of cabinetry cleverly conceals behind its copper inlay panels not only a pull-out coffee station but also a television! 


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Margot Geppert blue rain drums (Bali) find a striking home in this light-filled kitchen seating nook. Image Credit: Nicole Franzen
A beautiful rug by Orley Shabahang and pillows by Higgins add context to the well-established aesthetic of the home. Image Credit: Nicole Franzen

The focal highlight of the primary bedroom is a custom king-size bed, masterfully crafted by Paiea Millwrights. Teardrop chandeliers sourced from Tucker Robbins are artistic and functional additions to this private space. Aside from casting a warm, inviting glow, these chandeliers create mesmerising patterns on nearby surfaces. 

Yet another interesting piece is the Mustique Sedan Chair designed by Bill Sofield (sourced from McGuire). With an outer shell crafted entirely from a handwoven Danish cord, a generously sized loose seat cushion, and sleek walnut legs, this comfortable chair pairs well with the room’s cosy design.  

By integrating a touch of jade with clean, modern elements, the overall design of the bathroom is an ode to Asian-inspired influences. Image Credit: Nicole Franzen

The primary bedroom’s bath, simply decked in a neutral tile, features a floating vanity, a sleek mirror and two glass globe wall sconces that bring in a sense of sophistication and style. Even as a sense of restraint prevails in this private sanctuary, there is an unmissable sense of uninhabited living. The bathroom brings in spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean as well as that of a secluded private garden.

A Balou Lounge armchair and ottoman by Janus Et Cie are beautifully paired with a Margot Geppert rain drum. Image Credit: Nicole Franzen

This private residence on the Big Island of Hawaii honours its historical past through a sensitive restoration process coupled with carefully considered interior styling that retains the home’s unique character and roots.