Honolulu Confidential- Traditional Home Magazine
Some thousand years ago, seafaring Polynesians followed the stars across the Pacific to a collection of remote islands now known as Hawaii. Tropical sun warmed the water, and trade winds cooled the land. It was nature's perfect design, and so they called it home.
Their ancient kings ruled from Oahu. Its immense waves were the stuff of enchantment well before the Beach Boys sang of Waimea Bay in Surfin' USA. In fact, on Hawaii's most-visited and third largest island, many residents are vacationers who sent home for their belongings after experiencing the plumeria-scented beach life and inclusive spirit of aloha.
Settlers through the centuries have changed Oahu's face. That multicultural history influences everything from food to shopping to design. "Our diverse backgrounds certainly play a large part here," says Maura Fujihira, owner of the Honolulu home store Fishcake. "History may influence design to a degree, but nature is what inspires it."
Honolulu, Hawaii's capital and design center, epitomizes beach chic--as seen in past and present renditions of television's Hawaii Five-O. But the finest view of the city is from the seat of an outrigger canoe. A sprawling skyscraper silhouette against a tropical blue sky and 1.5 miles of soft Waikiki Beach sand has made Oahu an international tourism sensation.
Waikiki's contribution to the city's vibe is unmistakable. Even downtown, high rollers go about their business in casual wear. The notable "Aloha" shirts (called Hawaiian shirts when they hit the mainland) riff on themes of the good life--the hula, indigenous flowers, surfing, tikis, and pineapples. The laid-back island way has endured through waves of immigration, from early traders and sailors to missionaries who clothed natives and banned the hula, the soul of Hawaii expressed in rhythmic motion. Plantation owners brought workers from China, Japan, Portugal, Russia, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines to work the pineapple and sugar cane crops after the native population dwindled from disease that outsiders brought with them.
That multiethnic legacy remains. Honolulu's Chinatown is the best place to find traditional Hawaiian leis. And the Honolulu Academy of Arts, which has one of the world's finest collections of Asian art, also coordinates tours of Shangri La, built in the 1930s by heiress Doris Duke. The only child of tobacco and electric energy tycoon James Buchanan Duke, she wanted Shangri La to be not only her home but the repository of her growing cache of art and artifacts of the Islamic world. It's now a public museum housing Duke's collection of some 3,500 objects.
A drive through Honolulu reveals no distinct Hawaiian architecture. "It somewhat depends on the historic time period," says architect Frank Haines. Protestant missionaries built the "Westminster Abbey of the Pacific," Kawaiahao Church. Hawaiian monarchs who visited Europe built Euro-inspired styles, such as the Italianate Aliiolani Hale, now the Hawaii SupremeCourt building. Its Italian-sculpted bronze statue of King Kamehameha faces Italian Renaissance-style Iolani Palace.
True Hawaiian architecture is in the details--from the stately homes of Kahala Avenue to the North Shore beach cottages. Neutral colors and local materials don't compete with nature. Indoor-outdoor living spaces, landscaping, and plantings play integral parts in design. Water serves as a visual element. American Institute of Architects' Honolulu chapter highlights examples on its "Exploring Downtown" walking tour.
Oahu's most compelling attraction embodies a sequence of events. King Kalakaua gave Pearl Harbor to the United States in 1875. The U.S. Navy's farthest west port was bombed by Japanese aircraft on December 7, 1941, triggering America's direct involvement in World War II. Today the starkly elegant U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, designed by architect Alfred Preis, floats above the wreckage with the names of the 1,177 dead carved into its white marble.
"The most interesting thing about the memorial is how unobtrusive it is. It's very subtle and it blends--you don't notice it every day," says Tim Schmitt, a U.S. Navy Operations Specialist 2nd Class stationed in Pearl Harbor. "I think that subtlety actually contributes to its impact."
Oahu has a more urban edge than the other islands, which pays off in its shopping scene, from the luxury boutiques on 2100 Kalakaua Avenue where shoppers browse everything from rare Tahitian pearls and designers like Gucci and Chanel to the island-funk hawkers on Waikiki Beach selling shell leis and grass skirts. In the North Shore's Haleiwa, local handcraft and art boutiques bump against the world's best surf shops.
A proper road trip to the North Shore begins by stocking up on hot, doughnut-like malasadas from Leonard's Bakery in Honolulu. On the island's westernmost tip, nature's high design sings among 850 acres in Kaena Point State Park, with tide pools for shell hunting and natural stone arches offering views of the Makua coastline, where early-morning dolphin sightings are common.
The historic surf town of Haleiwa lies east along the coastal Kamehameha Highway. Past the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie, the graceful Japanese architecture of Kaneohe's Buddhist Byodo-In Temple, a scale replica built entirely without nails, stands at the foot of the Koolau Mountains. Its temple grounds are a beautifully landscaped paradise with wild peacocks and koi. Nearby Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens is a visual wonder--man's manicuring hand against nature's breathtaking steepled cliffs. So Oahu.
Oahu embraces its native culture. From the ancient storytelling of the hula or visits to sacred temples called heiau (like Puu O Mahuka, a huge rectangle of rocks twice as big as a football field), the spirit of aloha endures. Even traditional food such as poke (raw seafood salad) and plate lunch (meat with scoops of macaroni salad and rice) are resurging. Gourmet cuisine offers an equally eclectic dining pleasure, an experience promoted by local chefs.
"Hawaii Regional Cuisine was created to unite farmers and chefs and utilize more local ingredients," says chef Roy Yamaguchi of Roy's restaurants. Yamaguchi is Hawaii's first recipient of the James Beard Award. "The beginnings are close to how California cuisine evolved: local, fresh ingredients from the community," he says.
Tiki torches light a view of Maunalua Bay at Yamaguchi's flagship restaurant on Kalanianaole Highway. Contemporary design flows with the waves outside as distinctly Hawaiian dishes cross the table. Goat cheese-encrusted salmon. Cilantro grilled tiger shrimp. Braised beef short ribs.
An enchanting mix. One that might just inspire a vacationing visitor to send for her things and stay awhile. Aloha!