Home Tour: A Stylish Hawaiian Island Escape
It must have been music to designer Michelle R. Smith’s ears when she got the call that a New York-based couple had purchased a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath oceanfront home in Haleiwa, Hawaii, and wanted her help to transform it.
Her clients, both chefs seeking a respite from hectic New York restaurant life, wanted a vacation home where they could get away from it all, while also serving as a space they could rent to other stylish travellers. The couple purchased the North Shore retreat knowing it would require a full renovation. Over the course of a year, the team expanded and renovated the kitchen, renovated all of the bathrooms, changed the flooring and lighting, and redesigned all of the rear terraces to create a space designed to be “Bahamian cottage meets Hawaii.”
Keep scrolling to take a full tour of the stunning escape.
Based in New York herself, Smith, the founder of Studio MRS, set out to tackle tough decisions from afar and manage a team of local Hawaiian contractors and craftsmen who were working almost 5,000 miles away. “With the time zone change, there were a lot of text messages and phone calls well into the night,” the designer tells us. “Sometimes, I was making decisions after a few glasses of wine!”
Despite the distance, the scope of the project was never an issue for Smith. “I love doing complete renovations,” she says. “When I can pick everything from toilet flushers to pillow trim, I am in my element.”
“We phased the renovation so that the bulk of the dirty work happened when my clients were back in New York,” Smith says.
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As one would imagine, tackling a renovation from the other side of the world came with some headaches. “Nearly everything we used in the renovation had to be shipped from the mainland,” Smith tells us.
Embracing the location, Smith’s clients wanted the home’s decor to be rooted in authenticity. “Before our first trip to see the house, my client said she wanted ‘Hawaiiana,’” Smith says. “First, I had to Google it. Then, I had to figure out how we were going to do ‘chic Hawaiiana’ if you will.”
With a pair of chefs as clients, Smith knew the kitchen design would be of the utmost importance. “Being that the house belongs to chefs who love to cook and entertain nearly every day, the kitchen had to be both fully functioning and fit a lot of people,” the designer says. “I happen to think that their industrial kitchen equipment and supplies are beautiful, so we did a lot of open shelving.”
Rather than install upper cabinets, the team agreed to keep the space open and carry the brick-like wall tile to the ceiling. “The result is pretty much a tiled room—no sheetrock,” says Smith. “It makes it feel more indoor-outdoor when you open up the sliding doors to the ocean.”
A beautiful set of floating shelves on brass brackets creates balance between the kitchen’s differing areas.
“We had a beautiful custom window going in over the sink, so we needed a window on the other side of the pantry for symmetry,” says the designer. “And we needed somewhere to store all of the dishes, so we put clear shelves in front of the window to maintain the view.”
“We knew we didn’t want to do a traditional millwork kitchen,” Smith tells us. A mix of tiles and custom cabinet fronts gives the space a distinctive island aesthetic. “The cabinet doors themselves are actually made from Sapele, which is prevalent in Hawaii.”
“Though it’s a lot of different tiles, there’s restraint in color,” Smith says of the kitchen’s palette.
When furnishing the home, Smith relied on local vendors and affordable large retailers. “We actually purchased a lot of items on island, and then from online vendors with inexpensive shipping like Restoration Hardware and Crate & Barrel,” says Smith.
“We never skimped on our finishes or fabrics,” Smith tells us. “When finishes and fixtures get better with age and the upholstery is inviting, you can have a lot more fun with the decorative accessories.”
In the master bathroom, a lack of framing allows the soft, blush-colored tile to seamlessly transition from the walls to the ceiling.
“I just love the master bathroom vanity,” the designer says. “It’s probably my favorite moment in the house.”
To personalize the catalog furniture pieces, Smith had custom slipcovers in fun fabrics made by her New York workroom.
To keep the design cohesive and maintain the home’s flow, finishes like the bathroom wall tile, cement floor tiles, light fixtures, and paint colors were kept consistent from room to room.
Though the long distance renovation and design project was daunting, the end result was certainly worth the extra work. “This project was 99 percent done over text message photos and site visits were few and far between,” the designer says. “After 12-hour flights, checking in a bag filled with tiles, door knobs, plumbing fixtures, door knobs, and lampshades, and tracking packages 24/7, we’re really into the final result.”