“I only know how to sneak onto this property” our driver boasted as we returned to Haiku House on Maui's North Shore one night during a recent stay at the historic mansion. His remark reflected a theme of curiosity echoed by island locals throughout my three-day stay at the property. Haiku House was for decades an estate private to a succession of owners, but when it opened its doors as a luxury vacation rental in May of this year, the property became, in essence, accessible to the public for the first time in its history.
A glance back up at the house from its ocean-view pool deck or through the row of royal palms that lines its stately driveway offers a blast back to the heyday of Maui's sugarcane industry. The Haiku House estate was first deeded in 1849 and soon after came into the hands of Henry Baldwin, the founder of one of Hawaii’s biggest sugar operations. The Baldwin family is credited for building what today stands as the main house on the property, and for the fine collection of exotic trees that punctuate the estate’s 20 acres.
The estate’s following three owners each shaped the house and property in their own ways, but it was the 2015 purchase of the estate by the Vancouver-based Chan family that lead to its most recent renovation and launch as a luxury vacation rental. The property today can accommodate 18 to 20 guests across nine suites, and features a screened-in lanai, banyan-shaded dining platform, full citrus orchard and ocean-vista swimming pool. A stay at the home is reminiscent of a week spent at the highest-end summer camp, where friends run barefoot between bedrooms, raid the fridge for coconut water straight from the palm and end the day around a campfire.
“We fell in love with the property immediately upon stepping foot through the entrance of the house,” said Erica Chan, the eldest of three children in the Chan family. “We walked through the pathway under the monkey pods, we swam in the pool and looked up at the canopy of the ear pod tree giving us cool and comforting shade. We hand-picked oranges and made fresh juice and we sat under the magnificent banyan tree just steps from the rooms. We all thought this place is magical.”
And with such history and charm, the property was a wealth of inspiration to build upon. “We wanted to add our own touches and personality to the space, but still incorporate the rich historical lineage of owners that have found their heart and homes on the property,” said Chan. “We wanted to include elements of Mother Nature through our furniture selections, wood accents, artwork, but also not have that overwhelm the interior with so much nature to explore right outside.”
The Chans tapped Honolulu design firm The Vanguard Theory to renovate and decorate the home after their purchase. “When we were approached to design Haiku House we were so honored and felt a great responsibility to preserve its design integrity,” said Michelle Jaime, Creative Director at The Vanguard Theory. Vanguard refreshed the interior finishes in the house’s bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchen, wet bar and common areas. “We knew most guests would want to dwell in the areas with an optimal sightline to the lush landscape and ocean view, so we added rocking chairs on the wrap around deck, seating directed toward the ocean view, and deep lounge furniture in the screened in sunroom,” said Jaime.
The house’s spacious screened-in Lanai is second in its embrace of the outdoors only to the ground-floor guest suites themselves, which each open directly onto the property’s collection of monkey pod and banyan trees. Many notable trees on the property (some of which were presented to the Baldwin family as gifts by visitors) feature QR codes that lead to species descriptions, and a walk towards the property’s southeast section leads to an orchard of citrus and coconut trees, accompanied by an organic garden yielding pineapples and papayas.
Back inside, small details speak to the home’s story and sense of place. Etched glass panes featuring local flora top many windows and doorways on the home’s ground floor. The kitchen is stocked with ceramics thrown at the property’s own studio. And design features like the home’s original koa wood floors and bamboo-print dining room wallpaper remain intact. “We wanted to celebrate the era of the house and felt it was important to respect the existing architecture,” said Jaime.
Today, the home’s history is complemented by the modern amenities that make it attractive as a luxury accommodation. From bathrooms stocked with Aesop products to concierge services that can arrange everything from helicopter rides to chic outdoor dinners cooked on the property’s traditional “imu” pit oven, Haiku House stands apart from the many cookie cutter resort offerings on Maui.
And both guests and vendors (like lei makers, fire dancers and even private drivers) collaborating with the once-private home are now part of its history. “The North Shore of Maui has such a rich history and strong sense of community,” said Chan. “We are proud to be able to share it with local residents whose families have been a part of this area, whether they are staying on property, or partnering with us for many of the incredible experiences that we offer.”