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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, September 14, 2001

Island Architecture
Inside-out design

By Michael Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

Architect Philip White expanded the lanai of Jean Abbott's East Honolulu home into an indoor/outdoor living area encompassing 850 square feet.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

Architect Philip "Pip" White thinks the popular Hawai'i credo of bringing nature into a home misses the point.

"Maybe we need to extend our homes into nature," he says.

Whether it's a commercial project, such as his Moloka'i Ranch work, or a residential one, such as an East Honolulu home he's just redesigned, White tries to blur the boundary line that normally divides inside from out.

"There's a lot of good evidence that exposure to the outside is good for you," he says. And White thinks that's true "inside" the home too.

In the East Honolulu home, for instance, he expanded and transformed a single-floor kama'aina-style beach home, creating an 850-square-foot covered lanai that allows sweeping and unobstructed views of the ocean.

In the process, he opened up the rest of the ground-floor rooms with more natural light (often using windows on at least three sides). He also added three bedrooms and an office on a newly built second floor, all while obeying the strict neighborhood height limitations.

If it's true, as White quotes Winston Churchill saying, that "we shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us," then the owners of the home certainly are leading a more natural life these days.

"We've always had an open home," said owner Jean Abbott. "Now, though, ... (the lanai is) the first place everybody gravitates to. It's so inviting. We can't imagine not being out there."

To White, that's the point of living in Hawai'i.

White cites numerous studies showing how opening up a building stimulates a healthier life: Windows to a garden (or even landscape paintings) have been shown to shorten hospital recovery time. School children's performance improves when their classrooms have views of the outdoors. Landscaping improvements often have far-reaching effects on a whole neighborhood.

"If there's any green at all in the home, that's where people are going to be," he said.

The new lanai certainly beckons people to relax.

"It's comfortable," Abbott said. "The biggest compliment we can get on our house is when someone comes over and falls asleep out there on the pune'e. That's when you know it's perfect."

To take better advantage of the home's already beautiful view, White expanded the lanai and its sight lines by pushing rooms on either end of the home further out to the side. Using a large steel beam with poured concrete posts and footings, he was able to cover the whole area (and add the second floor) without using any columns or posts, and to keep a spacious 9-foot, 6-inch ceiling clearance.

The roof overhead extends far enough out from the living area that rain, even from winter's kona storms, should never be a problem. And the use of natural material, including stone pavers on the ground and wood details overhead, add a living quality to the already open area. Several large landscape paintings in the protected recesses of the lanai complete the open-air feeling.

Despite the changes, the home, owned by a kama'aina family for several generations, clearly keeps its ties to the past. The family insisted on maintaining the original footprint of the building, and White maintained many of the existing building elements, even though the home was rebuilt almost from top to bottom. A double-pitched shake roof, koa detailing, interior paneling, and sliding doors and windows all maintain the Hawai'i-style roots of the building.

"It was important to keep some the emotional ties to the old home," he said.

The family is especially pleased with the new kitchen area and informal dining area that were moved closer to the lanai. White also put in several extra large windows over the sink and created a garden space just outside. The result suffuses the whole room with natural light and creates a sense that the room is open to nature on all sides.

"Opening the kitchen up to the ocean and putting more windows on the other side were the best things we did," Abbott said. "On the garden side, it makes the room feel bigger, but we can still see who is coming and going out on the lanai."

Earlier this month, White's architectural firm, Philip K. White & Associates, received the grand award in the Building Industry Association's annual Renaissance Competition for large commercial projects. That award was for White's design of the Moloka'i Ranch Lodge, which manages to be both rustic and comfortable at once.

With wood and rock as the primary materials, the building includes a two-story main house plus two sleeping cottages with 16 guest rooms. Earlier, his designs for open-air "tentalows" for ranch guests were honored by the American Institute of Architects, which praised him for having the courage to rely on simple technology — composting toilets, natural ventilation — when so many other architects were moving toward the other extreme.

White says the ultimate challenge for his ideas would be to design a nature-friendly high-rise office building. "First we'd have to figure out how to do it, and then we'd have to figure out how to sell the idea to a developer," he said.