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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 12, 2003

Home restorers put new twist on old

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

A small cadre of Hawai'i folks specializes in recycling old buildings — shoring them, restoring them, and when necessary, moving them.

Kikiaola Construction's Mike Faye shows off an old Kekaha Sugar Co. camp house he plans to renovate. Faye said he's been interested in remodeling old houses since a child, when his father moved houses in the Waimea Sugar plantation camp.

Jan TenBruggencate • The Honolulu Advertiser

"There is less of it now than there used to be many years ago, but people have been moving houses in Hawai'i for the past 100 years, and even earlier. Moving them from the back of the lot to the front, turning them around, even moving them to a different lot," said David Scott, executive director of the Historic Hawai'i Foundation.

Today, house moving happens less frequently on O'ahu and is primarily a Neighbor Island activity, he said. Former plantation companies that are closing down their residential camps is one prime source for houses. Many times they offer old camp houses virtually for free to anyone willing to take them.

"Often, the only problem with them is location," Scott said.

A contractor like Mike Faye, of Kikiaola Construction on Kaua'i, will cut the house in pieces or take it whole, stack it on a trailer, and haul it across the island. The moves often occur late at night, the only time the state will allow houses to travel on the highways.

Faye has moved and restored several properties on the Big Island as well as on his home island of Kaua'i.

"There is tremendous interest on the Big Island, and there are a lot of properties available," he said.

A favorite project for Faye involves a house he plans to move into soon. He cut the old home in Waimea into three pieces and moved it several blocks away onto his lot. A five-year restoration had made the house look historic, but it is almost new except for unique features such as a closet with a door that retracts upward into the wall and glass-fronted cabinets in the kitchen that work perfectly.

Restoration terms

Reconstruction: rebuilding a structure with exactly the same lumber dimensions and using old materials where possible, making it as true to the original as possible. May involve removing materials from later periods to make a property look the way it did during a significant period of its history.

Rehabilitation: restoring a home, but with more freedom to use new materials to make a feature look historic, although on close examination it may not be the same as it was.

Adaptive reuse: preserving a historic building but using it for something other than its original use, such as converting camp houses to resort units or an old home into an office complex.

But if you walk around the sides of the home, there are also old beams, nearly black with age, some of them with termite damage.

Faye said he's been interested in moving and repairing houses since he was a kid when he watched his father move homes in the old Waimea Sugar plantation camp.

"Mike is the guru," said Kaua'i resident Rick Scott, who has bought, restored and resold a half dozen homes in recent years. He has hired Faye to move one, but most are restored on site, and Scott said he revels in it.

"I like saving old houses. I don't like tearing them down. Sometimes it might take five to six years. It can be a lot of work," he said.

"You can make a living doing it, but to some extent, the end result is more important than the money," he said. He is saddened that the recent boom in housing prices has made good deals on dilapidated housing harder to find, he said.

Past can offer treasure trove

Tom Quinlan, who was trained in architecture and restored castles in Ireland before moving to Hawai'i, is a restoration consultant on the Big Island and has a deep love of saving old buildings.

"There's such a treasure trove in the past. It can be such a tool for tourism. Instead of producing Disneyland hotels, we have such a wealth of authenticity," he said.

He said he has no trouble finding places to work on, and finds that despite the work, restoring an old home can often be far less expensive than building a new one.

Quinlan likes to leave as much of the old building in place as possible, and frequently uses a range of specialty epoxy products to strengthen and fill rotted and termite-eaten wood.

Faye prefers, if a board is too badly damaged, to replace it. Although he uses them, he said he is not convinced of the long-term value of epoxies in historic work.

Often the condition of the building can determine what's possible and what's not. And sometimes, nothing is. "Some houses, we moved them in and then we tore them down," Faye said.

One of his first projects was the Waimea Plantation Cottages, a small resort on the outskirts of the Kaua'i west-side town. It started with the moving and restoration of some houses from the Waimea Sugar Co. camp, and later houses moved from the Kekaha Sugar Co. camp as that firm began shutting down its residential program.

The homes were restored, and outfitted with period furniture — old koa living-room sets, flowered fabric, and a feel of old Hawai'i. There are now more than 50 units set among the palm trees. Tourists seem to love them, Faye said.

The cottages and owners Kikiaola Land Co. last week won the Hawai'i Visitors & Convention Bureau's Kahili Award for accommodations. The bureau cited the project's units as "examples of classic plantation architecture that preserves an important chapter of Kaua'i's history."

Some of the earliest house moving was done by missionaries, who had homes dismantled in New England and shipped to the Islands for reconstruction.

Useful parts available

Another example of reconstruction is the saving of useful parts of otherwise useless buildings — such as windows. Faye admits he is a pack rat when it comes to old stuff and says he saves windows in hopes of finding a place for them.

Scott said a unique feature in Hawai'i is the conversion of vertical sliding double-hung windows into horizontal-sliding windows. He said he believes it was an adaptation of early Japanese carpenters, who were familiar with horizontal-sliding shoji doors, but not with panels that moved vertically.

The Historic Hawai'i Foundation, meanwhile, is involved in a high-profile project on Maui — moving aviator Charles Lindbergh's home, Argonauta, from its original site in Kipahulu to a National Park Service site where it will be reconstituted as the Kipahulu Conservation Center.

"As a preservationist, you prefer to preserve it on the site where it was built, but if it's going to be torn down, moving it and possible adaptive reuse are options," David Scott said. "I think that preservation in place and preservation by moving may become important components in telling the story of Hawai'i."

Faye said he is encouraged to see more people interested in saving and using old buildings.

"I believe nowadays i in the last couple of years i there is a lot more interest in these old houses, and people are more willing to restore them or adaptively reuse them," Faye said.