The Hobbit House
One day a bearded old-timer pulled up to the gate in front of Captain Howie’s Waimanalo Bay, O’ahu, home in a beat-up pickup truck and said “So where you guys gonna mount the cannon?” It was then that Capt. Howie realized he was on the right track.
Anything but ordinary, Captain Howie approached the design and construction of what many call the “Hawaii Hobbit House” as unconventionally as possible. The home was completed in April 2004, and the results are the culmination of many ideas, sim¬plistic yet genuine, of which Capt. Howie relishes every single day. Passersby who honk their horns are treated to a big “Aloha” and a wave from the non-denominational minister and commercial charter boat captain.
Capt. Howie first arrived in Hawai’i in 1979, when he was asked to come and teach eastern philosophy. Both a licensed Master Captain with the U.S. Coast Guard and a religious scholar, Capt. Howie sailed to the islands aboard the “Lotus Flower”, a traditional 56-foot Mayflower-designed teak sailing ship. Initially he lived aboard the vessel and often stayed in yoga ashrams where he was teaching. In 1999 he found an aging plantation home on this Waimanalo property, and tore it down. He spent many years landscaping the perfect outdoor environment, complete with a spectacular waterfall and trickling streams flowing into koi ponds filled with colorful water lilies and other aquatic plants. This entire park like setting fronts the picturesque Ko’olau mountain range.
After completing the grounds, Capt. Howie decided to take a stab at designing an auxiliary building for his gardening equipment. It proved to be an awful experience that included a lazy contractor and various other nightmares. But something good came out of it: “Art the Roofer”, a local artist/ roofer, was brought on to complete the shed. Howie informed him that he wanted an unconventional, staggered roof pattern, to which Art replied: “Man, I can give you a pat¬tern like the waves of the sea.”
The resulting layered cedar shingles that splash across the roofing found their way on to the side of the shed, and eventually onto the main home. The shed was such a success, and so large, Capt. Howie decided to make it a combination work shop, parrot house, storage site for his boating gear, and a washer/dryer facility. There is also a separate meditation room, finished with hand carve teak Balinese doors.
When the time came to tear down the old plantation house, Capt. Howie enlisted the help of an out-of-the-box designer, Billy Pulaski. With much thought and contemplation, Pulaski sketched out plans for a new main structure…an outrageous home like none ever built before.
Soon thereafter, two contractors pulled up to the front gate to have a look at the project which was already beginning to attract a lot of attention. The less shy of the two insisted they meet the owner; and Capt. Howie was introduced to contractor and master builder, George Kircher. A Kailua resident of 35 years who had built homes up and down the Eastern seaboard as well as all coasts of Hawai’i, Kircher liked what he saw in the landscaping and unconventional sheds, and felt a symbiosis with the land and its tropical gardens. He went home, and two weeks later with Pulaski’s building plans in hand – without another conversation with Capt. Howie – Kircher dropped off a full-scale cedar model of the exotic home Pulaski had designed, along with a few of his own magic touches.
“Other than a few things here and there, it’s pretty much what stands on the property today,” said Kircher.
Capt. Howie says the combination of Pulaski’s creative genius and George’s unparalleled crafting skills are what ultimately led to the manifestation of this architectural wonder.
After nearly a year’s wait for Kircher to com¬plete another project, he set to work, aided by both Billy Pulaski and Art the Roofer. The result is a residence that, while many see it as a Hawaiian version of Bilbo Baggins’ estate, others see as a Landlocked Pirate Ship.
The home is built around a central foyer, within which 25-foot Ohia tree posts reach to the ceiling. Indoor balconies from the master and guest rooms upstairs face the center of the home, and are railed by local iron¬wood and sea grape limbs. A freestanding staircase, rooted to four 12-by-12 posts of varying lengths (which resemble dock posts) spirals up in front of you. To the left, the kitchen is decked in custom monkey pod cabinetry. To the right, the family room and entertainment center, followed by the home office, which opens up to the tranquil waterfall garden in the rear of the property.
“We used 600 feet of manila boating rope along the interior walls of the home, where originally we thought we’d use mitered bam¬boo,” said the Captain. “But the bamboo trim was taking too long. All the rope work in the whole house took less than a day, and it really adds a sense of the sea to the home.”
A true renaissance man, Kircher laid down a few ground rules to his workers before construction began. No cell phones. No noisy music. And no nail guns. With few exceptions, everything was to be done by hand, with only the sounds of the wa¬terfall, flowing streams, the ocean (less than 100 yards away), and the wind sweeping down from the mountains.
“The roof in the kitchen and two upstairs rooms really show off Kircher’s ingenuity,” said Capt. Howie. Kircher adjusted the original plans to install tent-shaped ceilings that fan out with diagonal pieces of wood. One of his main contributions was the addition of a massive skylight at the top of the vaulted ceiling in the foyer, at the home’s center. It floods the entire home with natural light.
“I was sitting on a wooden toolbox one day during the construction, and before we put the bedroom walls up, I thought, ‘Why don’t we just leave the bedroom wall open to the foyer, so I can see the stars and moon through the skylight while laying here?’” said Capt. Howie.
The master bath is a prime example of how a loose design sche¬matic, paired with a deep look at priorities, can lead to unique features. Above the sink, an odd-shaped picture window provides sweeping views of the Ko’olau mountains. “I wasn’t going to lose that view just to put a mirror up so I could look at myself when I was brushing my teeth,” said the Captain.
Capt. Howie’s wife Deva found a claw foot tub at a farm, and had it retextured to match the copper bathroom sink. For vari¬ous other fixtures and furniture she had great success in working with a local shop in downtown Honolulu, which also found her bamboo reclining chairs in the Philippines.
“There are intentionally no closets in the whole house,” Capt. Howie proudly admits. “I don’t care too much for closets. First off, we don’t own enough clothes here in the tropics to fill even a small closet. And second, I fancy armoires. This way, if I get tired of the way one looks, I can get rid of it and buy a new one. You can’t do that with too easily with a closet!”
Quirky as it is, this home is a true study in serenity and cooperative partnerships.
“Not once did we have any anxiety building the house,” said Kircher. “We all became good friends – including the house.”