Across a sandy beach and rocky lava fields, and you’ll reach it: a vacation home tucked into the coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, where stark simplicity provides a respite from the area’s prevailing tropical colors. “When we took on the project,the clients told us right away thatthey’re minimalists at heart,” says San Francisco– based designerCatherine Kwong. “That’s an easy thing to do in a big city loft, but we had to figure out, how did that translate to a house that’s open to the elements? And how do we make it a kind of place where people wantto unwind?” Kwong and her team worked with the home’s architect, Shay Zak of Zak Architecture, to lay an ideal foundation, using hard-wearing, weather-friendly materials like Alaskan yellow cedar and basalt (a.k.a. lava stone) to create a clean-lined structure where the indoors and outdoors—temperatures hover in the balmy mid-80s yearround—flowed easily into one another. For Kwong, the challenge was to bring in furnishings and decor that would make it feel relaxed, not austere.
Her answer: layer, layer, layer. “It’s a neutral color palette,” she says, referring to everything from the textiles (a mix of grays and ivories) to the artwork (all black and white, and all behind UV-filtering glass), “but it incorporates different types of media. The materials and fabrics all have a tactile hand, which makes it seem cozier.” Even the white paint that was used on all of the interior walls was chosen with warmth in mind. “The lighting on the Big Island is really bright, so we didn’t want a pure white,” Kwong explains. “We spent months testing out colors and ended up with Benjamin Moore’s Swiss Coffee—actually a super-popular color that has a little softness to it.” And while the idea of white anything in a beach house occupied by two adults with two little kids might cause hesitation, Kwong assures that the pieces she chose—from the beige hemp rugs to indoor-outdoor canvas cushions on the dining chairs—are totally family-friendly. “We made sure to balance the client’s minimalist aesthetic with how a beach house is actually used,” says Kwong. “It’s not a place where people are worried about tracking in sand!”