By Jody McCutcheon
Living in a lush, Hawaiian paradise would be good enough for most people. But considering that the residential housing sector is responsible for 21% of US carbon dioxide emissions and 22% of energy use, it’s good to know that some homeowners are willing to go the extra mile to make their lush, Hawaiian paradise comfortable not only for themselves, but for the planet as well.
Each of these eco friendly Hawaiian homes blends well with its surroundings, while embracing a deep respect for the landscape, providing architectural and interiors inspo to us all. And if you think they’re beyond your reach, think again: some of these can be rented on Airbnb, making them yours for at least a night or two!
Everyone faces their fears in different ways. In this regard, Phoenix House offers a unique opportunity. Erected on the 1990 Kalapana lava flow at the base of Hawaii’s most active volcano, Mauna Loa—which last erupted in 1984—this tiny house will certainly attract courageous types willing to defy the dangers of a live volcano. Especially with sister volcano Kilauea having been active for the last couple months!
The 42-square-metre guest house was designed by Will Beilharz of sustainable tourist company ArtisTree and named after the mythical bird that rose from the ashes—because it literally rises from the ashes of the lava flow it’s built on, symbolic of the cycle of death and rebirth. Phoenix House boasts a unique modern beach-/farmhouse style, complete with living area, kitchen and bathroom.
Created with a “deep respect for Mother Earth,” Beilharz built a structure that blends into its surroundings, leaving a light ecological footprint. Belonging to a regenerative, off-grid community compound, Phoenix House offers several green features, including rooftop solar panels, a rainwater harvesting system and large windows that permit a generous supply of natural light.
The structure is raised off the rocky ground on short stilts to minimise any impact on newly seeding vegetation, and the roof consists of recycled corrugated metal, approximating the rusty colour of hot lava. Another nice aesthetic touch comes from the exterior wooden cladding. Blackened using the ancient Japanese preservative-charring technique of Shou Sugi Ban, it blends well with the landscape’s darkened surroundings.
This Airbnb property affords great views of steam plumes caused by lava hitting ocean water. Plus, it’s just a 6.4km bicycle trip from watching molten lava flow into the ocean.
Adherents of the tiny house movement, LifeEdited’s first two “small space, big design” projects simply showcased the spatial potential of tiny-home living. LifeEdited: Maui goes a step further, incorporating green, renewable living into the equation.
The home was designed by and for LifeEdited’s CEO, Graham Hill (founder of sustainability and design blog—and Eluxe competitor—TreeHugger) with a big assist from Hawaii Off-Grid. Completed late last year, LifeEdited: Maui is a compact home showcasing “the future of living” with the help of several reassuring adjectives. “Off-grid,” “low-impact” and “net-zero energy” are all great, but pairing them with “luxury” makes them even better.
Situated on just under a hectare of land in Haiku, Maui—a landscape as efficiently poetic as its name suggests, with views of the West Maui Mountains on one side and ocean on the other—this two-storey residence measures 93 square metres indoors with an additional 30 square metres of land. But as LifeEdited has shown with previous projects, not everything is exactly as it seems.
Furnishings by Resource Furniture allow one bedroom to quickly convert into an office, another to become a room for dining or games, and a third to morph into a television den. By virtue of this transforming design and its indoor/outdoor living space, LifeEdited: Maui impersonates a much larger home. All told, the residence tallies four bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms, and the capacity to entertain twenty people while sleeping eight.
In addition to space efficiency, many sustainability features have been baked into the project. Off-grid living is largely facilitated by a Sunflare thin-film rooftop solar array that produces enough energy to power everything in the house as well as Hill’s electric car and Magnum e-bikes. Excess energy is stored in Blue Ion Batteries by Blue Planet Energy, specifically their Blue Ion 2.0 Energy System. LED lighting is used throughout the house, while a Sense home energy monitor keeps tabs on energy levels. Operable glazing, energy-efficient windows and Andersen multiglide sliding glass doors maximise natural lighting and ventilation throughout the house. The Richlite counter- and tabletops consist of 65% recycled paper. And an Acer rainwater harvesting system holds 20,000 gallons of water, while the Separett composting toilets are waterless.
Sustainable lifestyles do indeed start at home.
Unlike the others in this story, our third Hawaiian home is by no means a small house. Rather, it’s a big, booming shout-out to extravagance and beauty—but also to sustainability.
The Kona Residence is a multiple-award-winning vacation home designed by Belzberg Architects and built in 2010 on Hawaii’s Big Island. Nestled among cooled lava flows, with ocean horizons to the west and volcanic mountain ranges to the east, the residence integrates these dichotomous landscape views into a whole that’s steeped in Hawaiian geology and culture.
The first hint comes in the form of the house’s eye-catching entry pavilion, connecting motor court to main building. Its unique structure is inspired by local basket weaving culture and recreates the traditional “gift upon arrival” ceremony. The second hint is in the materials: you won’t find anything like aluminium bi-fold doors here; instead, the dwelling is built from local wood and cut lava rock, two materials that scream “Hawaii!” Finally, throughout the house are found nods to Hawaiian wood-carving tradition, in the forms of various digitally sculpted wood ceilings and screens that evoke the island’s vegetation and culture. One might view them as infusions of traditional elements into contemporary architecture.
The 725-square-metre house is divided into “pods”: a main living quarters, a garage/guest house, a media room and a children’s area consisting of bedrooms and play space. All four pods are connected by a long, al fresco atrium topped by teak cross-beams—an “exterior gallery corridor,” as described by principal architect Hagy Belzberg. The pods’ walls are reinforced with steel to protect against the island’s seismic shifts and often-strong winds.
The beauty and extravagance is evident in each of the residence’s 20-plus rooms. “Room,” however, is a fluid concept. The master bedroom’s walls disappear, allowing the sleeping quarters to blend with the outside and tropical breezes to enter and cool inhabitants. Meanwhile, the master bathroom includes an outdoor tub.
The open concept design extends to the kitchen, whose walls give way to the exterior gallery corridor, and the living room, which extends outdoors into an infinity pool. Each pod offers a wash-up shower to rinse off sand and sweat before coming indoors. The house also boasts a theatre, gym and a second pool that reflects the stunning Hawaiian sunsets, this one lined with dark lava rock that heats the water via solar radiation.
Other sustainability elements include a pair of roof-mounted photovoltaic panel arrays that supply the house with electricity, a rainwater harvesting system that stocks the dwelling’s aquifer, and an exterior built from teak reclaimed from old barns and train tracks.
Bigger isn’t always better. But in this case, despite its impressive size, Kona Residence treads rather gently on the planet.
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