The New Hawaii Chic
From glass-rich condos in Honolulu to exclusive member resorts on neighbour islands, Hawaii’s latest luxury homes target the global elite.
“You’re not afraid of heights are you?” Race Randle, Senior Vice President at Howard Hughes Corporation has stepped casually out onto the glass balcony of a 36th floor penthouse. Below, the waves breaking on the reef appear like chalk smudges. The pages of my notebook ruffle in the wind.
Usually the answer is no, because I’m surrounded by other tall buildings – 400 feet doesn’t feel particularly high in Central Hong Kong or Midtown Manhattan. This balcony floats freely above Honolulu’s aquamarine ocean and there is nothing in my line of sight from Pearl Harbor to the Diamond Head crater.
The penthouse, which offers similarly unobstructed views through its floor to ceiling windows, occupies the top floor of Waiea, a rippling glass tower located in Ward Village, a neighbourhood currently being developed on a 60-acre oceanfront parcel between Waikiki and downtown. If the residence fetches the asking price of US$36 million, it will set a new price record for Honolulu.
Price records are frequently broken in Hawaii these days. Last year Hawaii saw double-digit price gains in the luxury segment (defined as the top 5 per cent of sales). According to Realtor.com, luxury prices in Maui increased 33 per cent to an average of US$2.485 million compared to a year prior, while the island of Kauai came in No. 4 in the country with a 25 per cent leap in average luxury price, and The Big Island came in No. 5 with a 24.8 per cent price increase.
But price points are only part of the novelty at Ward Village. The master plan aims to reshape the Honolulu skyline with around 20 new towers, a revitalized marina and waterfront, bike and pedestrian paths, public plazas and vibrant street-level retail.
“Hawaii obviously has a lot of great things to offer,” says Todd Apo, Vice President of Community Development at Howard Hughes. “But we’ve never had an urban core.”
Hawaii’s legendary climate, beach resorts and golf courses have long made it a popular holiday getaway. Honolulu, which lies on the southern coast of Ohau, is the most populous city, home to 402,500 residents (955,000 if you count the surrounding areas) and best known for its crescent shaped beach, high-rise hotels and Vegas-like strip of shopping malls.
But outside of the bustling tourist district the city is car-dependent and characterized by wide boulevards and strip malls. By developing Ward Village, Howard Hughes aims to deliver a new urban experience for locals and offer a lifestyle familiar to affluent buyers from places like Tokyo or Vancouver.
Residents will have easy access to good schools and medical facilities, Todd Apo explains. “This kind of connectivity is what’s attracting people, both the local crowd and people coming from international locations.”
The developers enlisted a number of acclaimed architects to create signature architecture for the project, including Vancouver’s James Cheng, Chicago’s Ben Woo and New York’s Richard Meier. The tower designs vary, but all are glass rich with views oriented toward the ocean and balconies on west-facing exposures that are sheltered from the trade winds.
The residential portions of the buildings are placed atop car parks (Honoulu’s high water table makes underground parking unviable) and utilize the boxy volumes as podiums for a lavish amenity decks fitted with landscaped gardens, lap pools and outdoor kitchens.
For the moment, the streets of Ward Village remain relatively vacant, and large sections of the former industrial area are under construction. But things are changing.
Property sales have been swift in the project’s two completed towers. Only eight residences remain at the James Cheng-designed Waiea tower (meaning “water of life”). Prices range from US$5.3 million for a two-bedroom unit up to US$36 million for the penthouse, which has five bedrooms, five baths and a private rooftop infinity pool.
Across the street at the newly completed Anaha, (meaning "reflection”), only five residences remain with prices from US$2.5 million to US$8 million. There are also two penthouse units available, each with five bedrooms.
In Hawaii, a focus on Polynesian tradition is central to any marketing pitch and property developers are quick to tell you about the traditional meaning of the names they have chosen and their respect for the history of grounds on which they are building. But the focus on culture pervades more than just marketing collateral. Hawaiians have a strong sense of place and often talk about their cultural and geographical heritage.
Kauai, the westernmost and oldest in the island chain (4 million years) is incredibly lush due to its iron-rich soil and the island’s vine-choked forests, plunging waterfalls and broad sand beaches have served as the backdrops for films like Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean. Kauai has also long been a favored playground of celebrities and executives on their second or third homes (actors Ben Stiller and Pierce Brosnan both own property here).
At the top end of the market hidden coastal compounds sell for tens of millions. In 2014, Mark Zuckerberg famously purchased a 700-acre property on Kauai for US$100 million. Currently Kauai’s most expensive listing is a US$70 million Balinese-inspired estate situated atop a seaside bluff on the island’s north side. But despite its lavish compounds, Kauai still remains quieter and less developed than other islands.
Microclimates play a central role property purchases on Kauai, and the southern Po’ipu coast, which receives the most annual sunshine, is one of the most coveted spots. Several high-end resorts are situated here, including Kukui’ula, a former sugar plantation that has been transformed into a lavish private club.
Anchored by a plantation-style clubhouse, the community features a range of accommodations spread across rolling green terrain and an 18-hole golf course. A club membership at Kukui’ula costs US$50,000, while properties range from bungalows of around US$1.5 million to larger villas overlooking the fairway and ocean that start around US$4.2 million.
Recently, the developers enlisted leading architectural firms to design a handful of contemporary spec homes that may help to inspire potential builders. Seattle-based Olson Kundig Architects designed a four-bedroom 4,238 sq ft home with elevated garden pathways, outdoor showers and a sliding glass door in every room that let the verdant views in. The property, which overlooks a mango and papaya orchard and the cobalt sea in the distance, is offered at US$6.95 million.
On an adjacent lot, Dean Sakamoto and Kelly & Stone Architects designed a home inspired by Hawaii’s most famous modernist, Vladamir Ossipoff. The property also has four bedrooms and is slightly larger at 4,769 sq ft. Orchard and ocean views are seen through wide windows equipped with sliding glass panels. The living areas, rich in wood, feature handpicked mid-century style furnishings. The property is listed at US$7.45 million.
On the other side of the Hawaiian archipelago (a 50-minute flight from Kauai, or 35 minutes from Honolulu), Hawaii’s Big Island offers a vastly different climate and topography. On the island’s western side (just 400,000 years old), an otherworldly landscape of black lava fields is the site of a number of luxury resorts with private villas for sale. Hualalai, Kukio and the Four Seasons are all located near Kona airport, as is the island’s latest billionaire getaway, Kohanaiki.
The resort’s centerpiece, a sprawling 67,000 square foot clubhouse, was designed by San Francisco-based Zak Architecture at a cost of US $65 million and is rich in wood with charcoal-colored floors, soaring vaulted ceilings and glittering ocean views. On the garden level, a large infinity pool is flanked by a fitness centre, spa and garden, while the other wing houses an indoor-outdoor restaurant and pro shop. “If you encompass all of the space, including the spa and gardens, it’s over 100,000 square feet,” says General Manager, David Reese. “Our members are a well-traveled and sophisticated set with the world at their fingertips, so we were challenged to create a clubhouse that was larger-than-life.”
An invitation-only equity club, Kohanaiki has a one-time entrance fee of US $150,000 in addition to an annual membership fee of US $25,000. Available properties (being a member requires purchasing a property) include bungalows, townhouses and villas ranging from about from US $1.3 million to US $20 million.
Mau Lua Estate, a 4,800 square foot ocean view villa also designed by Zak Architecture, is currently listed for US $16 million. The property features five bedrooms, including two master suites and spacious outdoor living areas that encompass a lap pool and spa.
There’s a lot to see on Hawaii’s Big Island -- including active volcanoes and a range of hiking trails -- but residents at Kohanaiki may be tempted to stay put. In addition to the golf course, tennis courts, beachside restaurant and adventure club, the property is dotted with “comfort stations”, small air-conditioned huts stocked for every whim: frozen Mai Tai cocktails, fresh juices, sandwiches, ice cream, sunscreen, even lip balm and lens cleaner.
“They take good care of you here,” a plastic surgeon from Los Angeles tells me between sips of a frozen passion fruit cocktail. Like many members from America’s west coast, he spends a few weeks or up to a month at a time at Kohanaiki – only a handful of members call Kohanaiki home year-round.
Other members hail from Canada, Japan and Hong Kong. Asia is an important market for Hawaii, particularly Japan and Korea, though with direct flights now offered from Shanghai and Beijing, Chinese tourism is increasing.
Tomo Matsumoto, owner of Hapuna Realty who represents luxury developments on the island’s northwest coast, has been actively marketing her projects both in China and in her native Japan. Currently she is representing the Hapuna Beach Residences at Mauna Kea Resort, a collection of homes being built around an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course. The project also includes 60 waterfront condos, formerly part of the Hapuna Prince Hotel, that are being converted as part of the hotel’s US $46 million overhaul.
But the crown jewel is a waterfront villa, formerly the hotel’s ocean suite, which is currently undergoing a US $2 million renovation. Originally built in 1994, the house, which sits on a south-facing bluff overlooking Hapuna Beach, is being expanded to more than 9,200 square feet to include four bedrooms and 5 baths. Even in its half-finished state, the proportions and vistas are breathtaking.
Flecks of turquoise, blue and purple can be seen bouncing off the sea, and on the second floor, connected via a circular staircase, the views from the master suite are even more expansive. Proximity to the golf course may be a strong selling point in Hawaii, but when it comes to prime property, ocean views still trump the fairway.
“This is one of the island’s best beaches,” Tomo Matsumoto says. “And this singular beachfront location is unparalleled and unlikely to be duplicated for years to come.” The Hapuna Beach Villa is listed for US $21.995 million.
This story appears in the April 2018 print issue of The Peak