House of the Sun

Claudio Santini
Creations by island artisans bask in this finely crafted fresh-air retreat on Maui

Along Maui's leeward shore, the ocean isn't a predictable neighbor. Sometimes big swells swing around the island, and for a few days, plumes of spray rear like white horses above the black lava flows. Then all settles down. Soon the glassy sea returns, and gentle trade winds thread their way into the open-air rooms of Joe and Anna Mae Blouin's beach house.

These Michigan residents relish their winter getaway in the Makena area, a lava-toothed stretch of coast between Wailea and La Perouse Bay. World-class snorkeling, long-distance cycling, kayaking, hiking Haleakala National Park, and hula dancing contribute to the couple's active lifestyle and love of Hawaiian traditions.

It's no wonder the Blouins hoped to fill a home with artwork that reflects the strong creative force of Maui and its massive volcano Haleakala, which translates to "House of the Sun." Long ago, Haleakala fashioned this homesite out of aprons of lava.

Joe, a retired auto-parts manufacturer, and Anna Mae always wanted a private and informal retreat. The couple found the perfect spot in a gated community of homes designed by Hawaiian architect Hugh J. Farrington. The Blouins bought the spectacular oceanfront lot from owners whose house was still in its planning stage.

Correctly sensing that most of their time would be spent outdoors, the Blouins asked Hugh to tinker with the plans. They reduced the house's size from 4,600 to 3,600 square feet, gaining more outdoor living space. Then they partnered with Maui interior designer Donna Poseley to further capture the nuances of island living.

They wanted a traditional but casual beach house―the kind of place their grandkids would love visiting," says Donna. "They put their soul into this house's art and all its craftsmanship."

For example, a beautiful handcrafted stair and rail sweep down from the second floor, ending in a koa-lidded bowl set atop a newel post. Dark-stained, silky-smooth bamboo flooring looks like walnut or teak, but the segmented pattern has an appeal all its own. Built-in cabinetry and shelving combine the simplicity you might find in a New England sea captain's house with exotic island hardwoods, especially honey-warm koa. The house's overall theme mixes fine handiwork with the casualness of canvas slipcovers, a sinuous rattan chaise, and low-slung, campaign-style furnishings. Each room has a pavilion feel thanks to vaulted, wood-paneled ceilings.

"I like natural products," says Anna Mae. "Joe and I really enjoyed seeking out local talent." In addition to all the wood details in the house, several showers and baths swirl with hand-painted sea-inspired tilework.

Views of the ocean, both created and real, are ever present. Downstairs, a covered lanai joins the living area and kitchen. The space feels even larger due to huge banks of sliding doors that disappear into room corners. Just beyond, white-sailed fleets of passing clouds accent the brilliant blue sea and sky.

But is it too open to the elements? "It's dry here," explains Donna. "And we have a side-shore breeze that doesn't bring a lot of salt into the house. Everyone who has an oceanfront house has to stay on top of polishing and cleaning issues, but even the few bugs we have here seem to understand what to do―those that fly in, fly right out again!"

Insect stragglers have been known to become dinner for a wild gecko or two that the Blouins count as friends. "They're considered good luck," says Anna Mae, pointing to a small swivel-eyed reptile peering from atop a door.

Such is life in the Blouins' own house of the sun, where nature and homeowners seem perfectly at ease with each other.

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