Island Solitude

A California couple breathes new life into the Hawaii cottage where Charles Lindbergh spent his final days.
By Peter Jensen

High above Maui's coastline in remote Hana, a simple cottage clings to a hillside scribed with volcanic rock walls. Far below, white lines of torn surf wrap around black lava headlands. A few steps from the porches and lanais, a lawn soars out like an airplane's wing searching for lift. Standing on it feels like flying. Surely Charles Lindbergh recognized this, having spent his last days here in 1974.

For current owners Lorraine and Tom Brodek of Los Angeles, the humble cottage with a glorious view embodies everything they love about Maui, especially the warmth and spirit of the island's people and its magnificent natural history. Even the somber presence of a church and graveyard across the street is not unsettling, just another timeless element in Hana's small, tight-knit community.

"We'd been coming to Maui and the Hotel Hana-Maui since our daughters, now adults, were about 6 and 7," says Lorraine. She and Tom, a film producer, rented the cottage in the late '90s while the hotel was temporarily closed. They fell in love with the property about when it became available.

Soon the Brodeks were in the midst of a major renovation, updating the 1950s main cottage as well as converting a garage and its upstairs room into an office. From the beginning, they wanted to respect the property's indigenous style and honor its poignant bit of history.

"Back then it was a guest cottage owned by Jeannie Pechin," says Lorraine. "Lindbergh's doctor arranged for him to stay here. According to A. Scott Berg's biography, Mr. Lindbergh told his doctor he'd 'rather spend two days alive on Maui than two months in this hospital in New York City.' " So the reclusive patient, who had built a rustic home with wife Anne elsewhere in Hana, came to fulfill his last wish.

Today the cottage reflects the many personal touches of both the Brodeks and their interior designer, Cynthia Marks of Santa Monica. "Lorraine had a big storage unit filled with furniture in L.A.," says Cynthia, "and many of the pieces came from her collection. We put them in a container and shipped them over." They also hunted Hawaiiana via online auctions and L.A. flea markets, where vintage island knickknacks are big. "We found everything from really groovy rattan chairs to toothpicks," relates Cynthia, "and menus from the ocean liner SS Lurline, vintage watercolors, and bar glasses. Really, though, the '50s set the motif, not just Hawaiiana."

The homesite itself yielded treasures. "We found the neatest old bottles," says Lorraine. "One was in the shape of the church across the street. We also found a couple of old glass fishnet floats down in the puka [sunken garden], as well as crockery and other housekeeping items." Many are now displayed on walls or shelves in artful arrangements that mix three-dimensional objects with framed art and mementos.

The bones of the house remain essentially unchanged, but the reconstruction added modern materials that can withstand Hawaii's climate. For example, the siding is now a shiplap of fiber-cement panels, while decking for the screened porches is a wood-and-plastic composite.

"We had major talks about color," recalls Cynthia, "and there were times when the painters would say, 'Are you sure about this?' " Lorraine and Cynthia agree that communication was the key to working on a vacation house with so many details, especially when they couldn't be on-site every day.

"No one wanted to make this house a palace," says iynthia. "It listened to what the neighbors had to say. It honors people, generations, the landscape."

And history. Especially interested in the Lindbergh connection, Tom became a collector of memorabilia that shows up around the house. In its time, Lindbergh's accomplishment was the equivalent of the first lunar landing. Later, his memoir The Spirit of St. Louis was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. In it, he spoke movingly of the exhilarating, sometimes frightening, often spiritual side of looking down on land and water--especially after a perilous trip over the sea: "Now, I'm flying above the foam-lined coast ...I've never seen such beauty before... It's like rain after drought, spring after a northern winter. I've been to eternity and back."