Step Inside This Tiny Turquoise Surf Shack in Hawaii
Catching A Wave
Surfers are a patient lot. They have to be—the sport is one of waiting and (hopefully) making the right move at the right time. Waves come in sets, and to get fully stoked you have to endure the lulls between them. And so it went with surfers/watersports enthusiasts Laura and Mike Kaplan and their little shack on Maui.
Betting on the Bungalow
The humble cottage is a 1930s sugar plantation worker’s house that had long ago been salvaged and moved to the town of Pāi‘a, on Maui’s North Shore. It had always caught the Colorado couple’s attention when they passed it during their frequent trips to the funky beach town. Laura and Mike are both veteran snow-skiers (Mike works in the industry), but as soon as the season closed, they would head to Hawai‘i, rent “some bug-infested place, and Mike would windsurf, and I’d desperately try,” says Laura, who has since taken up longboarding. Maybe it was the cottage’s unabashed aqua boldness, or maybe it was the perpetual “For Sale” sign, but on a whim one day, they ducked in to inquire about the little bungalow, and then bought it—all bare-boned 750 square feet of it.
Thus began the first wave of Kaplan occupancy. The two-bedroom, one-bath cottage served as summer central for the active young family, whose three children were ages 4, 3, and 1 when Mike and Laura purchased the house. “We had the most incredible family vacations there,” she recalls. With all the kids corralled in one bedroom and Mom and Dad in the other, days were spent outside, at the beach, and in the surf—not caring much that their island abode was a bit ragtag and, yes, tiny.
Time to Grow
When baby No. 4 came along, though, the Kaplans’ needs shifted. “We squeezed in for one more summer, and then took a hiatus from Maui for 10 or so years and brought in a long-term tenant,” says Laura. During the extended lull, they considered building an addition or tearing the shack down and replacing it with a bigger, more modern house—maybe one with a pool—to accommodate their crew. “We drew up four different sets of plans, but nothing felt right,” Laura says. They even put it on the market, which led to a serious gut check. “The kids begged us not to sell; I think it was just meant to be in our lives,” she adds.
But before the family could use it again, the long-neglected cottage needed an overhaul. Mike asked Laura if she’d take on “turning it into a more solid, mature surf shack,” and she took that challenge to Maui architect Hunton Conrad and California-based interior designer Tim Clarke. Laura had seen Clarke get creative with small spaces before—he’d recently worked magic on her sister-in-law’s groovy Paradise Cove trailer in Malibu. “Tim didn’t mind that we were on a tight budget and that we didn’t want anything too fancy,” says Laura. “For instance, when I explained that I only wanted outdoor showers, he totally got it. He said, ‘You want the real deal.’ And we did.”
For Clarke, the “real deal” meant honoring the cottage’s inherent simplicity. “The goal was to keep things super easy, and do nothing that would be a burden maintenance-wise,” he says. Clarke and Conrad added a screened porch across the ocean side of the house to extend the living space and welcome in the breeze—it was the only change they made to the cottage’s original footprint. They did flip the floor plan, shifting the two bedrooms from beachside to the back of the house (squeezing in an additional bath) and giving the main living areas the prime ocean views.
Touting Communal Spaces
Clarke kept the decor streamlined and minimal. The kitchen’s concrete countertops, open shelving, and natural, light oak and fir wood harmonize with the living room’s airy, organic sensibility. “On vacation, you want to live in one big, communal space,” the designer says. “Plus, open rooms better connect the interior to the world outside.” A sectional sofa—a Clarke design—can be configured as another sleeping option, and all the fabrics are indoor/outdoor, so no worries if the foldout divider between the living area and screened porch stays open (as it typically does).
In the bedrooms, beaded curtains are cool, retro stand-ins for closet doors, but they also save space and invite airflow into potentially musty spaces. A window-seat nook in one bedroom creates additional sleeping space, as do the two daybeds (with nifty pull-down mosquito screens) in the new ocean-side pavilion—a versatile, open-air entertaining and living space that Clarke added at the water’s edge. “People aren’t too picky about where they sleep in Hawai‘i,” he notes. And especially not when they can practically roll out of their bunks into one of the best surf breaks around.
Setting Up A Surprise
Perhaps the best surprise in the surf shack’s reincarnation was the big reveal: Mike knew nothing of Laura and Clarke’s design plan until he arrived at the little cottage. “I wanted it to be like a present for him,” Laura says. Of course, he loved it. And with their kids now young adults and equally smitten with the house, she sees the couple’s return to Maui as something of a second honeymoon. “Mike and I got engaged on this island,” she says. “Our love affair and this place go hand in hand. I like how it’s all come full circle.”