A Calgary family bought a lot with an unobstructed view of Molokini€”and then built a vacation home that frames it from almost every room.

Molokini, a crescent-shaped crater off the southwest shore of Maui, is a dramatic slice of local lore and landscape. It’s why a Calgary family bought a lot with an unobstructed view of the sweep of rock and then built a vacation home that frames it from almost every room.

The crater is said to be the curved tail of a mo’o, or beautiful lizard, that captured the heart of a prince loved by Pele, the goddess of fire. In a jealous rage, Pele ripped the mo’o in half and cast its tail into the sea. The legend is a vivid bit of Hawaiiana. And this 4,500-square-foot hideaway, just south of the Wailea strip and atop a preserved ravine overlooking Halo Bay, taps into that colourful vibe.

“A fresh take on tropical island style” is how interior designer Stephanie Brown describes the aesthetic. Vancouver-based Brown had worked with the young family on their Calgary home and came on board after Big Island-based architect Bill Weigang had set the basic design of the five-bedroom bungalow. “He specializes in this contextual Hawaiian architecture,” she says of Weigang’s work, which manifests in low-slung, low-pitched rooflines of shingles that mimic a thatched roof, and natural, cultural materials (wood columns and stone flooring). “It’s definitely not architecture you’d see transplanted to B.C. or Alberta,” says Brown.

Unlike the modern, urban spaces she typically works on in Vancouver or Calgary, her starting point was über-tropical mahogany throughout—windows, trim, built-ins, cabinetry, vaulted-ceiling beams—along with highly textured fossilized shellstone. “A big departure for me,” says Brown of all the dark wood and stone, but she embraced the plantation look and modernized it by balancing the brown-on-beige with lightness and colour.

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In the dining room, Brown contrasted the dark wood with stark-white dining chairs (upholstered in outdoor fabric as a concession to the wet swimsuits and Popsicles that come with the family’s three children under 10). In the master bath, she placed a free-standing gleaming-white tub in front of the doorway to an outdoor-shower enclosure with a black-lava wall. It’s a striking sculptural statement set against rugged Hawaiian beauty.

Elsewhere, she used aqua and coral accents. “This is tropical, this is Maui, this is fun,” says Brown. “You want little punches of colour to liven it up, give it a more fresh, upbeat feeling.” Amid the mahogany cabinetry of the kitchen, there’s a bright release of green and blue tones in the glass tile backsplash, which also has a russet tinge that ties back to the wood. These same hues repeat in slight variations in each bedroom, whether through bedding, textiles or grasscloth wallcoverings (ranging from bolder blue and red in the boys’ room to deeper coral and teal in the girl’s). “Different plays on a common theme,” says Brown of these threads of colour, which add interest to an otherwise monochromatic and neutral palette.

She also gave the underlying plantation style a more contemporary edit by working in flat-panel millwork, minimalist hardware and open shelving, and eschewing crown moulding. She incorporated island touches in modern pieces, like weaves and slats in sleek side chairs and pendants. “Everything was sourced and chosen to reflect more of a tropical feeling,” she says. Even coconut shells become part of an inset detail in the custom millwork, “a great contextual touch to bring in that cool texture.”

Yet nothing is overt. It’s a subtle island connection, achieved with a high-low mix of malleable pieces that she’s used in other design projects. The orbs of the Caviar chandelier evoke Japanese glass buoys or something like “a sea creature,” she says. A chevron-patterned rug from Pottery Barn takes on a South Seas, ikat-like motif. “You start to look at products with a different set of eyes,” says Brown, referring to a metal sconce that is reminiscent of a tiki torch.

She used that light in the windowless powder room as part of a dramatic combo of dark, textured wallpaper (think lava rock) paired with lighter, iridescent wallpaper (mica-like). The completely clad and richly textured space is a jewel box, says Brown, and ended up being one of her favourite features, tiki torch reference and all.

“The fire element is a big thing,” says Brown. Pele’s fiery presence, aglow in those classic tiki torches around the lanai and cauldrons flanking the infinity pool, is another contextual element that’s also practical when night falls dark and early. “I hate to use the cliché, but Maui has a magical feeling at night,” she says of the sunsets, fires, pitch-black sky and stars. But when daylight returns, massive pocket doors open to reveal that mo’o again—and this haute Hawaiian hideaway, from Molokini and sea creatures to coconut shells and tiki torches.

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