Our founder Noa Santos spent the holidays in Hawaii, so we asked him to share how his island upbringing influenced his design sensibilities and to walk us through his must-visit spot in Maui.
Tell us about your favorite spots in Hawaii? Are there any places you have to stop at when you visit home?
Most people don’t realize how distinctly different each of the Hawaiian islands are. My family has been in Hawaii for six generations but it wasn’t until Ross and I were scouting for wedding venues (with our godsend event designer, Kimiko Hosaki, @khco.events) that I first visited Maui. Perhaps because it’s a uniquely beautiful island and certainly because it’s where I officially “tied the Noss” with the love of my life, I now need to visit Maui on my way home to O’ahu.
What are some signatures of Hawaiian design, and how have they influenced your own design aesthetic?
One of my favorite elements of Hawaiian design, and certainly a profound influence on my own aesthetic philosophy, is the emphasis on functionality and play. I grew up in a home on the beach. A chair didn’t sit where it did because it looked good, it sat there because it gave you the best vantage to watch the surf. What is the point of furniture, or a home even, if not to be a place to play, make memories, and be present? Love is at the core of Hawaiian-style living and therefore ever-present in the design.
What are the common misconceptions about Hawaiian design?
People think: palm trees, sandy beaches, and floral prints, but it’s so much richer than that. Hawaii has a singularly history dating all the way to the islands of the South Pacific. Since then it’s become a melting pot of global cultures, and as technology increasingly blurs the lines between almost everything, it’s exciting to see Hawaii’s design evolve to be as layered and complex as its culture.
Why did you decide to have your wedding on Maui, rather than O’ahu where you grew up? What drew you to the Haiku Mill specifically?
Despite growing up on the beach, a beach wedding wasn’t for either of us. We wanted something that felt as sophisticated and tailored as New York but with the history and love of our childhood home. We searched literally every venue in Hawaii, and Haiku Mill was the only choice—period. Maui felt remote enough to be a destination (even for us) but close enough to feel like home.
Haiku House has a storied history. How does that lineage influence the property’s design and how does that affect your experience there?
There’s nothing like waking up in Hawaii. Six months in New York City and I’m itching to get back home just to have one night of sleep. But being able to get out of bed, walk out on your private patio, and look out over the Maui countryside all the way to the coast – that’s waking up at Haiku House.
Great lengths have been taken to preserve the original architecture of Haiku House, originally the Baldwin Estate. It’s a beyond breathtaking piece of property. From the Koa wood floors to the screened-in lanai to the original dining room wallpaper, the homeowners recognize and respect the history of the estate. More than just design, they also incorporate unexpected elements into the stay. For example, Michele, the home’s caretaker was born and raised on Maui and has served as the home’s keeper for decades. When Ross and I walked through the front door and into a giant hug, she became family. We actually cried when we left her—in only a week, we had an “Aunty” that played such a critical role in what I consider to be the best week of my life. In that way, design is so much more than things you fill a room with, it’s the intent you bring to the experience of living.
What were your most memorable moments from your stay at Haiku House?
I’m a sucker for a dramatic entrance and the drive leading up to Haiku House is outstanding. When the green gates open, you know you’re about to experience something you won’t forget. The grounds are mind-blowing—20 manicured acres of landscaped green space with trees that seem to be as old and impressive as the ground they stand on made my afternoon walks as superb as the wedding photos might suggest.
Every room of Haiku House is impeccably appointed but my favorite space by far is the screen-in lanai. Each night, all of us in the house would grab a few bottles of wine and blankets and sit on the lanai, protected from the bugs, and just listen to the rain, or trade winds or simply the sound of the night. It became an instant tradition and one that I intend to build into my own home one day.
But perhaps Haiku House’s most memorable quality is its singularity. When you’re there, you know there’s nothing else like it. From the hilltop, you have nothing but forest, sea, and sky and, due in no small part to the vast size of the estate, you feel isolated even though the small town of Haiku is only a five min drive. Maui, like the other Hawaiian islands, certainly has its share of spectacular hotels but this is not a hotel. This is not a house. This is a home.