Stone & Timber Act
Raw cement and native woods imbue penthouse with modern spirit.
A product of the Japanese investment boom in Hawaii in the early ’90s, the Waikiki Landmark was designed to be the premiere condominium in Honolulu, before the Japanese bubble burst. Following a few years of uncertainty, and a new owner, the luxury units reached capacity 10 years after opening. A pair of triangular towers bridged by five stories of penthouses soars above the arrow-straight Ala Wai Canal. Clad in aqua-colored reflective glass and pink-hued granite, the 38-story skyscraper speaks tropical Art Deco in an urbanscape of muted greys and blues.
The top floor of this massive structure houses an exclusive penthouse, heretofore unseen by the public. Remodeled and designed with retirement in mind, the previous homeowner envisioned a luxury retreat grounded in Hawaiian materials and art.
Interior designer Avery Solmssen, working independently, collaborated with the homeowner for a couple of years to achieve the final look of the penthouse. Solmssen and the owner took their time selecting local craftspeople and art to fill the 4,000 square feet of space.
“This was my largest project to date,” says Solmssen. “And one of the most fun things I have ever done. The client gave me free reign, and he respected what I had to say. You don’t get a lot of clients actually interested in meeting the artists.” When the owner was in town, visiting from California, the two would look at art together, selecting grand pieces to hang from the exposed cement walls.
Some of Solmssen’s favorite pieces are those produced by celebrated local printmaker Abigail Romanchak, whose work has been featured in the former Contemporary Art Museum in upper Makiki. Her native-Hawaiian-inspired pieces can be found above the Chinese credenza in the foyer and hanging on a cement wall in the master suite.
Solmssen also introduced the owner to Toby Wilkinson, a master woodworker living on the Big Island. The owner commissioned a number of custom pieces including the koa cabinet behind the living room sectional, both coffee tables, the credenza, and the desk in the master bedroom.
For the dominating cement wall in the master suite Solmssen imagined a floating shelf system to display the koa calabashes she collected for the homeowner. Koa shelves crafted by Wilkinson protrude from the wall, adding depth and character to the raw cement.
One particular challenge for the designer was the sheer size of the apartment, including three bedrooms and three and a half baths encircled by floor-to-ceiling windows. “The industrial-looking space seemed to eat up furniture,” laughs Solmssen. Thus the designer focused on visual presentation, restraining her own personal taste to focus on scale and Hawaii-based materials. “Scale is important,” notes Solmessen, “but you must also have a relationship with your finishes. For example, if you have wainscoting on the wall you need to relate that to the furniture you are selecting.” This penthouse provided a collage of finishes, including carpet tiles, cement, hardwood flooring and massive windows.
To counterbalance these surfaces, Solmssen arranged a masculine presentation of fabric, furniture and art that weaved industrial finishes with familiar Hawaii elements. “The juxtaposition of materials, from the mango dining table to the minimalist kitchen, achieved a significant Hawaii connection,” says Solmssen.