When a family of five from New York City approached designer Shaolin Low about revamping their property in Honolulu's Kahala neighborhood, they didn't intend to make it their permanent home. However, after Low turned the dated Mediterranean-style space into a "coastal contemporary" abode full of crisp whites, light grays and soothing shades of blue, the homeowners quickly fell in love with the bright, breezy layout. It was even fitting to preserve some of the home's original elements — most notably the monkey pod hardwood floors.
"It just made sense to keep the monkey pod flooring throughout the entire house, because of the way the house flows," says Low, owner and principal designer of Studio Shaolin. "Sure enough, once we lightened up the walls and the doors, that monkey pod looks gorgeous and intentional."
Take a look at the home's complete transformation below, including the statement wood flooring as well as spacious interiors featuring intriguing textures, natural woods and beautiful creations from local artists.
As you enter the living area, you’re greeted by three distinct yet flowing spaces: a fireplace area that feels comfortable yet formal, a sunken living room with a striking U-shaped sofa, and a colorful daybed area the three children adore.
"It's a matter of making these moments, but not having one moment dominate the other," says Low. "The goal is always to keep the same energy throughout a space. The layers are different, the colors are different, but it all feels like the same energy."
When thinking about how the three spaces blend together seamlessly, Low says she loves to design spaces where both adults and children can spend time and relax. "I have met so many clients who feel like they have to compromise their design or the quality of their home because of the children who live in it," she says.
Above the sofa, you'll find artwork Ethan Estess, marine scientist-turned-artist, made using real marine debris. Look to the coffee table: which appears to be crafted from stone, but was actually built by The Splinter Concept, a local woodworker and painted by local artist known as Art by Miyuki. “We try to use local talent as much as possible because we have such a plethora here on the islands,” says Low.
The kitchen underwent a complete transformation. Before, the cabinets were a walnut veneer and there was a long, curved kitchen island and several faux wood beams along the ceiling. Now, the cabinets are painted a light gray and have traditional chrome pulls. To keep the space light and bright, a smoked pearl quartz countertop is paired with a true white herringbone backsplash.
"The idea was to have fun with the island, bringing in that ocean coastal feel and give it a pop of color without having to commit so heavily," says Low. "It’s always this question of 'How do we keep it contemporary and modern, but also have this really warm, coastal, ocean feel without it feeling kitschy?'"
Full of coastal elements, the neutral dining area features an oak dining set and two oversized pendants from Palecek. "The chandeliers over the dining table help to bring in that coastal feel, but obviously they're really elevated and gorgeous on their own," Low says.
Where there’s now a cozy seating area, there was previously a closest in the center of the bedroom. Once the closet was removed, Low had a giant room to contend with and she knew the space needed a bold wallpaper and oversized headboard.
"It all started with the wallpaper for me," says Low of the primary bedroom’s textured wallpaper byInnovations. "I found the sample, and I had to have it in my life. Thankfully, the clients felt the same. We pulled the entire bedroom together based on that wallpaper."
Step into the gorgeous primary bathroom, where Low chose to keep the original wood paneling to serve as an accent wall. “From the very beginning, we all loved that wood moment and I knew that if we lightened up the rest of the bathroom, that wood moment would stand on its own," she says.
From the yellow floral wall decals (by Kenna Sato Designs) to the bone inlay nightstands, this cheerful space blends elements of childhood creativity with sophisticated adult style.
Drawing on the son’s love for planes and ships, Low filled this bright bedroom with cargo-style bunk beds, a vintage propeller clock and Montessori-style shelves filled with his favorite toys.
Oldest Son's Bedroom
Inspired by his love for surfing, Low outfitted the oldest son's bedroom with mature yet playful pieces that would make anyone want to hang ten. The team framed a “Pray for Surf” tapestry, added two paintings by artist Jack Soren and framed a few photographs (from local artist Bree Poort) for over the sofa.
For more before and after shots, check out Studio Shaolin on Instagram.
Alyssa Gautieri (she/her) is the associate lifestyle editor for Good Housekeeping, where she covers all things home and interior design. Prior to joining GH in 2022, she wrote for publications including ELLE Decor, Chairish, BobVila.com, Unique Homes Magazine and LODGING Magazine, in addition to crafting product copy for home brands like BrylaneHome and VIGO Industries.