2011 CH+D Award for Residential Interior Design (more than 3,000 sq. ft.)


Marion Philpotts-Miller
Philpotts Interiors, San Francisco
Island Retreat, Lanai

(Top) Philpotts-Miller chose pieces that would work both inside and out, such as teak daybeds, wicker chairs and an extra-long dining table. Many of the fabrics are by Perennials, a company that makes hardy weatherproof textiles. (Bottom left) Though they appear as a cluster of buildings, the main rooms, including the great room and two bedrooms, are connected to a central axis. (Bottom right) A pool pavilion is the only freestanding structure.

The definition of the word “house” changes the farther out into the Pacific Ocean you travel. By the time you get to the southwestern-most point of Lanai, one of Hawaii’s most secluded and pristine islands, standard building concepts like walls and windows or indoors and outdoors have lost much of their meaning, in part because the people of Lanai have little use for them. In a place where a thermometer that displays only the 20-degree range between 60 and 80 would be considered without defect, a house is not built to keep out the elements. It is built to celebrate them.

Designer Marion Philpotts-Miller splits her time between Hawaii and San Francisco, so many items were sourced from the Bay Area. The tiles in the backsplash were custom painted by Tilevera and the pendants are from Roost, both companies based in Sausalito.

Marion Philpotts-Miller is fluent in the design dialect of the islands. Her firm, Philpotts Interiors, has operated with offices in both San Francisco and Honolulu for the past 20 years. So when a California family approached her to design the interiors of the vacation home they were building on the coast of Lanai, nothing was lost in translation. Working closely with San Francisco’s Zak Architecture, Philpotts-Miller wanted to infuse the traditional wood-heavy design with lively colors and patterns that reflect the vibrancy of its surroundings, from the blue ocean to the pink sunsets to the green foliage. In the great room, wood- and wicker-framed furniture pop against a palette of teak and puka lava stone, thanks to a whimsical array of fabrics: red-and-orange cabana stripes, magenta florals, red-and-beige patchwork, rust ikat. The list sounds dizzying, but Philpotts-Miller’s keen eye for complementary styles and colors results in a pleasing blend rather than chaos, despite a daybed topped with cushions in three shapes, five patterns and nine colors.

The trick is that Philpotts-Miller is just following the tone set by Hawaii’s natural palette. A similarly pleasing contrast can be found just outside the master bathroom’s sliding glass door, where green palms cast shadows against a backdrop of stacked lava stone and bright pink orchids. And although there is no mistaking this luxury bath—with its double marble vanity and ornately carved wood-framed mirrors—for the backyard, the rich teak woodwork and stone floor playfully mimic the materials right outside the door. A similar theme is carried into the bedrooms, where pale blue plaster walls color a room facing the ocean, while a garden-side room is awash in green.

“The wife is an artist, and the architect is a purist, so there was some creative tension,” says Philpotts-Miller. “Because the architecture is so simple, she wanted me to animate the spaces, to tell a story with each room.” To do that, Philpotts-Miller turned to her trusted cadre of artists and craftspeople to help her deepen the narrative. Headboards, which look like they are made out of traditional Chinese folding screens, were designed by Philpotts-Miller and carved in Bali. To find vintage pieces, she headed back to the Bay Area, where she found perfectly aged metal and mesh patio chairs that wouldn’t lose their charm with a little additional weathering. Tilevera in Sausalito is the designer’s favorite source for custom tile. To create the blue-and-white tile backsplash in the kitchen—again, a lively mix of pattern and color—she found a textile she loved and brought it into Tilevera to request a similar design in hand-painted tiles. “I had to be very thoughtful about where I was sourcing everything,” says Philpotts-Miller. “Lanai is so isolated. There is absolutely no commerce there, so everything had to come from somewhere else.”

The master bathroom visually connects to the outdoors with its materials. A stone floor and woven palm baskets are repeated just outside the sliding teak door.

And although each space told its own story, she made sure that all the rooms were on the same page. In traditional Hawaiian architecture, walls are a rarity, and passages between rooms are more likely to be carpeted with grass than a midpile, so nearly all the spaces are interconnected. They are also connected to the outdoors, so material choices have to account for constant sun exposure, wet bathing suits and even the rare rainstorm.

The wall of the bedroom that faces the ocean is plastered a pale blue.

“Thankfully, outdoor fabrics have come far stylistically,” says Philpotts-Miller. The same could be said about the look of the traditional Hawaiian home. Although the architecture—with its thatched roofs, open-air walkways and plantation-style pavilions—still tends toward the tried-and-true, designers like Philpotts-Miller are infusing the style with a modern mix, creating yet another bright spot on the eternally sunny islands.

Philpotts-Miller used various patterns in a shared color palette for the bedrooms; in the master, beige, black, white and tan is doled out in measured amounts, while bolder colors are provided by the view.

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