Successful Real Estate Agents vs Unsuccessful Ones [26 Habits That Differentiate Them] - Written by Warren Dow of DIGS

Successful Real Estate Agents vs Unsuccessful Ones [26 Habits That Differentiate Them]

1.3 million Real Estate Agents in U.S.

The real estate industry is fascinating to me on several levels – 
1.) It’s a commission-based industry that has super competitive real estate agents
2.) It involves the largest and most significant emotional and financial purchase of peoples’ lives.

According to the National Association of Realtors member report, there were 1.3 million Realtors in the U.S. in 2018, all fighting it out for their share of the roughly $60 billion in annual real estate commissions distributed annually.

It’s an industry I’ve spent the last nine years in as an advocate for real estate agents – call me crazy, but as a career salesman myself, I’m passionate about the challenge agents have in differentiating themselves in this hyper-competitive and crowded space.

The real estate industry is truly “feast or famine” and survival of the “marketing fittest.”

It’s a big challenge and getting bigger by the day.

Differentiating a commodity.

Simply stated, real estate agents perform the same exact basic function in the marketplace – they act on behalf of buyers/sellers as an “agent” in the real estate transaction.

To better understand, there are approximately 200,000 active and about 95,000 active brokers agents in California in 2019.

So, what differentiates successful agents from unsuccessful agents?

Are they all the same, are some better?

Let me answer that question with a question. 

Are all Plumbers, Electricians, Physicians, Surgeons, Car washes, Dry cleaners, Coffee shops the same?

Of course not.

That’s why to me, working with realtors is a marketer’s dream.

DIGS was created for the sole purpose of helping top agents differentiate themselves:
Helping uncover their unique value-proposition
Building a strong personal real estate brand in the local communities they serve.

While I have your much-valued attention, let me share:

26 key differentiators between successful real estate agents and unsuccessful agents

  1. If you go-to-market like a commodity, then you’re a commodity.
  2. If you’re out of sight in the local community, you’re out of mind.
  3. Who are you? Why are you doing this? What’s in it for me? Know thyself, be thyself.
  4. Value, consistency, frequency, relevance, audience & story – marketing 101.
  5. Stop interrupting, soliciting, and spamming – it’s the best way to destroy your brand.
  6. The goal is to be sought, not found.
  7. Remember that knowledge is your real source of income – transfer it.
  8. You’re not in the transaction business, you’re in the “relationship for life” business.
  9. Don’t fall prey to the “this” or “that” marketing trap (i.e. “print” or “digital”?).
  10. Don’t start with the marketing channel/distribution, start with your customer.
  11. If you have listings (active or sold,) keep them visible in the community you serve, it’s the best “call to action” marketing content you have and demonstrates performance.
  12. Marketing your brand is an investment, not an expense.
  13. Don’t litter every social media channel with content for the sake of content – make sure your content has purpose and adds value.
  14. Before you ask, give.
  15. Don’t be a marketing island, go to where the real estate attention is being paid.
  16. You’re not smarter than the market, your consumer, or your competitors.
  17. Don’t send out the same bad template email newsletters that every other Realtor sends out, unless you want to stay a commodity.
  18. Don’t be “all things to all people” – stand for something, be authentic, have a point of view & remember it’s okay to be vulnerable.
  19. It’s not about you – in fact, nobody cares about you! It’s all about them.
  20. There are no shortcuts, slow and steady wins the race – stop chasing.
  21. Practice permission marketing (see Seth Godin).
  22. Start with the Why (see Simon Sinek).
  23. Clarify your message, build a StoryBrand (see Donald Miller).
  24. Become a “real estate mayor” of your community (see Gary Vaynerchuk).
  25. Don’t chase shiny new objects (see Warren Dow on LinkedIn). 😉
  26. “The customer is not a moron. She’s your wife.” ~ David Ogilvy

An Architectural Rethinking

Sun-filled sky and cerulean seas as far as the eyes can see, Hawaii has a lot on the horizon. Including shore after shore of the ubiquitously branded “luxury lifestyle resort,” whether or not it actually qualifies for the title. One property that does: Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection.

When the Kohala Coast resort opens later this year—to hallelujahs far and wide—the refined distillation of its stunning natural environ, one with its own sandy beach, a calmer bay nearby, and the five-star attributes of its class, it will restore a true-to-Hawaii vibe to an increasingly developed strand.

Image by Steelblue

“We wanted a modern, residential-feeling resort that has Auberge’s signature sense of approachable luxury and quality, but respects Hawaiian culture and stories in every way,” explains Kemper Hyers, chief creative officer, Auberge Resorts Collection.

The brand spared no expense to do it, pumping $100-plus million into the project and appointing a team to meticulously attend to every element of the design, ensuring that it met the scale and texture of the island and express an authentic Hawaii aesthetic, thanks to architecture firm Hart Howerton and interior designer Meyer Davis.

Designing an Auberge resort in the bold architecture of Mauna Lani required what Hyers describes as a “perfect blend of contemporary residential design, over-scaled West Coast style, Hawaiian culture and palette, and an approachable but luxurious take on what a Hawaiian hotel can be.”

This meant the team worked with large shutters and screens—some 30 feet high—lashed like canoes to make rooms within the larger open spaces. “This delicate wood inner ‘skin’ is a beautiful counterpoint to the strong architectural presence of the original structure,” describes Hyers, noting that spaces are focused on comfort and how guests actually live.

To this end are sofas, daybeds and roomy chairs. Some of the rich teak architecture is original to the hotel, but with a fresh feel courtesy of Meyer Davis’ design and art, along with custom touches.

Most Hawaii resorts are appraised as extensions of the natural environment for which the islands are rightly and consistently celebrated, drawing throngs of travelers and second-home owners for the vibrancy and diversity of the landscape. The same is true of Mauna Lani. “In color, in texture, in simplicity, we have looked to nature for all of our inspiration,” offers Hyers.

Image by Steelblue

Only “this hotel is distinctly modern and the interiors are filled with landscaping, therefore the furniture and details have a simple clean line that lets the adjacent nature speak.” Another dialogue with the environment is the way the team reoriented the main functions of the hotel—reception, pools, suites, bars, and more all open up to views and landmarks. “We are also designing experiences, not just interiors,” reminds Hyers, noting that places such as the Canoe House and Surf Shack will be “magical spots” on a property that is shaping up to be magic itself.

Craftsman Melds With Endless Ocean Views

Head to the South Shore of Kauai and one finds a sunnier and drier climate than the North. Also here is Kukui’ula, a private club community that sits on over 1,000 acres of the former McBryde Sugar Company plantation. At the top of the community, elevated above a green sweep of island land and unbridled blue ocean views is a custom Plantation-style home, a welcoming and well-appointed perch to immerse oneself in the heavenly island atmosphere. “It’s near amazing beaches and has 270-degree views of the ocean, mountains and golf course,” says real estate agent Neal Norman of the home’s charms.

The structure has been designed to open plentifully to the outdoors. From a peaceful stonework courtyard with a tranquil koi pond and menagerie of palm trees and natural landscaping, one enters an ornate lanai, open to the outdoors on two sides and filled with visual texture: There’s a raised ceiling and exposed white ceiling trusses; rustic stonework along the walls; and rich-hued wood plank floors. It’s an elegant room where one can ponder the nearby infinity pool and pleasing vista of blue sky and ocean.

It’s this breezy heart of the home where one can see friends and family gather during fun-filled getaways, which are bound to be frequent when one considers the luxurious amenities minutes away. Membership in The Club at Kukui’ula is required of homeowners, and gives one access to the $100 million Clubhouse, just a four-minute drive, along with a Tom Weiskopf-designed golf course, exquisite 20,000-square-foot spa and more.

There are four bedrooms in all, including a one-bedroom guest house that’s nestled in the home’s courtyard. Also detached from the main residence is a sunny media and game room with a plum location on the northern tip of the property, with sweeping views of the ocean and mountains. The master suite is in a wing of its own—an elegant retreat with white walls, multi-toned wood floors and plentiful ocean views.

Adjacent to the bedroom is a lanai that’s enclosed and surrounded with large-paned windows that are ideal for taking in early morning views of breaking waves. One can walk through the master bathroom, adjacent to the two walk-in closets and dressing lounge, then step outside to the private stone courtyard and take a fresh-air shower amid white orchids and green palms.


Of note is the kitchen, a cheerful white room decked with marble countertops and custom cabinetry. Spacious to accommodate what is certain to be a frequent family gathering spot, the kitchen has farmhouse sinks, plenty of sunlight and garden views from ample windows, and a charming built-in banquette made of native koa wood.

The craftsmanship of the kitchen is testament to the home as a whole—a tasteful showcase of high-end carpentry done in the classic Plantation aesthetic. When mixed with its luxury club setting, charmed hillside location and blue-water panorama, it’s hard to fathom a better spot for fine Kauai living.


Presented by

Neal Norman, RB-18048


Hawaii Life Real Estate Brokers

List Price $11.5 million



The Best of Kauai’s Beauty In The North Shore

The Hanalei district in the North Shore of Kauai is home to epic natural beauty and some of the most valuable real estate in Hawaii. The excellent surf in the cerulean waters of picturesque Hanalei Bay, a place surrounded by verdant green mountains and peaceful valleys, is just one of its lures.

“Last year in November, we sold the most expensive home ever sold on Kauai,” points out luxury real estate agent Neal Norman. At 46.1 million for 15 waterfront acres, it was also the biggest single-family home sale ever in the state of Hawaii.

Less than a mile away from this home is another grand property, The Point at Anini Vista, designed in harmony with its near-mythical surroundings on Keawaihi Point, where it sits atop a bluff above Anini Beach. “It’s a beautiful spot because it’s a peninsula that faces East, North and West,” Norman explains. “You get great sunrises and white-water ocean views. Views of the lighthouse, the sandy beach and sunset.”

Designed by Gary Tobey and Stephen Devery, two island architects of note, and built by fine home contractor Randy Weir, the gated property was crafted to soak up its natural environment at every turn. First there’s the land—nearly 7 acres of sculpted Eden-like grounds designed by Kauai’s Martin Bryan, who focused on preserving the native trees and plants. In addition, there are calming ponds that flow through the home’s entrance and along its resort-like spa and saltwater pool.

Then, a custom six-bedroom residence spanning over 10,000 square feet of interior living area—a figure that swells to approximately 18,000 square feet when covered outdoor living spaces are added. The home’s aesthetic is Balinese in style, with a low-slung silhouette that seems to meld neatly into the manicured wild of the landscape. The home is a pod compound, with 14 units, linked together to form a whole.

The benefits are a sense of privacy—the guest bedroom suites that one reaches via a fresh-air path of cut stone, feel a world apart from the master bedroom, for one—and a comfortable work-around that allows the units to fit neatly into the bluff’s natural terrain.

Making the most of its day to night views are the home’s oversized windows and endless glass walls, stretching from floor to ceiling. “They tried to draw no lines between the inside and the outside,” says Norman of the design. It makes sense given the estate’s incomparable location, even for Hawaii, where days begin while watching the splendor of the sun rising over the ocean, then wind down over its colorful descent into the sea.

Presented by
Neal Norman, RB-18048


Hawaii Life Real Estate Brokers

List Price $33 million



Kauai Estate With Open Air Design

To live at this estate on the North Shore of Kauai would leave a person with just one problem: Where to go when seeking a relaxing vacation? Given that this property is home to an open-air island residence, just over 7,500 square feet in size, and situated on more than 3 acres of manicured land, it’s a thoughtful question—one that becomes even more real after lounging at the vacationland pool area.

Poised on a bluff overlooking sparkling Kahili Bay, on land that is sprinkled with wafting palms and colorful flowers—the picture of Eden on Earth—the home is a thoughtful custom residence created by Kauai big-home builder Rohn Boyd, who’s since transitioned to selling luxury homes full-time on the Garden Island, as Kauai is called for its vivid and unspoiled natural landscape.

“It’s a self-contained resort,” explains Boyd. “I wanted to create a property that you can come and stay at—and not leave if you didn’t want to. You have every amenity here that you could want.”

The pool here is one of the largest residential ones on the island, and a central focus of the property. Snaking along the perimeter of the home, the elegant rock pool, over 100-feet in length, features a swim-up bar where one can lounge over cocktails under the Bali-style thatched roof. Tucked behind one of the waterfalls—there are two—is a peaceful grotto, and nearby is a 45-foot water slide that’s certain to make a child’s eyes widen.

Other thrills come by jumping into the pool from the rocky heights of the highest waterfall, or watching the sunset’s vivid pink, orange and blue hues while soaking in the spa tub. A regal touch to the scene is a reddish bridge, made of ipe wood and with carved railings, that stretches across the pool and links the front entrance gate to the residence itself.

The home’s style, which Boyd describes as “contemporary Hawaiiana,” sports a colorful slate roof and copper gutters, as well as a series of Dickey roofs—a style of double-pitched roof with overhanging eaves that is common to Hawaiian-style properties.

The silhouette of this estate’s roofs, more mildly angled than typical Dickey ones, lends a pleasingly angular look to the residence, and helps delineate different sections of the five-bedroom and six-bathroom home.

The home’s interior lobby is instantly peaceful, and housed in a two-story tower room where one can watch colorful fish glide in and out of the home via a koi pond that extends under the floor and along the home’s exterior.

From the grassy yard, this tower room makes a handsome sight: decked in native coral stone, with the top built in wood and lined with awning windows. Another interesting feature on the home’s exterior is Kauai beach sand, which has been secured across its surface, creating a pale-colored, textured patina that’s also low maintenance.

Throughout the home, a generous number of oversize windows and pocket doors create a direct link to outdoor leisure areas. “Living without walls,” is what Boyd calls it, adding: “It can be pouring rain and you can be sitting inside, loving life.” The finishes Boyd selected for the interior further accentuate the earthy atmosphere of the home.

Floors are laid in either hand-cut quartzite (easy to maintain and incredibly strong) or gleaming Cumaru, an exotic hardwood. Many of the rooms feature vaulted ceilings fashioned from Cambara wood, another tropical hardwood, and in the master closet, closet and drawer windows are lined with semi-opaque shoji (Japanese rice paper).

The property is located in Kauai’s only gated community, Seacliff Plantation, creating additional peace of mind when one is frolicking in the gated estate. Each owner, points out Boyd, also has exclusive rights to a private area called Crater Hill.

“It’s a mesmerizing place to walk up to,” he says. “It has 360-degree views of the ocean and mountains, and leads to Crater Beach, which you can only get to by boat or kayak.” For Boyd’s clients, Kauai is the place to come and escape one’s day to day life. “It’s very peaceful,” he says, and compared to other Hawaiian islands, is relatively undeveloped and uncrowded.

Located on the outskirts of Kilauea, a charming town built around the now-defunct Kilauea sugar plantation, which closed its doors in the early 1970s, the property is less than five minutes by car to the local markets and shops. To reach the exceptional nearby beaches, either Kahili Beach, called Rock Quarry by locals, or Secret Beach, one can cruise to them in minutes via ATV, a common way of getting around.

With the home’s open-air design and abundance of resort-like features, it’s not hard to imagine a family with young kids, or a couple with grandkids, taking over the place, and enjoying countless days of rollicking fun. Nights too.

“At night the house is amazing,” points out Boyd. Nearly 30 tiki torches light up the place, and a menu of custom lighting themes, from party time to romantic, were designed by a lighting pro and available at a button’s press. It’s a dramatic scene, yes, but even without such aids, day or night the island property remains a jasmine-scented natural wonder, one that’s been painstakingly engineered to experience the utmost pleasure in paradise.


Rohn Boyd

eXp Realty

List Price


A Prized Diamond Head Home In Oahu

Home to generations of Hawaiian-born residents, this exceptional oceanfront estate in Oahu’s coveted Diamond Head area was extensively renovated in 2016 (and again in 2019) to propel it to lofty status as one of the most idyllic properties in all of Honolulu.

Think 9,000-plus square feet of lavish living space on three levels—punctuated by hand-crafted appointments and glass-walled rooms offering jaw-dropping views of the Pacific—along with more than a half-acre of elaborate outdoor environs boasting access to 183 linear feet of ocean frontage, a pool and spa enveloped by lush tropical surroundings, plentiful lanais and much more.

“This is true luxury living on one of Honolulu’s most famed coastlines,” says Tracy Allen, who is listing the residence for $21.5 million. “The lineage of prominent kama’aina families who have lived there since it was originally built symbolizes the rarity of it.”

Nestled behind gates at 3249 Diamond Head Road, the property greets with a circular entry and stately porte cochère flanked by a green grotto and cascading water features. Once inside the six-bedroom home, an open floor plan is highlighted by special touches throughout, including an elevator, and windows, staircases and doorways adorned with etched glass.

Among the standout features: a formal living room with hardwood flooring, soaring ceiling and stone fireplace, and a family/media room with custom cabinetry. A professional chef’s kitchen wows with granite countertops, high-end appliances and a breakfast nook, while an opulent master retreat sports dual baths as well as a cedar-lined, walk-in closet and dressing room.


Tracy Allen

of  Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties


List Price
$21.5 million


Paradise Homes In Hawaii

Beachfront  Jewel

The former home of the late fashion designer Geoffrey Beene is now on the market in Honolulu for $14 million, complete with walls of glass allowing for panoramic ocean views from almost every room and access to 122 feet of sandy beach frontage. Situated at the base of Diamond Head—just five minutes from Waikiki—this stunning Malibu-style residence originally was designed by architect John Edwards and built in 1988, and then underwent an extensive $3 million renovation in 2016.

Expect almost 5,000 square feet of contemporary living space on three levels featuring imported limestone, stainless-steel doors, and Fleetwood glass windows and doors throughout. Among the highlights: a sumptuous master retreat with a large, walk-in closet boasting custom closet systems and an adjacent storage area that can be used as a safe room. There’s also an elevator, sound and photovoltaic solar systems, and a Jacuzzi overlooking the ocean.

4,878 SQ. FT.

Offered by Patricia Choi RB-11824

and  Julianna Garris RB-17280

of The Choi Group, Hawaii Life Real Estate Brokers

List Price
$14 million


Slice of  Paradise

Found on the secluded island of Lanai, this impressive gated, fee-simple estate is the only offering currently for sale in Manele Bay Resort. Expect a main living space featuring a wealth of pocket sliding glass walls that open to reveal a 2,000-square-foot covered lanai, along with a lower-level family room outfitted with a sauna and granite-walled steam room.

Outdoors, 1.2 acres of manicured grounds are highlighted by golf cart paths; three levels of gardens; entertainment areas; a nursery; saltwater pool and spa; and trellised structure boasting 210 photovoltaic solar panels, which results in a zero electric bill.

The entire property (including lighting, security, pool and indoor/outdoor music systems) can be managed via an iPad or smartphone, while Island Club membership is available to all resort homeowners. Bonus: picturesque views of Manele Bay, Sweetheart Rock and the Jack Nicklaus-designed Manele Golf Course.


4,951 SQ. FT.

Offered by Gregory L. Sturm RS-65206

of Island Sotheby’s International Realty

List Price
$10.5 million


Beachfront Estate In Oahu

Kicking back and enjoying a luxe island lifestyle is effortless at this private, gated compound in the exclusive South Kalaheo area of Beachside, Kailua. Not only does the home offer sweeping ocean views and seamless indoor/outdoor environs ideal for entertaining, but the lushly landscaped lot is akin to paradise with its towering coconut trees, palms, and exotic red and pink anthurium.

There’s also an endless stretch of sandy, white beach for unbridled time, and the added bonus of having a front-row seat to Fourth of July fireworks right from your very own back yard.

“This stunning beachfront estate is situated on the coveted south end of the bay, which was just named the ‘No. 1 Beach in the Nation’ for the second time in a row,” as reported by the AP News, says Tracy Allen of Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties, who is listing the residence for $12.5 million.

“The indoor/outdoor floor plan is complete with numerous custom architectural details, and is further highlighted by gorgeous tropically landscaped grounds, allowing for true island living.”

Found on a 25,127-square-foot parcel of land and 83 linear feet of beach frontage property at 146 S. Kalaheo Ave.—near hiking trails and Kailua Town, known for its local shops, restaurants and cafés, and farmers’ markets—the property features a main home with five bedrooms, and a separate, two-bedroom guest house outfitted with a kitchen, living room, workshop and duo of courtyards.

Expect coastal-inspired living space flooded with abundant natural light, with one of the highlights definitely the sumptuous master suite showcasing a designer showroom closet; porcelain-tiled bath with his-and-her vanities, and an oval, jetted soaking tub; and sliding plantation shutters and glass doors leading to a flagstone deck.

Another stand-out feature: the gourmet kitchen outfitted with a butler’s pantry, custom, shaker-style white cabinetry, an oversized island with dual sinks, granite countertops, and Thermador and Sub-Zero appliances, with one side of the kitchen opening onto a lanai with a pool, lounging and entertaining areas, and the backdrop of the beautiful Koolau Mountains.


Tracy Allen RS-46610

of  Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties


List Price
$12.5 million


A Home With Special Twists

This stunning, Bali-style residence originally designed and decorated by superstar singer/entertainer Cher and architect William Long—and now owned by GoDaddy and PXG/Parsons Xtreme Golf Founder Bob Parsons and his wife, Renee—has hit the market on the Big Island of Hawaii for $10.995 million, complete with expansive sliding glass doors that open to create seamless indoor-outdoor living environs, sweeping ocean views and breathtaking sunsets year-round.

An added bonus? The closing gift, which consists of a three-day PXG Xperience for two centered around Arizona’s ultra-exclusive Scottsdale National Golf Club owned by the Parsons.

“The seller is one of the most fastidious people I have met, and the home has enjoyed every possible upgrade since purchased,” says listing agent Rob Kildow of Hualālai Realty. “It lacks nothing.”

Resting on a little more than three quarters of an acre at 72-122 Lau’eki St. in Kailua Kona—in the 685-acre Four Seasons Resort Hualālai community on the exclusive Kona-Kohala coast, with access to Jack Nicklaus- and Tom Weiskopf-designed golf courses—the six-bedroom abode was built by Pacific Tradewinds Construction in 2008 and comes fully furnished.

Expect 9,000-plus square feet of contemporary space laid out in a series of five free-standing bungalows featuring vaulted and beamed ceilings, designer lighting, hardwood inlaid flooring and Baroque stone-carved art throughout, along with a remote-controlled Savant smart-home system that controls lighting, audio-visual, Tiki torches and pool settings.

Among the highlights is an ocean-facing master suite sporting an office, wooden lounge deck with wraparound water feature, and spa-like bath with custom stone sinks, koa and mango wood cabinetry, a free-standing soaking tub and outdoor shower garden, and a media room with a surround-sound speaker system, blackout shades and wet bar with wine cooler.

The professional chef’s kitchen features Thermador professional appliances, locally built custom cabinetry with Blumotion hardware, and a center island with prep sink and bar seating. The exterior is showcased by a spacious covered lānai overlooking an adjacent infinity-edge pool and spa.

“I love the unique architectural characteristics of this home, both inside and out,” says Kildow. “The different roof heights create a remarkable arrival experience, while the flexible floor plan allows owners to live and entertain in the home in so many different ways.”


Rob Kildow RB-18723

of  Hualalai Realty


List Price
$10.995 million


Thurston Memorial Chapel Is Tropical Modernism

The guiding spirit at Punahou School, the Honolulu institution that graduated a young Barack Obama, is the Robert Shipman Thurston Jr. Memorial Chapel. Its namesake, a member of the school’s Centennial Class of 1941, was a student at Yale at the start of the Second World War, but eventually left the Ivy League for flight training and earned his wings in 1944.

A first lieutenant, he served with distinction in the Pacific but was killed at the end of the war. In this sense, the chapel—a gift from Thurston’s parents in memory of their only son—was born from the call of duty, only to heed the highest call of all.

Yet another son of Honolulu, and the father of Tropical Modernism, built Thurston Memorial Chapel in 1966—Vladimir Ossipoff. In applying his mastery of the midcentury modernist form with the touch of a pluralist (Ossipoff was born in Russia, raised in Japan and educated in California), the architect designed the chapel to create the impression that is rises up from Punahou’s famed Lily Pond.

He did this by lowering the floor to bring the chapel physically closer to the pond, which was formed from a natural spring; part of the pond has always been integrated within the chapel walls. It is a credit to Ossipoff’s stunning calculation of site and surroundings that the chapel so beautifully and seamlessly assimilates with both lands and lives.

At a 1967 dedication to the chapel, Ossipoff offered keynote remarks that detail the finer points of his design for a congregation he described as “an ebullient group of youngsters.” Intending “to subdue just a bit, their high spirits, which tend to have a correspondingly high noise level, we have purposefully subdued the internal lighting,” he said.

Of the chapel’s court side Ossipoff referenced generous eaves extending from the building, with one going down a few steps to “gain shelter as a little chick must do when seeking shelter under its mother hen’s outspread wings.” He called the exterior court and lanais a “Hawaiian Cloister.”

One is quite right to appraise Thurston Memorial Chapel as an intersection of art, architecture and spiritual shelter, with its mix of materials and light infusing the building with reverential warmth. The reserve of the design, which is humanly scaled, ensures that the judicious use of aesthetics serve this soothing purpose.

Made from koa wood and sculptured panels of copper repoussé inspired by student-suggested scenes, the entrance doors are especially memorable; from the hundreds suggestions offered, 32 were presented to artist Jean Charlot and from his original drawings they were completed in copper by island artisan Evelyn Giddings.

Also glorious are the panels of stained glass by artist Erica Karawina. Combined with the architecture’s play of light and shadow, its responsiveness to nature and contribution to Hawaii’s visual and spiritual culture, Thurston Chapel is a source of inspiration in every possible respect.


A Renovated Oasis on Kauai

A great chef is like a talented designer, inclined toward presentation, whether it concerns a creation from the kitchen or the creation of the kitchen itself. Plantation Gardens Restaurant, a staple on the South Shore of Poipu on the island of Kauai, is a case in point. Certainly from the point of view of Philpotts Interiors’ associate senior designer, Avery Solmssen.

Having frequented the restaurant as a child, she says: “I vividly recall the plantation charm of yesteryear.” But this memory was a stark contrast to what the designer later encountered. Seeing the place “…all covered up and in disarray was a little heartbreaking,” confesses Solmssen. “I saw our job as honoring the original vernacular while meeting the needs of today’s customer.”

Located in a restored plantation manor from the 1930s, the restaurant that embraces lush Moir Gardens had been, until its revival, the victim of one regrettable design decision after another, leaving a historic structure stripped of its prize—plantation-era character. The windows were etched, the paneling installed and inappropriate, and the walls… well, the walls. That they featured a haphazardly selected paint palette is perhaps the kindest way to put it.

To restore the building’s resplendent architectural attributes while gracing it with a sense of fluidity, the idea was to open the space to highlight the original architecture, replacing the questionably etched windows with larger alternatives that would immerse the restaurant in natural light, fresh air and the garden views that are primary to the result.

Less obvious decisions such as using custom banquettes to raise the seating and put patrons in closer proximity to the views resulted from a sensitive calculation of the space and what was required to modernize it.

While the restaurant’s verdant environ is particularly painterly (when lit, the tiki torches cast the whole place in a romantic glow), the interior is neutral, airy and tame in tone to complement the natural beauty just beyond the open windows. Key to the project was moving the existing bar to the front of the restaurant to create “a more energetic arrival experience” while availing valuable space in the rear for special events.

This fresh take on Kauai’s Old Hawaii feel infuses the design with an easy, au courant blend of aesthetics and eras conceptualized to appear quite timeless. This is thanks to Solmssen’s light but intrinsically applied touch.

Her interpretation of contemporary island culture called for embellishments that bring attention to the most stunning aspects of the architecture, such as woven pendant lights inspired by traditional fish baskets that draw the eye to the ceiling’s plantation-era details.

Woven chairs, bar stools, wood tabletops and bar counter continue this theme. Despite its garden grounds, the restaurant reflects an island life rooted in some of the most beautiful sea on Earth, which Solmssen expressed with vintage black and white surf photographs, alaia boards, hand planes for bodysurfing, and an installation of surfboard fins. Because as we all know, presentation is everything.



Encouraging Interaction And Gathering On the Kona Coast

We believe architecture should be expressive, timeless, and always in unity with the natural beauty of the site.” This philosophy guides the team at San Francisco-based practice Walker Warner Architects, who designed this 5,590-square-foot residence on Hawaii’s Big Island. Previously the site of a working ranch, it has become a holiday retreat surrounded by a mix of lava and bunch grass with beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean, adjacent to the cinder cone Pu’u Kuili.

Designed as a modern interpretation of a classic Hawaiian summer camp, the residence consists of six structures—each called a hale, or “house” in Hawaiian, combined to create a kauhale (or “camp”)—all connected by a large central lawn.

The main living space comprises the cedar-clad, light-filled kitchen with a breakfast bar and wooden cabinets; and a dining area, family room and master suite. Sliding doors provide a seamless indoor-outdoor lifestyle—which is also highlighted by the deep roof overhangs—opening to the protected courtyard.

The adjacent pool and tiki bar, two guest hales, a wash house and a garage complement the project. Throughout the whole property, openness and privacy are subtly intertwined and perfectly balanced. The pool area, with its cabana that hosts a lounge, bar and outdoor kitchen (as well as the outdoor dining area on the other side) invites visitors to relax, admire the natural landscape and spend time together in a peaceful environment.

Incorporating centuries-old indigenous design elements and materials, such as intentionally rustic board-formed concrete, locally sourced stone and western red cedar, which resists termites and dry rot, the project features enduring design at its heart.

While David Y. Tamura Associates was in charge of the landscaping, Philpotts Interiors helmed the interior spaces. Warm and spacious, the living areas feature vintage elements and a restrained palette with touches of bright colors in a laid-back, cozy atmosphere.


The residence reflects a classic Hawaii feel, yet it also has contemporary features, making it comfortable and adaptable to future generations. “I like to think our buildings are a lot like my favorite Patagonia jacket: thoughtfully designed, carefully purposed, well detailed and crafted using appropriately sourced materials,” says Greg Warner, principal at Walker Warner Architects.

“Ideally, our work is original, timeless and not trendy and, overall, feels just right when you are in it.”

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