Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Some of you may know that I was born under a rainbow.  I am half-Chinese and I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii.  In the same hospital as Mr. Obama.  And so far my birth certificate is legit.  (Oh and maybe now you know a little why this blog is called what it is.)

It is my idea to do mostly posts about Hawaii this month.  I lived there for three years from 2005 to 2008 having spent most of my childhood and adult life NOT on those lovely islands.  Most of my life was spent in places that were cold and snowy and dark at this time of year and yes I will say without reservation and this may have been the first and truest thing I EVER realized about myself in life:  DARK AND COLD DO NOT SUIT ME!!!!!!!!!  Just looking at these pictures even from sunny L.A., my heart lifts with an unspeakable joy.  It is something very elemental and very intrinsic to being Hawaiian I think.  (Or maybe not so much all you touristas?)  Hawaiians are very attached to our bright archipelago in the middle of a vast blue sea and when we leave those islands we cannot help but wonder (among other things) "Who the hell turned off the lights?!!!!!"  And WHY???????  At this time of year, people like me need lots of sunshine and light.  And so a little cyber sunshine........

These houses are called kama'aina houses.  "Kama'aina" means "child of the land" in Hawaiian, or, someone who has lived in Hawaii a very long time.  It's commonly used as an equivalent of a "local".

These little houses are single walled construction and a blend of "asian vernacular" and California Craftsman.  They have clever little built ins and hidden closets and sliding doors that borrow from both traditions.

These are the houses that everyone lived in when I was born in Hawaii and when I visited growing up.

Most new construction is so different now and aspires to over-large west coast Spanish styles in stucco and beige with plastic windows and fences.  (YUCK!)

I think they look like characterless refuse scattered against the jewel-green landscape.  (Yes, LITTER!) I am so not FOR them.  Not THESE, I mean the beige NEW houses.

Why spoil a landscape celebrated for its beauty - its emerald mountains, its turquoise and lapis oceans, its moody purple clouds and full spectrum rainbows - with architecture that is utterly devoid of color and charm?

I love these houses for their character.  Their personality.  Their geometry.  Their play of pattern.  Homeyness.  Modesty.  Some even seem shy.

And then some are grievously neglected and look as if they, along with their inhabitants, had withdrawn entirely from the world.

Some are refreshed from time to time with new paint and new tenants.  Many remind me of Japanese folkloric personalities wrapped in layers of history and pattern.  Most are now occupied by very old people.

Nothing inside them changes.  Sometimes they just disappear and something awful replaces them.  But I won't go there again.

I was born into a house like this where my Mother grew up with her brothers and sisters.  Down the road from a japanese teahouse.  It was painted bright yellow inside and out, and hung with photos of all the beautiful family. It still is. It is overhung with mango and starfruit trees. The kitchen and closets are stuffed full of goodies for visiting little children to eat.  I have an auntie and cousins who still live there and on the stone steps Ralph the black lab stands guard and every kind of orchid blossoms.  Most of the old neighbors who knew me when I was a baby still live there.

Now you know what kama'aina means!

Thanks everyone for stopping by with such nice New Year's greetings!  Big hugs!


  1. oh! lovely! thank you for those rays of sunshine! wonderful to start the year and great idea for january! thank you again! kenza

  2. Oh wow this has been my favourite post on the blog world this year. I have covered a lot of house features in my working life but I didn't know about these wonderful beauties. THank you so much for sharing a little of Hawaiin history so many wouldn't know xxx

  3. these are just *spectacular*

    i'm feeling a little research trip to hawai'i is in order for a new series of paintings. and i'm ashamed to say i had no idea about these wonderful little houses and their perfect dovetailing of practical and decorative. what a wonderful glimpse into YOUR life and history, as well! and ditto about the prefab stucco monstrosities- i'm afraid that's a staple of california's housing market. they are all over the place in the desert and SO heinous. i'd take a one room shack with some peeling paint and a little character over a soulless prefab any day.

    thanks for the sweet comment about the homestead paintings, too!


  4. Hi Mlle Paradise!,
    This is a lovely post. I'm really interested in vernacular architecture and I hate the blandness and poor quality of many new developments. Unfortunately the same thing seems to be happening all around the world. I live in Melbourne, Australia, where beautiful houses and gardens from the 1800s and early 1900s are being rapidly demolished, only to be replaced with really tacky, ugly monstrosities.
    I have family in the Cook Islands and have spent a lot of time in Polynesia, so I totally understand your attachment to the vibrant island landscape. I also lived in rural Japan and I love the way these kama'aina houses incorporate elegant Japanese rooflines ...
    Thank you for introducing us to these special places!

  5. Oh THANK YOU to all you thoughtful people of great good taste! I can tell you know of what I speak. It's stunning to me to consider that we have probably just passed through the period of greatest affluence (whether actual or contrived) in the history of the world and what have we, American civilization, to show for it and purveyed to the rest of the world?! Flimsy beige rubbish!

    But yes at least the sunshines still. Or did until a couple of hours ago and hopefully will again tomorrow. (OK sorry guys, but we had an unbelievably gorgeous day today in L.A.) Meanwhile it's time for a grouchy me to toddle off to bed. Nice to hear from you all and to meet you Juddie. Love your blog concept! Think local act global? With cuddly toys!

  6. This is really interesting! I would like to live in one. I've never been to Hawaii but would love to go. The colours in the first photograph are so unique.
    And Happy New Year by the way!!

  7. I love these so much! The sunshine is glorious, and I love the laid back, comfy feel of the homes.

  8. Thanks so much for this tour! Hawaii is such a special place. Aside from the physical beauty it just has the most peaceful atmosphere and I've never met anyone as laid back as the Hawaiians. Love it!!!

  9. Flimsy beige rubbish is right. A 20 year old building in LA is practically a historical monument.

    And Hawaii.. well I've told you my feelings about hawaii. It's the only place where I've experience fully breathing, with all senses on alert and the mind at peace, all worries washed away.

  10. Brilliant Post Mlle paradis!
    Thank you for a tour of this authentic aspect of your cultural heritage. I have never seen images of the domestic architecture from Hawaii before... usually we see so much that is generic and beige these days...from where-ever! love the roof lines - very asian looking!
    Just lovely...

    may be I should photograph the small cottages near where I am hous-sitting ...they are also very charming and old style! I'm inspired!

  11. Wow, what a fanastic post. And what a beautiful location to grow up.