This Rustic, Handmade Hawaiian Home Started as a Gazebo

updated Feb 7, 2020

This Rustic, Handmade Hawaiian Home Started as a Gazebo

updated Feb 7, 2020
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Name: Ali and Peter Rabin and two sons
Location: Honaunau, Hawaii (Big Island). Elevation: 2,200 ft. We’re located in the mountains on the slopes of Mauna Loa. Our land is in the heart of the Kona Coffee belt.
Years Lived In: 10 years, owned

Ali, co-host on the comedic parenting podcast, Nursing and Cursing, and her Hawaiian-born arborist husband, Peter, live a charmed rustic life up in the mountains in the heart of coffee country on Hawai’i island. The couple have spent over 10 years on their farm, but their dwelling has changed shape and grown over the years. Peter actually grew up on this land in a home that was built by his father. After the original home burned down, Peter built a small gazebo in its place. When Ali moved to the island from New England, the couple fell in love playing ukulele and drinking coconuts in the structure.

As the couple made a life there, the structure grew into a unique, circular-shaped jungle cabin, which continues to evolve with their now family of four. Peter designed the home around the original gazebo, which now serves as their bedroom. Their DIY home sits on rich, magical land that overlooks the vast Pacific Ocean. They’ve embraced an indoor-outdoor lifestyle and have stayed on the mountain, despite challenges like a long, four-wheel drive road and exposure to rain and the elements. Both of their boys were born in the original gazebo and their little home has become so much more than just a structure.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Rustic, Hawaiian homestead with authentic New England inspiration.

Inspiration: Nature. We live on six wild acres of coffee, citrus, banana, avocado, and more! Our home is so open to the outdoors. I like to use a lot of wood and natural materials to help make the transition from indoor to outdoor feel effortless. Our view of the Pacific Ocean is also incredibly inspiring. I love blues, seascapes, and ship paintings (I’m a transplant who moved from New England and my husband was born and raised in Hawaii).

Favorite Element: The shape. The house started as just a small gazebo on our land. My husband slowly built all the way around the gazebo and now we live in an octagon! The original gazebo, in the center of our home, is now our bedroom where both of our boys were born. The house has an amazing flow of energy. (Did I just sound like a new-age hippie?)

Biggest Challenge: Indoor/outdoor living in the tropical mountains. My husband learned how to build while constructing this shack. It was a learning experience and we never imagined ourselves here long-term. Many of the walls are half walls, allowing lots of air flow—but also exposing us to the elements. Much of the shack is screened-in, but most of it is not. When the rains come, we often get wet! Certain months of the year bring loads of rain. My cotton blankets, curtains, and throw pillows need to be washed constantly as to avoid mold. It can be so humid that our sheets feel moist when we crawl into bed at night. The thick vegetation and heavy rains take a toll on our home. Sometimes the weeds outside my bathroom creep up the wall and wrap around my shower head. If we’re not diligent, the entire cabin will be taken over by the jungle.

What Friends Say: “This is adorable!” “Look at the view!” “It feels like the Swiss Family Robinson!”

Biggest Embarrassment: The exterior (back) of the house. We have hammered in random doors, pieces of plywood, and who knows what else to keep the dog from coming inside. It looks like we allowed our children to tackle their first building project.

Proudest DIY: The entire house is a DIY. I love that we used so many recycled materials to build it. Our sliding door came out of a falling-down shack on our property. Our bathtub was pulled out of the bushes (it was being used as a water trough for cattle). Our old windows were found at a junk yard and our bathroom floor came from an old, redwood water tank. The whole house is a hodgepodge of scraps.

Biggest Indulgence: I have always had a weakness for fabrics. I’ve collected them from all over the world. I like to throw rich, bright textiles over the back of a chair or at the end of my bed to enliven my space. It’s an easy way to change a room’s color scheme and keep things fresh. I love Indian, Indonesian, and even classic French designs.

Best Advice: Streamline your space and don’t be attached to any of your belongings. Living so close to the elements has really taught me about non-attachment. After throwing away dozens of treasures due to mold and dirt, I’ve learned that everything is replaceable. I rarely spend money on home goods. The recycle shop located at my local dump has been my resource for everything in my home. When I score a wooden chair or a silver candlestick, I feel like a million bucks! When I’m done with it, I take it back and pass it on. It’s been incredibly freeing, and a great way to cycle out the inventory. Every time I let something go, something funky and incredible shows up in its place.

Dream Sources: Old New England farmhouses, coastal cottages, and vintage Hawaiian plantation homes.

Designers I love: Tyler Karu (@tylerelizabethkaru); The Castillo Collective (@thecastillocollective); Anna Spiro (@annaspiro)


Valspar — Spanish Tile
Ace – Galveston Dust
Olympic – Knight’s Armor
Olympic – Hi ho Silver
Valspar – Dark Kettle Black
Ace – Burrough Green

Couch — Keauhou Dump/ Recycle shop
Striped African Throw Blanket – Thrift shop
Wool Turkish throw pillows – Keauhou/Recycle shop

Wooden Bench – DIY
Throw Pillow – Target
Moby Dick Artwork – Junk shop in Maine
Rocking Chair – Keauhou Dump/Recycle shop
Vintage Rug — Bought from a friend
Wooden Chalkboard – Keauhou Dump/Recycle shop

Wood Table — DIY (Slab of old- growth Redwood)
Green, vintage, rod iron chairs – Grandmother’s
Aloha Print pillows – Salvation Army
“Earth Ship” Artwork — Mayumi Oda
Wooden Triangle Artwork – Aaron Michalovic

Cabinets — DIY (African Mahogany)
Antique Dinner Bell – Grandmother’s
Dark Red Navajo Recycled Plastic Floor Mat – Mad Mats (Amazon) Kitchen sink Runner – Target
Plates, Bowls, Glasses – Keauhou Dump/ Recycle Shop

Blue/White Ikat Kantha Quilt – @quillandfeather
Vintage Toran Door Valance – India
Green Check Pillows – Target
Striped Pillow Shams – Keauhou Dump/Recycle Shop

Wood Panel Desk – Keauhou Dump/Recycle Shop
Turkish Kilim Rug – Café Kilim Coffee Shop, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Curtains – DIY
Orange Glass Lamp – Salvation Army
Ship Painting – Sage Farms Antiques, North Hampton, New Hampshire

Rug – Lowe’s (Mohawk Home Marrakesh Indigo Moroccan Area Rug)
Black Wooden Bunk Beds – Kmart
Leopard and Gazelle Print Ottoman – Target
Kantha Quilts — @quillandfeather
Navy Turkish Kilim runner — Café Kilim Coffee Shop, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Vintage Mexican Wall Hanging – Mexico
Vintage Guatemalan Folk Art Wall Hanging – Keauhou Dump/Recycle Shop

Wood Floors and Half Walls – Disassembled redwood water tank
White Hutch – Keauhou Dump/Recycle Shop
Large White Wooden Mirror – Keauhou Dump/Recycles Shop
Seafoam, Vintage Metal Hospital Cabinet on Wheels – Facebook
Essential Oil/ Medicine rack – Keauhou Dump/ Recycle Shop
Vintage Ship in black frame – Sage Farms Antiques, North Hampton, New Hampshire

Thanks, Ali and Peter!