On the Big Island of Hawaii there are cottages and villas flaunting rustic-chic vibes aplenty. But a cabin five minutes away from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the natural wonder that is home to the active volcanoes Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, promises a more contemporary retreat amid the park's primeval 'ōhi'a forest.
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Owner Jeff Brink, who divides his time between Honolulu and Seattle, was already familiar with the process of turning an idea of a home into a reality. When he's not ensconced in his retreat for a few peaceful vacation days, he runs a rendering and visualization service for design industry professionals. That affinity for design made his collaboration with Loch Soderquist, a local architect, a natural one to bring the 488-square-foot cabin to life.
And since Kūono was completed in 2018, its volatile, volcanic location hasn't failed to deliver some natural scares. Built 20 miles away from where lava destroyed some 700 homes during the months-long eruption of Kīlauea last year, Kūono also withstood the 30-day stretch of earthquakes at Halema’uma’u Crater, just four miles away. "We were smack dab in the middle of it," Brink recalls.
Despite all the seismic activity, the Big Island translates to a more hushed kind of Hawaiian getaway than, say, one offered at the resorts lining Waikiki Beach. "There’s a 4,000-foot elevation and a cooler climate. It’s all about nature," points out Brink. "We wanted to do something different here with a more modern Scandinavian design."
Painted an eye-catching red, the front door is a colorful contrast to the green of the ōhi'a forest. Inspired by the sleek simplicity of Norwegian sea cabins, the hideaway, clad in cedar siding, blends in with its surroundings thoroughly—even the catchment tank and pump house that supply water to the property are concealed by horizontal cedar latticework. This motif is amplified by such elements as a crushed basalt driveway and retaining rock walls spawned from on-site lava that was unearthed during the construction process. Additionally, outdoor sitting areas were leveled with rocks dislodged during the laying of the foundation.
"In Hawaii, in general you want an indoor-outdoor connection," says Brink, noting the 14-foot floor-to-ceiling windows.
Large enough for a family of four to comfortably hole up for the week, the open-plan layout features a vaulted sleeping and living space complete with sofa bed. No-fuss meals can be prepared in the airy kitchen, with custom cabinets courtesy of a Seattle-area craftsman. Throughout the space, moody landscape paintings by a local artist strengthen this rental property's relationship with the Big Island.
Beyond the sliding glass doors is the lanai, Kūono’s centerpiece. Here, one can sit for hours chatting and drinking wine against a backdrop of dark-stained cedar before winding down with a dip into the cedar soaking tub. A few steps beyond the lanai, a fire pit offers a year-round possibility for s’mores.
Whether those mesmerizing flames are enjoyed while perched outside on a log stool or curled up in bed, it’s a reminder, says Brink, that "minimal yet comfortable, Kūono is meant to be a place of respite."