Philpotts Interiors


Honolulu, Oʻahu, HI

Imagine breaking ground on a new project and finding a treasure. Our design work on Waihonua at Kewalo brought us just such an opportunity. Our goal for the project, to honor the past through the use of local artists and place-sensitive design motifs, merged with reality when we discovered ancient artifacts at the start of construction.

By honoring traditions such as the belief that every element in nature has a spirit, we were able to utilize materials that meshed perfectly with our created environment. Every wall in the fishpond and surrounding area is formed from faux moss rock. In the elevator lobby, a shell limestone wall replaces the use of coral.

From the textured pieces of wall art recalling traditional Hawaiian fishing nets to the lauhala mat patterns of woven wood in the fitness area, the details harken back to the culture and are paid homage at every opportunity.


Creating a cultural bridge between traditional and present-day Hawaii, our vision of Waihonua at Kewalo is modern—clean, fresh, but unmistakably Hawaiian. We did not see this amazing find as a discouragement, but an opportunity to connect the building with the area’s heritage. We worked with cultural consultants and the descendants of the land to provide a garden surrounding the sacred burial location of the iwi. This allowed the bones and artifacts to remain in situ while providing a place for the descendants to honor their ancestors.

Glass fish compose the lobby screen, leading the gaze towards the dry bed fishpond. Aholehole sculptures “swim” in the pond, recalling the aquatic life that was once vibrant in the Kewalo Basin.

Many traditional building materials could not be used, due to the strict requirements of the descendants. We considered this a challenge that was met with creative ingenuity.

The distinguishing characteristic of this project was that of true collaboration. With the discovery of iwi, what might have been viewed as an obstacle became an opportunity to learn from the descendants—as well as to expand our design philosophy.