Friday, December 6, 2013

The Liljestrand Residence

Bob Liljestrand, son of the original owners, on the deck of his iconic house. Photo ©Darren Bradley
The Liljestrand House, by Vladimir Ossipoff is one of the most stunning, well preserved modernist homes I've ever had the pleasure of visiting anywhere in the world. The fact that it's also located in my own hometown of Honolulu just makes it that much better. 

Liljestrand Residence
Photo ©Darren Bradley

The house was originally designed and built for Dr. Howard Liljestrand and his wife, Betty. Howard was the son of missionaries who had grown up in China. He and his wife were in the United States for medical training and were on their way back there when the Sino-Japanese War broke out. So they "temporarily" delayed in Honolulu awaiting a resolution of the conflict. But things never did improve in China (that war turned into World War II, and then the Communist Revolution happened in '49, etc…). In the meantime, the Liljestrands found work at Queen's Hospital in Honolulu and decided to settle down there. 

It took them nearly 10 years to find the right location to build a house, and at the right price.  And that sites is one of the most amazing things about it. Just a few minutes from downtown Honolulu by car, the house is built on a promontory hight above the city. You have views of downtown Honolulu, the port, and the Punchbowl on one side…

That volcanic cone in the background is Punchbowl National Cemetery, with a view of downtown Honolulu and Pearl Harbor beyond. Photo ©Darren Bradley

… a rainforest reserve on another… 

The master bedroom has a ribbon window along the entire north elevation, facing out to the rainforest reserve on that side. The furniture you see here was carved from a single acacia tree. Photo ©Darren Bradley

… and Diamond Head and Waikiki on the third. 

Liljestrand Residence Living Area
Living room with a view to Diamond Head and Waikiki below. Photo ©Darren Bradley

The house is truly a work of art and a national treasure. It was designed by Hawaii's most well-known modernist architect, Vladimir Ossipoff, who was the subject of a large retrospective a few years ago by architect Dean Sakamoto at the Honolulu Academy of the Arts, and subsequently toured the world. 

The house is terraced down the hill, with most of the living spaces on the top terrace, and a den and open lanai/game room down below. 

Liljestrand Residence
Photo ©Darren Bradley

One of the things that I love about it is how well it functions, not just aesthetically but also as a real home. Every detail has been considered and it's clearly been well lived in and well loved. 

Liljestrand Residence (a room with a view)
The table was designed by Ossipoff for this space. Photo ©Darren Bradley

There are comfortable little corners to discover everywhere, giving it an intimacy that doesn't feel claustrophobic. 

Photo ©Darren Bradley

The kitchen is very large and innovative, especially for its time. Betty Liljestrand even had hidden steps built into the lower cabinets that can be pulled out, to provide her with easier access to the upper cabinets. 

Doing the dishes wouldn't be a bad job to have here. Photo ©Darren Bradley

The formal dining area is adjacent to the kitchen and is open to the living room. Like every other room in the house, it has a spectacular view. Photo ©Darren Bradley

A classic boomerang pool shape is located on a third terrace below, overlooking the Diamond Head side. 

Liljestrand Residence (a pool with a view)
I really want to go for a swim in there next time… Photo ©Darren Bradley

Much of the furniture in the house, along with some of the tables, the staircase, and other works were designed specifically for the house, and carved from a single acacia (aka "monkeypod" tree). 

Liljestrand Residence
The steps were also carved from that same monkeypod tree. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Another corner of the master bedroom, showing more built in furniture from that same monkeypod tree. The wood paneling is redwood, but treated in a muted color to emphasize the grain. Downtown Honolulu visible below. Photo ©Darren Bradley
Vanity in the master bathroom, with same ribbon window continuing from bedroom area, and views to the tropics forest.
Photo ©Darren Bradley

On my most recent visit to the house this past week, I arrived during one of the worst rain storms Honolulu has seen in years. Looking up to where the house was from the city below, I couldn't even see the mountain behind the heavy cloud cover. And strong winds had knocked over trees on many streets around the city. But I still went, to say hi to Bob Liljestrand, the owner's son, and to visit the house, nonetheless. I was pretty certain I wouldn't be able to take any photos this time. But miraculously, the clouds still parted momentarily just at sunset to give me a bit of a view and a hint of that beautiful golden light that visits the house every evening. 

Looking south from the long western-facing terrace, during the magical golden hour. Photo ©Darren Bradley
And here's a shot from a previous visit, on that same terrace but looking north…

Liljestrand Residence
Photo ©Darren Bradley

Bob Liljestrand is one of the nicest guys I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. He is remarkably generous with his time, and with sharing the house for anyone who cares to visit. All that he asks is that you make a donation to the foundation that he's started to preserve it. You can contact him through this website here. If you're ever in Honolulu, I highly recommend that you pay a visit. 

Liljestrand Residence
Photo ©Darren Bradley


Boris said...


of all the collections of small modernist houses this one is by far beautiful.

As an aside, I just looked up Osipoff (pardon my ignorance) on the web. As per wiki, his father was a military attache in Tokio during the revolution. It's the second attache I know of who was lucky to be abroad during the same blasted revolution. The first one was Helen Mirren's grandfather.

Tania Narvaes-Busch said...

This house is one of the most beautiful I have seen! I love and dream about it! I was fortunate to visit a few times when HPR hosted an event there and hopefully will come backmany more times.

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Gracestefan said...

here are numerous pieces of furniture in the house that were all constructed from the stem of a Monkey pod tree that the Liljestrands found in the woods and towed to the house. Numerous of the benches in the bedroom are complete of this wood.