Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Jean Charlot Residence

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Rear elevation of the Charlot House. Photo ©Darren Bradley

While in Honolulu for a few days last week (more on that later), I had the opportunity to spend some time at the Charlot Residence in Kahala. I had to admit that I was not familiar with the property. After now seeing the house, I have to wonder why not, as it deserves to be very well known. The Charlot house is a beautiful blend of historical and regional design, as adapted to a truly modernist aesthetic. 

charlot house 1
Entry foyer, with those koa wood cantilevered steps leading up to Charlot's studio and the main bedroom. The ladder on the right leads up to a small loft space that was used as a TV room. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Jean Charlot was born in Paris in 1898, to a French father and a Mexican mother. He was always fascinated with Mexican and Aztec cultures, and moved to Mexico with his mother, after his father's death in 1921. 

jean charlot
Jean Charlot, by Tina Modotti. 

He quickly took to the artistic community in Mexico City, and became a close collaborator with a number of well known artists there, including Fernando Leal, Pablo O'Higgins, Diego Rivera, and Freda Kahlo. In fact, Charlot was one of the founders of the Mexican muralist movement, while also working in other mediums, such as sculpture. 

charlot mural
The Mural "Hawaiian Drummers" by Jean Charlot (1950), for the John Young Residence
In 1928, Charlot moved to New York City, and participated in a number of important shows. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, he designed and painted murals for the Works Progress Administration. 

Murals done by Charlot for the auditorium of the Straubenmuller Textile High School (now the Bayard Rustin Educational Complex) in New York City in 1934-35. Photo: Wikipedia. 

After a short stint in the late 1940s in Colorado, he moved to Honolulu to take a position teaching art at the University of Hawaii in 1949. He would remain there for the rest of this life, in this house that he helped to design and build. 

charlot house 6
Note the Hawaiian artwork tiles embedded into the beam over the lanai doors, which was done by Charlot. The painting and other artwork was also his. Photo ©Darren Bradley

The Charlot Residence is a split-level, ranch-style house completed in 1958 in the Kahala residential neighborhood of Honolulu. Most homeowners like to say that they closely collaborated with their architects in designing their homes. But in this case, that's probably true. The house truly appears to be a true collaboration between Charlot and George "Pete" Wimberly (founding partner of WATG)

charlot house 2
View of the dining area with the cantilevered indoor/outdoor table, as seen from the entry of the house. There is an equal extension of the table on the outside patio. Photo ©Darren Bradley

The house successfully evokes Charlot's heritage with design elements that evoke both Mexican courtyard villas and French stone farm houses. 

charlot house 7
Note the brick floors and the chiminea, which are typically found in Mexican homes. Photo ©Darren Bradley

charlot house 5
Original kitchen area off the dining area. Note the use of the Hawaiian-style tiles here, too. The ladder leads to a little loft where the Charlot family kept their television. Photo ©Darren Bradley 

But at the same time, the house is clearly modernist and Wimberly's design innovations can be seen in the open plan, the cantilevered stairs and the great indoor/outdoor table, as well as the overall breezy design that brings the outdoors inside. 

charlot house 3
Dining table is dramatically cantilevered from the wall. There is an identical version on the outside, separated by a window that can be opened to create one continuous table that extends both inside and out. Photo ©Darren Bradley

It's also interesting because Wimberly is not known for designing many houses. He established his reputation and firm with a focus on hotels and other civic properties and offices in Hawaii and around the world. 

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Living area looking out to the canal (and the monstrosity on the other side). Photo ©Darren Bradley

Also, use of local materials such as koa wood furniture and flooring (upstairs) and hapu'u (fern) root paneling are beautiful and creative. 

charlot house 4
Hapu'u, or Hawaiian tree fern roots were cut into planks and used as paneling for both interior and exterior walls. I've never seen this technique before. Can't get much more Hawaiian than that. Photo ©Darren Bradley

The upstairs leads to a large studio and the master bedroom, which is open to the downstairs living area, and has a great view of Charlot's mural. 

charlot 12
Charlot's studio, which includes a cork-covered wall with a curved corner (behind me here), to better hang his murals.
Photo ©Darren Bradley
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View of the mural in the living room, seen from the mezzanine of the main bedroom. Photo ©Darren Bradley

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Living area seen from the mezzanine of the master bedroom. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Charlot passed away in 1979. His widow, Zohmah Day, continued to live in the house until her death in 2000. The house was then acquired by the University of Hawai'i, who continues to maintain it in original condition. 

charlot house 9
View from the rear of the house out to the canal. Photo ©Darren Bradley

I am really grateful for Kiersten Faulkner, Executive Director of the Historic Hawai'i Foundation, for spending the day with me and for arranging access to this beautiful house so that I could photograph it. Thanks also to the University of Hawai'i for allowing me to see this beautiful home (and to Noelle for being such a great - and patient - model!). 

charlot house 11
Rear lanai with view to the canal. Photo ©Darren Bradley


Unknown said...

Darren this is my new favorite Oahu home . Thanks for posting. Would love to see it. I'm really surprised it's not more well known too.
I'm blown away !!

John, aka IG. Hawaii_Modern

Unknown said...

Absolutely amazing...how can we see this place? would love to attend the next docomomo xmas party here.

speaking of artist homes around the kahala area that are must visits, by the watg house on kaikoo place is the historic john and kate kelly house:
the kelly home is right in between both kaikoo and black point road & u can access it from both streets...it also has access to the black point saltwater pool...u can c the house from kate kelly's sculpture at the amelia earhart lookout on diamond head road...it's also a nice house to have a party at, but parking is a bit of a pain...

Abdullah Allamin said...
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Wow!What a nice house! Just mind blowing designs.Thanks for sharing with us.

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