Where I Live

This Artist’s Treehouse Is The Definition Of Tropical Modernism

Totally worth the 90-stair climb to the front door.

By Chanel Dror
jordan higa's incredible home with a view in hawaii

We’re firm believers that when architecture is done right, the job of a decorator or designer is an easy one. Choosing furniture and artwork is simple when you have a beautiful canvas to work with, and if it’s anything like the Japanese-inspired 1930’s home we’re featuring today, the challenge isn’t in adding beauty to a space, but instead, highlighting that which already exists. When artist Jordan Higa (yep, they’re sisters) and her boyfriend Noa moved into this historic home, doing it justice seemed impossible. The solution? Lean into what’s already there, and take inspiration from the surroundings.

The result is a fusion of island with mid-century, or as Jordan so aptly labels it, tropical modernism.

Read on for a tour of this tranquil home in the Hawaiian hills, including but not limited to, a light-filled artist’s studio, comforting turn-of-the-century accents, and what is quite possibly the greatest vista we’re ever seen.

a honolulu home

Your home is giving us all the island treehouse vibes. Tell us about it.

The house is a historical home in Manoa built in 1938. It sits on the Western slope of the valley and was designed by architect, Allen R. Johnson, who resided here with his wife. The house was his passion project, an ode to Japanese design and one of the earliest examples of Tropical Modernism in Hawaii.

The house entered my life when I met my equally rad boyfriend, Noa, who was living in the downstairs studio at the time. Two years later, while wrapping up a month-long stint in Europe, we got word his roommate would be moving out. I jumped at the opportunity to live there, keep our Euro-trip going and drink wine every night. Fast forward two years and we’re still happily doing the 90-stair climb every day to our little tree house.

a zen mid century honolulu home

Tropical Modernism! That just might be the best architectural descriptor we’ve ever heard. Would you say you stuck to that aesthetic when decorating the house?

Our inspiration was Mid-Century Modern with a splash of Craigslist. We wanted to pay homage to the house while being open to other things that caught our eye and also mindful of our budget. Our deep green couch and aloha print chairs were unexpected finds, but we love the pop of color and tropical vibe they bring to the space. These two pieces inspired our color palette and the rest of our decor.

The art is an eclectic mix and a reflection of me and Noa’s design styles. His aesthetic is very clean and modern while mine is more loose and analogue. We shuffled the art around a lot until until it felt balanced. It’s a constant quest for yin yang, but we’re enjoying the process

It seems like you really draw inspiration from the island.

Noa and I both grew up in Hawaii, so it’s big part of our aesthetic and identity. Most of our art and decor celebrates surfing, the ocean, and old Hawaii. One of my favorite pieces in our home is my dad’s Brothers Cazimero (OG Hawaiian music duo) poster from the 70’s (below.)

a zen mid century honolulu home

hippy minimalist bedroom with a yellow bedspread jordan higa at home in hawaii jordan higa at home in hawaii a mid century dining room in a hawaii home

Who are your dream house guests?

One hundred percent the architect and his wife to hear the whole story. Did they have a dog? Why did they choose a fish as the door knocker? Did they experience any storm where they had to batten down the hatches? Why so many stairs? What did their calves look like?

Were there any big design challenges when moving into the space?

Doing it justice. We saw the house completely empty and realized it didn’t need anything else to make it more beautiful.

a mid century dining room in a hawaii home

a laid back kitchen in hawaii

We’re totally picturing the magic of watching a rainstorm from this incredible view. What’s your favorite way to spend time at home?

Having a glass of wine at sunset with my boo, feet up, on the couch, taking in the view and listening to sweet tunes.

Any interior design rules to live by?

Don’t feel pressured to make it look like a picture you pinned. Stay true to your style and fill it with things that inspire you. If you feel comfortable in it, visitors will too.

We’d love to know: what are your favorite places to shop for furniture and decor?

@greenroomhawaii for surf-centric locally made art

@ginger13hawaii and @paikohawaii for house plants

@blockshoptextiles for one-of-a-kind hand-made block-printed textiles

@hawaii_modern for beautifully restored and curated mid-century modern furniture

@houndandquail for vintage oddities from around the world

Craigslist for the deals

My parents’ garage were my dad keeps refurbished gems he finds on the street that my mom won’t let him display in their house

jordan higa's incredible home with a view in hawaii

Now, for the pièce de résistance. Tell us about this amazing view!

We have an insane panoramic view that spans Waikiki, Diamond Head, and Kaimuki and it never gets old. No matter the weather or time of day, I’m always in awe of its beauty. My brain shuts off for a little whenever I pause to take it in.

Is this your favorite spot in the house?

The house draws lines that converge at the front corner, where you have the best view and can feel the cross breeze. I find myself gravitating there most. I call it the magic corner.

jordan higa's incredible home with a view in hawaii artist jordan higa working in her home studio in hawaii

A girl could get used to this studio setup! What a beautiful space to be creative. Tell us about what you do at Hontas Higa.

I’m a freelance illustrator/designer and also have a stationery line that I sell on my Etsy and in stores on Oahu and the Big Island. My work varies from hyper-realistic food watercolors for publications to whimsical Hawaii-inspired graphics for local businesses. My stationery line tends to fall on the more whimsical side, pairing punny headlines with fun illustrations inspired by local culture.

How does your home inspire your art?

Me and Noa both work out of our downstairs studio, which is the former office of the architect. I have the privilege of working in the window with the most distracting/inspiring view of Diamond Head. When I think about all the masterpieces born in the space before me, I’m motivated to be productive and create my best work.

artist jordan higa working in her home studio in hawaii artist jordan higa working in her home studio in hawaii

Care to share some of your favorite design resources?

Our friends who are architect nerds. They pointed us in some great directions when we first moved in.

Also, Instagram. I get my daily dose of inspiration from lifestyle brands like @_patter, which posts mid-century modern interiors alongside other “mood” pics. For more informative content, I love staying up-to-date on the luxurious and unique spaces featured by @tmagazine and @wsjmag.

Fill in the blank: A well-designed home should _______

compliment your life.

jordan higa watercolor and illustrations