Now Playing

The master bedroom invokes the color schemes of Japanese palaces. Photo by Linny Morris

Asia Major

by Kai Andersen | Hawai'i magazine | September 6, 2012

Zen-like subtlety reigns supreme at Yvette Rogers’ Lā‘ie home. But unlike most architectural wonders, it’s actually easy to miss this bastion of taste. Leading the way to the North Shore, the narrow, winding lanes of Kamehameha Highway take you past Kualoa Ranch (of Jurassic Park and LOST fame) and the sleepy towns of Ka‘a‘awa and Hau‘ula. First, you have to keep a close eye on the addresses of the quaint seaside homes that hug the shoreline: They’re small and fly past quickly. And if you time it just right, you can go around the final sharp bend in the road and make the turn into the Rogers’ driveway in the nick of time.

But like some Zen tale, the journey’s not over. Behind the first subdued gate lies a road that leads up to yet another gate—discreet once again—that blocks the house from view. Only when the doors swing open to a Japanese-inspired garden—with yet another twisting path!—is the treasure house revealed: a work of art in its own right, inspired by the clean angles and graceful arcs of the temples and shrines of Japan, filled with treasures of Asian antiquity and, even more impressively, the signs of intelligence and refinement at work.

Meet the lady of the house and it all comes together. Rogers presents herself with a sense of panache that combines both global sophistication and the easy elegance so characteristic of the Pacific... and so hard to imitate elsewhere. In fact, probably very few could pull off her urbane style, which incongruously seems at home with the almost untamed nature right outside. Her attire: a twisting necklace of Tahitian pearls, a black tank and an edgy black skirt accented with an angled zipper and a flourish of ruffles. And in perfect style, it was in this same sleek outfit that Rogers would later slip out of the house to go pick up fresh poke for lunch.

Once Rogers explains her background, her intriguing persona begins to make sense. Her father, the descendant of English and French voyagers who settled in Tahiti 200 years ago, immigrated to California, where she was born. When she was just 6, the family then resettled in Italy—an incredibly influential locale for the young Rogers. There, she discovered her love of Italian Renaissance architecture, which was inspired by the Greeks and the Romans. This immersion into the past would shape her vision of the world. From Europe, her life’s journey began: high school in Switzerland, college in the States and, most significantly, life and travels in Asia.

Out of all her experiences, though, it was her first day in Kyoto, Japan, which shaped her design MO. In just a few hours, the architecture buff got a grand tour that scholars only dream of. On her hit list were three iconic temples: Ginkaku-ji, Kinkaku-ji and Ryoan-ji. She was immediately taken by what she describes as their “extreme precision” and “superb geometric lines.” Their influence permeates the Lā‘ie property, which she acquired in 1995. With a degree in anthropology from Pitzer, Rogers took naturally to traditional Japanese aesthetics. (Words like wabi-sabi are now part of her vocabulary.) And while she enlisted talented architect Tom Mitchell of Mitchell Design in Seattle to bring the house into fruition, Rogers immersed herself in its design. Truly, the gem of a home is the farthest one could be from the now ubiquitous cookie-cutter luxury. “It was a wonderful opportunity to create something unique, reflecting a history that’s been underrepresented [in home design],” she says.

Conceptually, the starting point of the home was the tokonoma (Japanese-style reception room). But instead of traditionally hanging a scroll that changes with the seasons, Rogers opted for a glass pane. Its frame captures a stone in the garden, a scene that—despite Hawai‘i’s mild weather—does change with the months. From this single window, the rest of the home radiates outward.

At its most elemental, the home is a stage for the dance of opposites: soft and hard, dark and light, or, most quintessentially, yin and yang. Like Rogers’ sharp skirt, the house pits hard surfaces and right angles against the seemingly uncontrollable environs, only to achieve total harmony. For such an elegant woman, Rogers does possess a lean, almost masculine aesthetic. The flooring, for instance, is sturdy concrete polished smooth. Bricks and ceiling beams that run at well-metered right angles hold ground against the wild foliage.

Even the outdoor lānai follows suit. Surrounded by flat lava rock tiles, the rectangular pool’s even geometry is halted by a small waterfall-like fountain. But there’s more than meets the eye. The pool deck is actually inspired by the kogetsudai, or moon-viewing platform. (Think of a tropical take on the Japanese literary classic, The Tale of Genji.) When the full moon achieves its zenith at night, its reflection is captured in the waters below and bathes the palms fronds in silver.

The rival to this liquid masterpiece is the main bedroom, which shines like a set out of a Kurosawa film. Like many of the home’s pieces, its overhang actually came directly from a Japanese temple. “Many of these relics aren’t in demand in Japan,” explains Rogers. But the real treasure is actually above: The ceiling is guilded with delicate gold leaf. “It creates a marvelous glow and a feeling of sensuous luxury!” she says. The Asian-style chiaroscuro truly invokes an opulent serenity. If not for the sound of the waves, it’d be easy to forget the lush landscape outside.

The other end of the home is reached via a small hallway that’s filled with amulets, while a torii gate in a stone garden stands outside. In contrast to the medieval Japanese glamour, smaller bedrooms evoke the rest of Asia. The private guest bedroom, for instance, is a true tiger’s lair—thanks to carvings and prints from Korea and India.

Moving from one room to another, it’s easy to feel transported into another world. But that’s the intrigue of Rogers, a perpetual traveler with one foot in modernity and the other in antiquity. There’s no better example of her subtle mystery than the living room, an inviting space of woods and textiles. All of the chairs and sofas face one another—except for one, which faces the other direction, towards the Lā‘ie shore. “Sitting here, you can be part of the group, while having your own privacy,” she says.