Blending Timeless with Contemporary
Archipelago Hawaii’s interiors win design prizes—including HGTV’s Designers’ Challenge
“I love coming home.” This phrase is music to Tiare Noelani Cowan’s ears. She hears it often at the completion of interior design projects, when clients call to tell her about life in their new spaces.
Or, “‘I’m entertaining all the time now, I love having people over.’ Or when we do kitchens, clients who had never cooked before say, ‘I’m cooking all the time!’” says Cowan. “For one thing, we’ve given them a kitchen that functions well, so now it’s easy to cook. We’ve made it beautiful, so they love to be there. It’s nice when clients enjoy and really use their space.”
Tiare and her brother, Rick, are the driving forces behind Archipelago Hawaii, a full-service design firm specializing in total home and kitchen design. Both are certified kitchen designers (CKD); Tiare is also an interior designer and an allied member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID).
Their partnership goes beyond the convenience of a family business. The two complement each other with strengths in different areas: Rick started out in construction and cabinetry, while Tiare began in real estate and furniture sales, then moved on to fabrics and upholstery. Finally she went back to school to study interior design. If Tiare tends toward a traditional plantation style, Rick tends more toward the contemporary, though both work fluidly in any design style.
“We find when we collaborate on a design, we come up with a better end product. Neither of us gets stuck in our mode—it forces us to stretch,” says Tiare. “Our job is to take what the client wants and make it functional first, then beautiful. So we end up doing a diverse range of styles. Right now we’re doing a Tuscan farmhouse in Waimanalo.
“I’m finding most people are over the Tommy Bahama kitschy look. They want a sense of place, a feel of Hawaii, but they like a clean, sophisticated look. So I’m mixing tropical colors/fabrics, textures and exotic woods like mango, koa and mahogany to create the warmth of an island feel but keeping the lines very clean and simple.”
Tiare is also a color specialist. “Paint is one of the simplest design tools. I tend to use a more historical palette, which means the colors are grayed down a bit and more subtle in saturation, so they’re not jumping out at you, and I carry that palette throughout the home. In one home I used 13 paint colors—different greens, some beiges, even some golden tones. They’re all of the same tonal value, so as you go from room to room, they all flow and make sense,” she says. “I love how color can enhance the architectural details in a home and lead you from one space to another. I’ve also done really bright saturated colors. It all depends on the client, the design style and how daring they are.”
The results have won Archipelago more than a dozen design awards from the Building Industry Association of Hawaii, National Kitchen & Bath Association, ASID and Sub-Zero/Wolf. Its most high-profile win, though, came on national television, when Archipelago was chosen over two other design firms on a Hawaii-filmed episode of HGTV’s Designers’ Challenge.
The challenge? Opening up a house to make the most of its amazing ocean views. The project started out as a kitchen/great room redesign, Tiare says, but the owners eventually decided to tear down and redesign the entire house to maximize panoramic views of the ocean and adjacent Paiko Lagoon, a wildlife sanctuary near Aina Haina. The centerpiece was the dual-station kitchen: Sleek, warm, contemporary and ultra-functional, it won a BIA Renaissance Award. (You can see before-and-after photos at www.archipelagohawaii.com; “Ocean Views in Oahu” aired on HGTV this summer, with periodic reruns.)
Until recently, Archipelago was known for its kitchen designs. Now the firm is broadening its scope with more complete home designs—from conceptual design, architectural drawings and space planning to finish selections and furniture packages—and is also winning awards for these.
But prizes only count for so much. Archipelago also prides itself on its client service, for which Tiare gives much of the credit to the other Archipelago Team members: office manager Hanne, who runs the place and handles all appliance sales; marketing director Roseann, who handles interior design purchases; and Laurent, who brings Tiare and Rick’s designs to life in 3D so clients can see their new spaces; Laurent also does all the CAD drawings and places cabinetry orders. Every team member stays abreast of each design project and usually works with every client during the design process.
And for Archipelago, it always comes back to the client. “I love it when we just click with a client,” Tiare says. “We get their vision right away, the client trusts us to do our job, the passion is there and the project gets better and better as we go.”