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Building A Sanctuary

The surprising secrets behind Mark de Reus' world-class homes

For most of us, the luxury homes along the Kona Coast represent a world we will never touch. But for Mark de Reus, they stand as monuments to his passion, creativity, and love for the Big Island and nature. Each home represents a beautiful story of collaboration and unity between the designer, client, and the land. “It's like their hands and our hands are in the same clay. We're doing this together,” Mark says.

One project, in particular, a home on the South Kohala coast, is among his favorites. Mark calls it the Pahinahina House. It was the trust that Mark built with his client that made this home such a memorable undertaking. “They knew I was listening to them very carefully about integrating things they wanted in the house,” he explains.

The client was excited about Mark’s vision and wanted to do whatever it took to get the job done right. That was rare. Together, they crafted a beautiful sanctuary. Mark says, “Each design is an original work for the client – it’s idiosyncratic and individual because each property is different – each client is different, and they come to us to develop a unique personalized design.”

During the design process, his client expressed her desire to incorporate curves into the home. That idea grew in Mark’s imagination and is reflected in the home’s distinctive curved beams. It’s a feature that connects the home with the ocean it borders.

“I always found it mesmerizing to sit there, especially in the winter when you get those big ocean swells. They start in the distance, at the horizon. And you can watch them roll across the ocean, and then release all their energy right onto the craggy lava shoreline,” Mark reflects.

If you visit his website, there is a beautiful description of the home: “A Japanese-like sense of restraint is prevalent throughout the design. Pavilion-like hipped roofs convey a sense of island architecture … There is a play of contrasts in the craftsmanship of these stone walls. The exterior lava stone, coarse in texture, transforms to soft, refined sandstone as one enters the home. The luxurious blending of natural woods lends the home a materiality that is both ancient and modern.”

The Pahinahina House is an expression of Mark’s deeply held values: to integrate the architecture and the land.

“I don't want it to try to compete with the natural beauty that's on these wonderful properties. Or try to call attention to itself and be pretentious. We’re not about trying to have ‘look at me’ architecture. Our vision is to allow the design of the landscape to evolve together, interweaving the two together, and to achieve a quiet elegance to the design.”

It’s apparent to anyone who interacts with Mark that he isn’t working a day job. He embodies the passion and creative vision for his work. The design process pulls on his deep sensibilities for harmony, beauty, and functionality. The work is meticulous. “The process of design and detailing takes 10, 12, 14 months … We go through it very thoroughly, and we end up with about 400 sheets of working drawings … that's not counting, you know, the structural, mechanical, electrical, lighting, and specifications,” he says.

Mark is quick to recognize the teamwork needed to bring these projects to life. “We're passionate about it, and everybody in the company is with us in the same way. And that's why it's so great to work with everybody in the firm.”

He also acknowledges the importance of working with the right builder. He says they often become part of the team. Their expertise and ability to source materials are a crucial part of the process.

Mark built an appreciation for craftsmanship early in life. After high school, with a passion for skiing, Mark moved to a resort town in Idaho. He worked construction in the off-season to make ends meet. He apprenticed under a talented contractor who was an excellent mentor. Furthermore, he learned a variety of trade skills: concrete, framing, stone-masonry, plasterwork and cabinetry. It was through that experience he developed an interest in design and decided to attend the University of Idaho to get an architecture degree.

Architecture led him into an adventure, “When I got out of college, I ended up having a bit of a peripatetic career, moving around quite a bit. Ten years in San Francisco and five years working in Indonesia, then back to San Francisco, where I got hired by Hart Howerton to be the lead architect for the Kukio Beach Club.” That brought Mark to the Big Island.

It was after that project that everything changed for him. “When I moved to the Big Island, it got to a point where it felt like it was the right time and place for me to get away from the corporate mentality and go out on my own. I greatly respected the firm I was with at the time, and a smooth transition was important to me.”

In 2005, Mark founded de Reus Architects. Since then, he has received numerous design awards, been featured in publications and television, and been recognized by Architectural Digest as one of the world’s top architects.

He explained what fuels his work, “The endeavor of designing and building a home addresses an intimate human need … it’s a place that’s a sanctuary for our physical and psychological well-being. We find it to be a deeply personal and rewarding experience to design a home – that is both a sanctuary and a retreat for a client and their family. This is what drives us.”

At this point in his 43-year career, Mark wants to pour into the next generation. “I do enjoy being a mentor. I say I'm in my mentorship phase now. I'm 71, we've got 22 people in the firm, and a great group of really talented designers, architects, and managers. When I think back, I appreciate all the great mentors I had in my life.” He wants to offer the same support he received.

But being a mentor didn’t come easy. Mark admits that he tended to be demanding. He points back to a lesson he learned in Jakarta. A senior Indonesian architect pulled him aside and encouraged him to view his role more like a Bapak (a father), than a taskmaster. 

He suggested Mark check in on his young staff more often and make sure they understood how to succeed. Mark reflected, “He was giving me incredibly good advice on how to be a mentor. And I just took it to heart. I changed my ways right then and there.” It had an immediate impact on the office. He enjoyed a stream of thank-yous, compliments, and higher productivity. And that lesson has traveled with him ever since then.

Mark’s life work points to the impact of listening well, paying attention to detail and beauty, the power of lending support, and maintaining respect for our surroundings. It’s only right to be inspired and provoked by his drive for excellence.

So maybe the next time we drive past these homes, we need to allow them to stand as monuments to us. They are reminders to listen to those that we love, to be attentive to our duties, to strive to make life more beautiful, to work harder to support those around us, and always keep an eye on how we are making the Kona Coast a better place to call home.