The Poipu Go-To

Bruce and Bonnie Potter’s vacation home, near Poipu Beach on Kaua‘i’s sunny south shore, is near one of the hottest surf spots on the island, but surfing wasn’t the reason they chose to build there: he wanted to be close to a golf course and she wanted the beauty of the shore.

They both lucked out. The beautiful new Tom Weiskopf–designed golf course at Kukui‘ula is just across the street from their home and the ocean seawall is only 40 feet beyond their garden.

The longtime Ross residents purchased the site several years ago and asked Ron Sutton of Sutton Suzuki Architects in Mill Valley to design the residence in a sophisticated homage to the bustling sugar mill that once operated down the road. 

“There was sugarcane everywhere on this island,” Bonnie Potter recalls happily. “All those years, big trucks would lumber down the street with things falling off, covering our car in dust and leaving behind this wonderful sugary smell.”

It’s a fond memory of the nearly 40 years of Kaua‘i vacations spent with her husband and their children, son Whitney Potter, now a realtor with Pacific Union in Larkspur, and daughter Tracy Potter Gomez, a senior account director with Cinch PR & Branding Group in San Francisco.

Capturing Kaua‘i

“Our kids love going there,” she says. “For us, it’s a tradition like the Hamptons or Nantucket is for families on the East Coast. We just keep going back each year.”

 Kaua‘i, she points out, “is the most low-key” of all the touristed islands, “with a flavor of old Hawai‘i. It got its first big shopping center in the last 15 years, but before that, there was no supermarket so we’d bring everything over on the plane with us.”

 It’s a different lifestyle, she observes. “You don’t get dressed up”—she wears shorts and tank tops and her husband has a closetful of Hawaiian shirts—“and there aren’t a lot of possibilities for fine dining or going to events. You get into books, make friends with neighbors and catch up with other friends on the computer.”

 Or they come stay awhile. “We built a spacious house so we could have our children or friends visit,” Bonnie says. “There’s room for three couples and when they’re here, they can play bocce ball on the lawn, golf, swim or hike. It’s about being on vacation and not about sightseeing.”

 She and her husband walk Chloe, their Labrador retriever, to the harbor to buy local fish for dinner, browse the farmers’ market for fresh produce or hike into the neighboring hills. And when he wants to hit a few balls, Bruce Potter just pops on his motor scooter, golf clubs strapped in the back, and heads to the practice range.

 When the Potters commissioned Sutton Suzuki to build their Hawai‘i home, they weren’t aware that Ron Sutton had been a student of Hawai‘i’s historical styles when he launched his architectural career on the Big Island 30 years earlier. They were already admirers from the work he had done on their 100-year-old shingled cottage in Ross years before.

Not only had he beautifully transformed their kitchen and infused it with natural light, Bonnie says, he also seamlessly integrated it with the adjacent family room using a subtle repetition of similar yet refreshed motifs.

He also designed the garage and guest quarters, creating a courtyard that makes a smooth transition between the new and existing structures. “It was a tight space and because it could be seen from the kitchen, I wanted the new building to flow well and look like it had been there as long as the house,” Sutton recalls.

 Naturally, “there wasn’t any way we wouldn’t have used him for our Hawai‘i house,” Bonnie says, “and we love what he designed for us there. He captured everything we wanted.”

Two houses in one

His clients’ Kaua‘i home is “not a typical house,” Sutton says. “It’s really two houses in one.” Yet since each wing is separate, owners or guests can live independently of each other and use only the space they need. 

 The couple had hoped to build the dwelling on grade (molded into the ground), but building codes required that it be set on concrete piers nearly five feet off the ground, so that in a hurricane, for instance, waves would go under the house, not through it. “At first, they were dismayed,” Sutton recalls, “but older Hawaiian-style homes were actually built that way for better ventilation.” Besides, it meant stellar views, even from the master suite, where “they can watch the waves do wonderful things with the spray down the coastline.”

 On the main level, he framed captivating views of surf, sunsets and sea life with convenient wide glass doors that slide into wall pockets, along with disappearing screens and louvers. From almost any perspective, the Potters can watch surfers, seals and whales drift by or glimpse sea turtles bobbing in the swells at sunset. And when the doors are open, ocean breezes cool the house naturally and carry the sounds of crashing waves inside.

 The feeling is not much different inside than on the lanai, the covered patio facing the ocean, where recently 50 guests dined in celebration of the October wedding of daughter Tracy to Felipe Gomez. The lanai also discreetly unites the main house with the guesthouse to suggest a single home. In all there’s a formal foyer, kitchen, living and dining spaces, office, master suite and powder room on one side, and on the other, a family room, smaller kitchen and three en suite bedrooms.

 The exterior is trimmed in wood and clad in sand-colored stucco and coral stone, mined in the Philippines but also indigenous to Kaua‘i. In the ceiling of the great room, large beams, reclaimed from a warehouse on the mainland, are a nuanced nod to the sugar mill.

 Bonnie decorated the interior, creating a restful backdrop of white walls and dark woods with a simple palette of green, white and brown. She chose ipe for the flooring, mahogany for the windows, louvers and cabinetry, and marble and limestone for the countertops, selecting furnishings from her favorite San Francisco Design Center showrooms: Kneedler-Fauchere, McGuire Furniture and Sloan Miyasato. For three years, she picked up art and accessories on trips abroad, at local auction houses and in nearby stores, including Zaragoza in San Anselmo. 

 She wanted the simple serenity she created inside to extend to the grounds. The large lawn, dotted with graceful coconut palms, gently sweeps down to the beach, and restrained plantings—plumeria, hibiscus and gardenias along the house and by the pool—are kept to colors of salmon or white.

 “It’s a family house,” she reflects. “Everybody loves to come here, especially our kids and granddaughter, Cassidy. She makes plumeria leis, plays make-believe with stones and flowers, and catches little fish and puts them in a bowl for a day before putting them back into the sea to catch them another year.”

 Another year and many more visits.

Kaua‘i Credits

Architecture Sutton Suzuki Architects
Construction Stonetree Construction
Interior Design Bonnie Potter
Lighting Anna Kondolf Lighting
Landscape Design Bonnie Potter
Landscape Construction Lawrence Tachibana