In need of a challenge? Follow these tips to give your space a trendy, townscape feel

When Kamehameha Schools asked if I had the time to stage the model unit for its 680 Ala Moana affordable rental project, my head may have been saying no, but my heart was screaming yes! After all, I had a chance to do something that was both urban and edgy — two words that don’t usually speak to Hawaii interior design — and play a small part in Kakaako’s transformation as well. Despite a small budget and a little more than three weeks’ time to pull everything together, I jumped at the opportunity.

In a decades-old building that’s been newly converted to studio and one-bedroom apartments, I had a great space to work with: a remodeled loft with high ceilings, large windows and exposed industrial shafts. But you’ll be able to use the tips I’m going to explain here to give any space an urban edge.

True colors

Let’s start with color palette. In a setting as urban and industrial as Kakaako, pastels and bright, warm island-style or Mediterranean colors just wouldn’t cut it.


So what’s an urban color palette? I looked at the neighborhood around 680 Ala Moana and saw deep, rich charcoals and blacks. Browns and taupes. Silvers and gun metals.

Those colors would anchor my decor. I found a contemporary fabric for my window treatments that had just the palette I was looking for, making it very easy to choose the right shade for each of my colors. I started with a dark charcoal paint on an accent wall to set the contemporary urban tone and add a sense of drama, kept the other walls neutral and repeated the rest of my color palette in elements around the room.

And to set off these muted industrial tones, I decided to add a splash of yellow. Not only is yellow hot right now, but I also wanted something fresh and bright and modern — and in a cityscape, the day starts and ends with the bright sun peeking between the buildings.

Go planet-friendly

Using reclaimed materials is always a good thing, especially here in Hawaii, where the carbon footprint of bringing in new furniture and building materials is so large. A hot trend now is combining reclaimed wood with industrial elements such as metal to create furniture pieces that are modern and edgy. And did you notice that the dowels for our drapes are actually branches?

We found this driftwood on Kailua Beach. Talk about reclaimed!


When we couldn’t find the perfect console table for the model apartment, we went to Reuse Hawaii, got some reclaimed wood and custom-made this console table/bookshelf at our Kakaako shop, reStyle Hawaii, using the wood and large bolts that we left exposed and aged for a more gritty look.

If you’re not handy with tools, it’s getting easier now to find furniture made with reclaimed pieces in new and consignment furniture stores. And, of course, if you can find the perfect used piece, that’s planet-friendly too!

Make dual-purposing a priority

Urban spaces tend to be smaller, so whenever possible, look for pieces that can do double duty. That’s exactly what I had in mind when I looked for a console table that could also serve as a bookshelf.

Oftentimes in small apartments, storage is an issue. Some other ideas for dual-purpose furniture are dressers that can double as nightstands, beds with built-in shelving under the frame, benches that can double as coffee tables, and lift-top ottomans that you can even triple-purpose as seating, small coffee tables and storage!

Next week I’ll show you more photos and give you more tips on bringing an urban, edgy feel to your space.


Cathy Lee is president and designer of Cathy Lee Style and Cathy’s Marketplace, a furniture and accessories showroom with design services at 1110 University Ave. She recently opened reStyle Hawaii, an affordable, style-conscious consignment warehouse with upholstering and repurposing services at 420 Keawe St. For more information, visit

Photos: Justin Dotson