When approached with an open mind, problem areas can become opportunities to add personality to your home

Every once in a while, a project comes along that’s extra special. Recently I completed a project for a sweet local couple who asked me to design the interior of their family beach house. It was their reason for undertaking this project, and their reaction when we revealed their new home away from home, that made this one so memorable.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing with you photos from this project, along with tips not on how to create your own beach house, but how you can take some of the ideas and translate them into your own space.

Let’s start with my one tip for this column: how to turn a negative into a positive, and then personalize it.


This was a house that had been in the family for over 40 years. My clients had decided to tear it down and build anew, which took a few years. My job was to select all the finishes and furnish the interior and exterior.

When I met with them, the first question I asked was why they were doing this. Why were they building a brand-new beach house? Their answer was they wanted a special place for their family to always come home to. Their children are grown now, and there are grandchildren. They love getting together with them at the beach house. It’s their special time and place.

That’s how I got my inspiration for a problem space in the house. The pantry cabinets in the kitchen are very tall, as are the ceilings. That left an empty stretch about 10 feet long and five feet deep to fill between ceiling and cabinets. I kept looking at the gaping space and thinking, what in the world am I going to do with that?

I thought about going with a beachy theme and displaying a surfboard or a little outrigger canoe. But I wanted something that was more meaningful. And there was so much white in the cabinets, I needed something in a deeper, richer color to bring depth to that side of the room. Then it came to me.

On one of my buying trips, I saw these large letters that are three feet in height and instantly knew what I was going to do. I was going to turn that negative into a positive and personalize it.

I bought some letters, had them painted in bronze and mounted above the cabinets to spell “ohana.” After all, that’s what this beach house is all about.


Then, reinforcing the theme, I arranged the word “family” with their family picture on a nearby console, painting those letters white to tie in with the kitchen cabinets.

Now every time the homeowners are in the kitchen with the ohana gathered around, whether they’re eating, playing or just hanging out, they’ll always remember why this home was built.

When the construction phase was complete, I asked them to stay away and give me a few weeks to finish the house. We worked furiously in those weeks to perfect the house, then had them come back with their family for the reveal.

The couple walked through the doors into their new beach home and saw the love and attention that had gone into creating something special for their family. Tearfully, the wife said, “You thought of everything, I can’t believe this is our home.”

So take a look at your space. Is there a spot that’s a decor problem? Is there a way to turn that negative into something positive? Sometimes these challenges can turn into unexpected triumphs.


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. Visit www.cathyleestyle.com.