by MALIA MATTOCH MCMANUS
photography by MARCO GARCIA

Alice Robinson finds domestic bliss on Diamond Head Road.

For much of Alice Robinson’s life, Ha wai‘i represented an ancestral home from which tragedy had estranged her

For much of Alice Robinson’s life, Ha wai‘i represented an ancestral home from which tragedy had estranged her. “I was born here, but my mother died in childbirth. So my father took me away to his family, and I didn’t come back to Hawai‘i until I was 21 years old,” says Robinson.

Her return to the islands was as almost as dramatic as her departure. She arrived in Honolulu at the age of 21 after being sent for by her grandmother, Alice Kamokila Campbell. “It was the first time I had ever met her,” remembers Robinson.

Her grandmother was one of James Campbell’s four daughters. For Robinson, that first trip was a remarkable introduction to the legacy her family carries in Hawai‘i. James Campbell arrived in Hawai‘i on a whaling ship in 1850 with carpentry skills. When he died in 1900, he left a trust representing one of the largest private landowners in Hawai‘i.

While the business of her life continued in Monte Sereno, Calif., Robinson began rediscovering the land where her great-grandfather had made his fortune through trips back to the islands.

“I made trips back and forth during the years to visit with my brother, Jim Growney. I would visit my brother each year.”

Robinson began thinking about returning to the islands to live when her last of her four children was out of college and her friends began to retire.

“Then people I knew started to retire and and move to the desert, and while I like the desert, I thought, ‘that’s not where I want to live.’ I knew that I wanted to return to Hawai‘i, where all my family was. I have many close cousins here along with my brother, niece, daughter and grandchildren.”

Settling first in a condo on the Gold Coast, Robinson went to see the home of real-estate developer Jim Schuler and, “It was instant love.”

Robinson was smitten with the home’s location, which sits between Diamond Head Road and the ocean. The house sits downslope of the road, blocking traffic noise and allowing for unobstructed views of the Pacific. Once a Japanese-inspired home designed by Vladimir Ossipoff, Schuler had done a sizeable remodel connecting its pod-style areas into a larger structure.

“When I moved in it was more California Modern in style. I wanted it to feel like Hawai‘i,” says Robinson, who can claim Hawaiian blood through her great-grandmother, James Campbell’s wife, Abigail Kuaihelani Maipinepine.

“All the carpets came up and we found these beautiful old ‘ohi‘a floors underneath that had to be redone. I gave my California art away to my four children and began to collect local art.”

Her home is filled with a who’s who of Hawai‘i artists: D. Howard Hitchcock, Yvonne Cheng, Hiroshi Tagami and John Young. Above her center stairs hangs a stunning Madge Tennent—a painting she purchased at auction by keeping her “face straight and paddle up.”

Koa bowls fill every counter. It’s a collection of art and Hawaiiana she describes as a collaboration with her first cousin, interior designer Mary Philpotts.

“She worries about me because I tend to clutter, and it drives her crazy,” says Robinson with a good-natured laugh.

Robinson clearly treasures this home and time in her life. Children and grandchildren stay weeks on end. Her grandsons keep their turtles in her kitchen and delight in the gigantic koi tended in her courtyard by the same man who cares for Ala Moana Center’s.

“He even performed a surgery on one!” Robinson says. “I love being in this house. I love when my family is with me … and my grandchildren can whale watch right from the living room window. It’s a thrill.”