In the home's foyer, a sofa set Amerjit found at Goodwill Iwilei, which she had re-upholstered. The stairwell is an addition to the historic home, leading to their renovation of a master bedroom suite

Serenity now

A special kind of magic comes to life in this home that brings together old and new while mixing in worldwide travel treasures.

Amerjit Ghag and husband Larry Heim first discovered what would become their beloved Nu’uanu home while on a neighborhood stroll through the Dowsett area.

“When we lived on Old Pali Road, Larry and I would walk down to this neighborhood and enjoy all the old homes,” Ghag explains. “We always admired this house, because it looked modest from the street and had an air of mystery.”

When they heard it was going on the market, the Heims snapped it up, becoming the fifth owners of this historic home.

Built in 1924 by James D. Mulvehill, the son of a millionaire hat manufacturer, it was constructed for what now seems an extraordinarily low cost of $15,000. The architect, Robert G. Miller, is also recognized as one of the architects of Honolulu Hale.

“We had been looking all over for a pre-war house-Pacific Heights, Manoa, Nu’uanu,” Heim says. “We knew as soon as we came into this house, the way it unfolds and is spacious but not too much. This house had a magic to it. We fell in love right then.”

It was love at first sight, but the romance was not without its challenges.

“This place had great bones, but was in sad shape,” Ghag recalls.

After years as a rental, deferred maintenance took its toll, and ground termites settled.

“The ceiling beams had hellacious termite damage. I’ve seen all types of damage, but this termite damage was awe-inspiring,” Heim laughs. “People thought we were fools. It was a totally emotional thing.”

They conquered the termites, only to discover one corner of the house was sinking. But in the challenge of righting the house came the inspiration to convert a carelessly enclosed lanai into what has become a gathering place for their family: A peaceful living room, just off the kitchen, looking out to the Ko’olau Mountain Range.

“It was really important to keep the integrity of the house and not make it feel like an add-on, but that it was always here,” Ghag says.

While stabilizing the house, they modernized the kitchen and pushed up the roofline to create a new master bedroom suite, reusing materials wherever they could. They also made the happy discovery of original screen doors abandoned below the house, which now serve as part of their window looking out to the massive mountain apple tree in their lush garden.

They’ve kept the historic quality of their structure but filled it with an artful collection of pieces accumulated over years of travel and even garage sale and roadside discoveries.

Ghag’s family immigrated when she was a child from the Punjab area of Northern India to an agricultural community in California outside Yuba City. She brings Indian style to Honolulu at her boutique CHAI Studio at Ward Warehouse, and some of the pieces find their way back home.

“When I bring a special piece from CHAI Studio, it’s fun to see it mesh with everything else. I don’t hesitate to mix things like local art, a colorful cabinet from India, contemporary couches and ethnic textile pillows-everyone gets along in a special way.”

Returning from a hectic day of retail, Ghag treasures the quiet of their verdant Nu’uanu property.

“There is a certain sense of serenity that I get when I am home.”

“My favorite time is early morning,” Heim adds. “The birds start as soon as the light comes over the valley. As the light hits, the garden fills with these shadows. Then throughout the afternoon, this house is completely nap-able. And at night, the outside lighting hitting the house makes it feel like something different again. The house lives throughout the day.”

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