Our 2019 House of the Year winner proves the power of the mantra “location, location, location!”
But a zero-edge saltwater pool doesn’t hurt either.
For the second consecutive year, a home from Hawaii scored the top spot in WSJ.com’s House of the Year poll. Each year, our readers choose from among the 52 House of the Week winners to determine which home is the best of the best. In 2019, 133,631 votes were cast in the poll.
This year’s winner—a sleek, oceanfront estate on the island of Oahu—wasn’t the only Hawaiian property to make a splash in our annual competition. Five homes from the Aloha State landed in the top 15, including a stately villa atop a mountain in Maui and a Lanai home that was built with materials from around the world.
Readers returned to the mainland for our second- and third-place winners. A South Carolina island home with views of the Atlantic Ocean and a cantilevered Colorado property set among woods and native grasses were separated by just 32 votes.
These House of the Year candidates weren’t just competing against each other. Despite a record number of $100 million sales, the homes faced a sluggish luxury market in 2019, thanks to a glut of high-end product and retreating foreign buyers. Prices for luxury homes in Los Angeles fell by 3.5% in 2019, according to Douglas Elliman. In Manhattan, prices in the luxury market dropped 24%.
Thirty-seven of the 52 homes remain unsold, one is in contract and one is due to close in March. Those that did sell mostly did so for less than their asking prices.
At $21 million, our House of the Year winner is the second-priciest home of the 52 contenders. Perhaps its “mana”—or the spiritual energy which the owner believes infuses the home—will bring good fortune in 2020.
It was a simple problem that led Elizabeth Grossman to her future home: She couldn’t find a house to rent in Honolulu that was suitable to host her family—she and her husband, two of their children from previous marriages and their significant others, and their close friends—for the holidays. A broker suggested they look in Lanikai. “I said, ‘Where the hell is Lanikai?’” she laughs. Her grandmother had lived part-time in Maui, so she’d been visiting the Islands her entire life, but she’d never heard of the small beach town on the windward side of Oahu.
In 1999, Mrs. Grossman, a retired managing director at Soros Fund Management Co., and her husband, Richard Grossman, a surgeon and founder of the Grossman Burn Center in Los Angeles, drove into Lanikai. She looked at him and said “Oh my God, we have to live here,” she recalls. “It was like some sort of vortex. I just felt peace.” Being newlyweds, her husband happily agreed.
It took a few years to find what they wanted, but in 2004, they purchased a 0.8-acre waterfront property, a quarter mile from Lanikai Beach, with views of the Mokulua Islands, for $6 million.
They hired Bay Area architect Jim Jennings, who Mrs. Grossman had worked with previously on her home in San Francisco, to design the property. “Elizabeth and I are very aligned as far as taste, so we knew it was going to be a modern building,” says Mr. Jennings.
He designed a 7,465-square-foot main home that stretches across the site, taking full advantage of the 151 feet of private waterfront, with its views of the Mokulua Islands. The construction of the home cost $10 million.
The estate took top prize in WSJ.com’s House of the Year poll, with 4,039 votes.
The main residence is just one room wide to “make sure that every space has a relationship to the ocean, to the lagoon, to the Mokululas,” says Mr. Jennings.
Window openings on either side of the structure align, to allow for views to the water from the courtyard and pool. Moveable screens and large lanais allow for seamless indoor-outdoor living.
One request from Mrs. Grossman was that the home feel “very Hawaiian” and have good “mana,” a Hawaiian concept that means spiritual energy and power.
Mr. Jennings collaborated with local architect and his Berkeley classmate Gordon Tyau, who was born and raised in Hawaii. “He was my muse for all things Hawaiian,” says Mr. Jennings, explaining that it isn’t just a few features that contribute to the home’s mana.
“It’s how the home can open up and take advantage of the climate,” he says. “It’s the sense of space, and the way there’s a relationship always to the sound and the swaying of the palm trees and the local vegetation. It’s all part of the same dance.”
The feeling is most evident on the upper level, in the two master suites where glass walls open to wraparound terraces. “It becomes a pavilion in the palm trees looking out over the ocean,” says Mr. Jennings.
When one of the local construction workers on the project commented on the home’s positive mana, Mrs. Grossman realized her wishes had been achieved.
The property also has a 1,877-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-bathroom guesthouse and a one-bedroom caretaker’s cottage. It is on the market for $21 million, listed with Ruthie Kaminskas of Elite Pacific Properties.
Mrs. Grossman is selling because the property requires a lot of upkeep. “I’m getting older, and there’s a lot of maintenance when you live on the ocean,” she says.
But the decision wasn’t an easy one. “The most special thing about this property is its soul and heart,” she says.
Mr. Grossman died in 2014, which makes the sale even tougher. “It’s a house my husband and I built together, so I have a lot of emotional attachment to it.”
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