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Jul 31, 2018

At the Vanguard

Creating a space that seamlessly captures an authentic sense of place, no matter the overarching design style, is one of the toughest challenges facing an interior designer.

It requires a deep understanding of the history of the place—the period, the people, and the backstory that ties it all together. It also requires a tightrope walk between clever and kitschy. Michelle Jaime, principle and creative director of interior design studio The Vanguard Theory, recently received high praise in the local art and design community for her work on the interior spaces of the new Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club in Waikīkī. Through her local, multicultural perspective—along with her penchant for contemporary, modern, and minimal design—Jaime is leveraging collaborative creation to become one Hawai'i's rising stars. Currently, she's designing upscale private residences, furnishing Ke Kilohana's common areas in Ward Village, and shooting a Hawai'i-based home renovation show on HGTV with her surf buddy and brother, David. And that's just getting her started. Recently, we caught up with Jaime to talk design, collaboration, and her new project at Ward Village.

How did growing up in Hawai'i shape your design sensibilities?

I feel more connected to the environment. At a very young age we were taught about the resources we have in Hawai'i and to protect those resources. We learned Hawaiian folklore about the gods and goddess and how to respect them—ask permission to go into the forest, or to stay on the path because you don't want to disrupt something sacred. It instilled in me the idea of respecting a space. And design wise, Hawai'i is a cultural melting pot. Growing up, I had friends that were Japanese, Korean, and Mexican. You go into their houses and eat their food and you become more sensitive to other cultures and more aware of what their house looks like, their traditional décor.

How would you describe your design style?

In my mind I think I'm really a minimalist. I don't like stuff. Simple is best because it makes everything that's on the table look special and curated. But I'm all about injecting personality in there. I love pattern on pattern. It's the Filipino part of me. I love texture, too.

Is there a project in particular that stands out as really encompassing the full potential of your work?

The Surfjack is my favorite so far. Someone told me that you walk in there and you feel like its Hawai'i. It's not because we did a coconut tree, it's nostalgic. To me, success is if someone goes in there and can't put a finger on why it makes them feel a certain way.

It feels authentic to Hawai'i without all the popular Hawai'i tourism references.

I think if our company tried to do it by ourselves it wouldn't have turned out the way it did. We asked all these artists, designers, and shops to be a part of it. We got the support of their followers and communities, but it's also what their vision of what Hawai'i is, what Hawai'i means to them. We gave them our vision boards and direction. Knowing a little about the artists, you can guide them to do what they do best.

I understand that you're a huge fan of collaborating with local creatives.

There's a lot to learn from other people. When we started the business, if we worked by ourselves we'd pump out the same thing every time. Collaborating with people, you learn a lot more and your style as a designer changes because you know more. Right now I'm interested in branding and landscape design. If you don't have curiosity, you can get really stale.

What has it been like working on the HGTV show, Aloha Homes, with your brother? How has it influenced your design strategy and your business?

David is pretty funny. Sometimes when we are on set we are cracking each other up. Filming each episode gave us the chance to share another side of Hawai'i. We understand that we were given this wonderful platform and with it we hope to connect people to local businesses, artists, and craftsmen. The show made me realize that I am in the business of storytelling via design. We will see when the show premieres in September what kind of new opportunities will come our way! At The Vanguard Theory we are prepping an online shop to sell swag, and limited runs of items created by local artists and designers.

You also have a forthcoming project here at Ward Village. Can you talk about that a bit?

We're furnishing Ke Kilohana's common areas, which will open in 2019. The interiors reflects Kakaako which is an eclectic neighborhood juxtaposed with industrial and modern design. The common areas are essentially an extended living room for the residents of Ke Kilohana. As we were designing, we envisioned how they will use each space to celebrate, play, work, and entertaining. We're really looking forward to developing this project.

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This is not intended to be an offer to sell in any jurisdiction where prohibited by law. Ward Village is a proposed master planned development in Honolulu, Hawaii that does not yet exist. Exclusive Project Broker Ward Village Properties, LLC. Copyright 2018. Equal Housing Opportunity. Exclusive Project Broker for Ke Kilohana - Locations LLC. Copyright 2018. Equal Housing Opportunity.

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