Hawaiian Retreat Is Like 'Living in a Treehouse'

For Steve and Irene Au, selling their treehouse-like home in Kailua, HI, is a long goodbye.

Four decades ago, the couple purchased a plot of land on a steep site for $125,000. The husband, an architect and planner, designed the four-story wood home, which went up in three months. In 1977, the two moved in.

Over the years, the couple raised two adopted children and four foster kids, planted fruit trees, and woke up with the sun.

Now, with Steve Au turning 82 this year, the two are ready to move on. "We will miss it," Au says. "But at the same time, this house marks a major chapter in our life. And we are willing to pass this on to whoever this is that can find value in living as we do."

Along with taking in ocean views from every room, that means living in a "minimally designed house," he says. "The footprint is very small, but the views are magnificent."

Sadly, we couldn't confirm this with a personal visit, but based on the photos, we certainly agree. The sparkling turquoise sea along with the Mokulua islands below are a breathtaking sight. And the beach itself, popular with tourists, is a 10-minute walk down the hill.

The 1,223-square-foot, three-bedroom home is quirky: The bedrooms have no doors (the bathrooms do) with the levels creating privacy instead. There isn't a whole lot of storage. And with four floors, there are a lot of steps.

"It's like living in a treehouse," listing agent Lynn Young Soldat says of the vertical design and the 25 species of trees surrounding the house made of cedar. "The home is rustic, it's weathered, it's raw."

The tropical retreat comes with a backyard garden yielding star fruit, guavas, mangos, papayas, figs, avocados, and more. The garden was lovingly tended by Irene Au.

Au would drive around the hillside Lanikai neighborhood, picking up grass cuttings and fallen leaves to use as mulch for the 1-acre property. Behind their house is preservation land.

"There was maybe half an inch of soil," she recalls. "Below that was clay, and below that was blue stone, a very hard rock. We did it slowly."

She adds, "We feel blessed to be living here and enjoying the fruit of our labor of many, many years."

Now it's time for all their work to pay off. When the house initially went on the market last year it was spruced up with fresh paint, carpets, and new appliances. Since then, the list price has dropped from $3.8 million to the current $2.96 million.

The stunning setting and the unique design caught the attention of the media, and The Wall Street Journal featured it as its House of the Day in November.

But for the Au family, it's been the home of a lifetime.