The Inside of Bliss


After a Grand Opening week of delightful overindulgence, it’s time to go back to the Spa at Kukuiula. This time, we’re in the company of star designer Kathy Merrill.

When decorator Kathy Merrill approached work on the interiors of The Spa at Kukuiula, the brief she received could be summed up in two words: plantation style. But what does plantation style – homey, inviting, cottage-y – mean in a space whose purpose is to open horizons and induce bliss?

What Kathy did was turn the interiors of The Spa at Kukuiula into a plantation for the soul.

“At the beginning, everyone was talking about ‘pure, pure, pure’ plantation style,” says Kathy, “but Hawaiian culture is really a mix of many cultures. And when Japanese and Chinese workers came to the plantations, they brought many of their own things.”

What Merrill and her company did is emphasize the worldliness of Hawaiian culture – mixing art from Kauai and the other islands with pieces from other countries in the South Pacific, mixing in small antiques and always making room for surprise.

The result is a space that’s restful and zenlike but never neutral, clinical or boring. There are intriguing details everywhere you look, and their artistry and originality are as good for the soul as the treatments are for the body.

“What we did at the spa is bring plantation style into the 21st century,” Kathy says.

Familiar teak, which is used extensively, has kukui nut and kukui leaf shapes carved into it and the wood is refreshed with a whitewash finish that gives it a soft, aged patina. Then there’s a gentle jolt of the new: a wall covered in playful modern drawings in whimsical, organic shapes done with a waxlike encaustic finish. Counters made of crushed limestone with fossilized shells, paired with old tin trays from Hawai‘i that have an authentic charm of their own.

“I like to do things that are a little unexpected and a little on the edge,” she says.

Kathy, an intrepid traveler, collects objects and absorbs trends everywhere she goes, finding, buying and trading pieces with an extensive network of colleagues, friends and fellow artists built up since her company began stateside in 1977.

The next time you’re in the spa, let yourself spend some time taking in the artworks, objects and colors around you. It’s another kind of treatment, one you’ll love every time you come.

Be close to the best in blissful relaxation in a Hawaii luxury home and learn more about things to do after the spa.

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