Downtown Honolulu Apartment Renovation

photo of Honolulu City Apartment by Marshall Design Studio


This “vintage” apartment in downtown Honolulu’s Queen Emma Gardens was taken down to its bones for a complete remodel. One key element of the space is the use of sliding shoji screens to variously temper the light and add privacy — both to the outside as well as between spaces within.

The interior of this apartment was in original condition. We removed all existing cabinetry, appliances, lighting, and plumbing, but left the floor plan intact with the exception of adding a new partial wall in the bathroom. We replaced the existing indirect mahogany lighting coves with new leaner proportioned wood coves using LED lighting instead of (original) fluorescent. We re-surfaced all the mahogany doors with new veneer and replaced all the door hardware with hardware appropriate to the context of these buildings.

Since we were not able to restore the existing shoji screens that surrounded the kitchen we designed new shoji to replace them. We added six new shoji screens at the large window in the living room that can be opened or closed in a variety of ways.

Our design intent was to stay true to the apartment’s mid-century-modern and Japanese heritage.

This renovation project received an American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Design Excellence Award in 2015.

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The Challenge

Built in the early 1960’s, this apartment was in its original (now old) condition.

The Solution

Our design goal was to respect the building’s design, the era in which it was built. and its original architect, Minoru Yamasaki.

Services Provided:

Space Planning | Interior Design | Construction Management | Lighting Design | Sourcing

Bath: Before and After

Use the slider to see the bathroom before and after. The plumbing footprint stayed the same. By adding a privacy wall and sophisticated lighting, the space feels larger.

photo of Bathroom - Before, Downtown Honolulu Apartment Renovation photo of bathroom, Downtown Honolulu Apartment Renovation
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Kitchen: Before and After

Use the slider to see the kitchen before and after. We added cabinetry in every room to increase storage while removing wall cabinets in the kitchen to visually open up the space.

photo of Downtown Honolulu Apartment Renovation, Kitchen, Before photo of Kitchen, Downtown Honolulu Apartment Renovation
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Project Gallery:

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Serenity in the City

This is our apartment in Queen Emma Gardens on the edge of downtown Honolulu, a complex that was designed in the early 1960’s by Detroit architect, Minoru Yamasaki. The aluminum railing design used extensively throughout bears a striking resemblance to the façade Yamasaki would later design for the World Trade Center towers in New York City.

We were attracted to this complex for several reasons. The three buildings that make up Queen Emma Gardens are sited in an urban surprise of open space with well-tended, mature gardens. The buildings were positioned and their interiors designed to take advantage of Nuuanu winds, providing brilliant ventilation, making air conditioning unnecessary.

Yamasaki incorporated precast concrete sunshades and recessed window openings to control sun and add privacy; covered lanais; and standard eight-foot solid mahogany doors. We were unable to find anything else within close walking distance to downtown that came close to having the same architectural character.

Although we added cabinetry wherever possible in every room and closet to provide storage and eliminate clutter, we also reduced the amount of wall cabinetry in the kitchen to visually open up the space. We installed a tall and narrow refrigerator and smaller, European-sized appliances which are properly scaled for this small space.

Jane Marshall

Homeowner and Designer

Simple can be harder than complex. ~ Steve Jobs