The Bias House - Kailua-Kona, Hawai'i - de Reus Architects
One-on-One with Mark de Reus
Written by Jamie Agoglia, Editor-in-Cheif
At de Reus Architects, expertise, imagination, and innovation is at the core of every project. With a holistic approach to design, the compelling yet minimalistic architectural style is hand-crafted by Mark de Reus and his team. de Reus utilizes his multifaceted skill-set in combination with his vast knowledge of island culture to cohesively design inspiring residential homes, multi-family homes, and idyllic resorts. Each exceptional project under his belt has an acute attention to detail with a keen focus on the experience of living within the space. The unique philosophy of de Reus architects is a testament to their passion. In an interview with Mark de Reus, we dive deeper into his professional history, his design process, and his inspirations.
Jamie Agoglia: What ignited your passion for architecture and design? Where did it all start for you?
Mark de Reus: I grew up in Boise, and after high school moved to McCall, Idaho a little mountain resort town. Of course, I had to earn a living, and I started working in construction and in the ski industry during the winter. It was in working construction that I grew to appreciate how things are built, which led to an interest in architecture. I was lucky enough to start working for a builder who was truly a master of his craft and was a great teacher. My work involved concrete foundations, wood framing, finishing work, and working with plaster and stone masonry. Over the course of three years, I received a rounded apprenticeship in construction.
I was intrigued with the idea of building and design, and went to the University of Idaho to study architecture. There I met Professor Bill Sloan who I had an instant bond with. He became a mentor of mine throughout the course of my college years and well beyond. The program was organic and rooted in the pragmatics of construction, which I really appreciated, having come into the field from that side of design and construction. That’s what started off my career.
What has influenced your personal style of architecture?
I’ve had a number of influences, including a few singular mentors who I’ve worked with along the way and from whom I learned to appreciate pluralistic design. I was comfortable in several different architectural styles. Sea Ranch had a huge influence on me, as did the work of William Wurster and Frank Lloyd Wright. Later in my career, I did a lot of traveling for work and for pleasure. I lived in Indonesia for five years and was a director in a practice with other Americans in Jakarta. At that time, Bali was a very active place in terms of design and was the focal point for leading edge tropical design in the world.
A trip to Kyoto, Japan was also a big influence. I fell in love with the sensibilities of ancient and modern Japanese architecture and design, and how craftsmanship was integral to its expression. I recognized that design seemed like an extension of their spiritual values as a culture and became enamored with the concept.
Did your career start with residential design versus resort design, or did it all happen at once? And is there a big difference from a design perspective between the two categories?
Early in my career in San Francisco, I worked for a firm called Backen, Arrigoni & Ross. I was exposed to a lot of different building types - from single family residences to multifamily housing, resorts and restaurants. It was a great linchpin early in my career to develop expertise and experience with a wide range of building types. Later, I gravitated towards residential and resort work. When you’re conceptualizing a resort, it has a lot to do with master planning and I shifted towards that side of the industry and started specializing in it.
When starting a new project, what does the process at de Reus entail?
It’s a multifaceted effort, but we start with the context of the property and the land. We have to understand the land and the environment in which the land is located. We’re contextual in our motivations; we want the design to feel appropriate for the location and for the place. At the same time we’re also highly aware that we’re designing the project for an individual client, so it’s a very collaborative effort for both the property and the client.
I used to say that we don’t have a signature style per se, but we do have a signature in that each of the projects is very contextual. Our solutions are appropriate to the site and hand-tailored to the needs and the personality of the client. We’re not dictating a style. Clients come to us because they know that we’re going to design a site specific, hand-crafted design specifically for them.
Can you expand on what a “hand-crafted” approach is for you?
As you know, architecture is both a practical and artistic effort. When I refer to our approach and our design philosophy by saying that it’s hand-crafted, it refers back to how I started in the profession by learning construction and appreciating natural materials. So it’s the whole notion of putting materials together in a manner that is evocative of their natural beauty and extracting as much character as possible out of those materials.
What were some of the clients’ goals behind The Bias House project, and how did you materialize those goals into the final results?
The clients gravitated toward contemporary architecture and its clean lines and minimalistic aesthetic, rather than overtly traditional design. So from the start, the design philosophy of the home was about finding a marriage of tropical modernism, and modern architectural response. The client liked that direction and the design evolved from there.
The interior designer, Marion Philpotts with Philpotts & Associates, liked that direction as well. It was a nice anchoring concept for everybody. That made the overall architectural and design concept more holistic as it evolved because the clients, the architect and the interior designer all resonated with that direction. Having that unified design precept - it was a nice thing to build upon.
What steps did you take to incorporate the natural landscape surrounding The Bias House and how did you incorporate it into the design of the property?
One of the great things about designing in the tropics, particularly with a climate on the Big Island, is that the edge of the island is the leeward side of the island. It’s protected from strong winds by two major mountains, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, and it creates this wonderful climate. In terms of the experience of living in the home, we wanted to merge the interior and exterior spaces together.
In the case of The Bias House, there was this beautiful 1850’s lava flow right next to it which we knew we wanted to respond to. By turning the house to face the coastal view instead of straight out to the ocean horizon, it pulls that view of the lava into the interiors, ensuring that the coast, the ocean, and lava, are all in view at the same time.
I also very intentionally broke the home into distinct zones. You don’t really need hallways or corridors in the tropics, especially on the leeward side of this island. You can walk across the garden to go to another part of the house, using the garden as the hallway. There is an open view of the garden from the rooms as we want to bring in the outdoors as much as possible.
What are the goals and plans for de Reus in the coming year?
We have six homes in the design process right now, and we have multiple projects under construction in Sun Valley and Hawai’i. We are also working on a large club, the Makena Golf and Beach Club in Maui. It’s quite a large project. Having great clients is all we can ask for – We’re having a lot of fun.
We have a new book coming out that I’m very enthusiastic about. The book is called Sanctuary, and it’s our second book. Our first book came out in 2011 called Tropical Experience. Sanctuary is comprised of design stories about 17 selected projects that we’ve completed since 2011. We’re looking to have it out at the beginning of 2023.
It’s heartening to me that there is increasing appreciation to the value of design – to the transformative nature of architecture. Every project is a new adventure.