COURTESY GUY A. SIBILLA
Guy Sibilla moved from a three-bedroom house in Kaimuki to an 800-square-foot Nuuanu condo, getting rid of much "stuff" in the process and keeping only the most meaningful items. As a result, he has plenty of space in a living room as spare and aesthetically uplifting as an art gallery.
Room to live
A world traveler's downsizing frees up space for meaningful possessions
GUY A. SIBILLA'S work as a freelance adventure photographer and journalist has taken him around the world, from the comforts of Japan's "onsen-ryokan," or hot spring inns, to the desolate sand dunes of the Thar desert on the border of Pakistan and India.
There's nothing like spending four months in a one-man North Face tent on a West Himalayan glacier to put life into perspective and understand that man is more than the sum of his toys.
In 2004 Sibilla sold his three-bedroom Sierra Drive home and downsized into a one-bedroom Nuuanu condo, giving up many of his possessions in the process, including a 2,000-volume library, with some books going to his brother in Las Vegas, some dispersed through the Friends of the Library annual book sale.
He doesn't feel it was a sacrifice at all.
"You go through phases in life, and most of your youth you spend accumulating," he said. "Eventually, you come to a place where you go, 'What do I need these things for?'
"When you have a huge house, you're gonna have two couches or a couch and a love seat, extra beds, tables. I had a huge pantry and something like 25 vases, six sets of dishes. I got rid of all of that stuff.
COURTESY GUY A. SIBILLA
From top, a carved wood and gold leaf Buddha sculpture from Thailand graces Sibilla's bedroom. Antique wooden eaves from China hang over a refurbished sectional sofa in the living room. Bulky overhead cabinets in the kitchen gave way to ladder-style glass-and-wood shelves that put dishes on display and within easy reach.
"It was an opportunity to look at everything I have and decide what is meaningful, what is a treasure. Those are the things you keep. If you're gonna have something, it should be beautiful and have some meaning to you."
Liberated from the tyranny of stuff, Sibilla was free to remove wall-to-wall overhead kitchen cabinetry to open up the 800-square-foot space. Without the bulky cabinets, a television set or other space invaders, the room has the feel of an art gallery, accented with Sibilla's photographs, plus statues, masks and other mementos from his journeys abroad, including a fragile handwritten Quran that he picked up in Tehran, Iran.
"I don't bring back a lot of things, but just something to symbolize a journey," he said. "I take special care in displaying them because each one of them has a story to tell."
Halogen spotlights accentuate the artwork and do away with the need for space-wasting floor and table lamps.
In place of kitchen shelves, he now has a wood-and-glass ladder-style display shelf that he built after spotting something similar in a Kyoto sushi bar, where beautiful earthen dishes could be displayed and conveniently accessed by the sushi chefs.
SUCH MINIMALISM is not for everyone, but taking his lifestyle into account, Sibilla said, "I travel a lot. I don't need to store 24 cans of green beans."
A three-quarter-size Whirlpool refrigerator fits the scale of the kitchen and is more than adequate, saving energy in the process of storing edibles.
"Appliances these days are so huge, and maybe 20 percent of the space goes unused, so when I saw this one, it made sense," he said. "I don't really need more than that."
Sibilla also designed the kitchen with a dining counter that doubles as a work area to plug in his laptop computer, eliminating the need for a separate dining area. His bar stools resemble torii gates. The real thing can be found in Indonesia, while representations can be found at Crate & Barrel.
Sibilla's eye as a photographer helped him in planning the redesign.
"Envisioning space has always been something that came natural to me," he said. "The openness gives the eyes room to roll, which makes the space seem bigger than it is.
"We're socialized to think newer and bigger is better, but it is possible to turn a petite space into something beautiful to the eye and something that feels expansive."
AN ALL-TILE bathroom, with river rock flooring, was inspired by a trip to a Japanese ryokan. A 150-year-old Japanese wooden door at its entrance does double duty as a bathroom door that swings in the opposite direction to hide the washing machine and dryer when the bathroom is not in use.
The bedroom is spare as well, with nothing more than a koa bed, a standard mirrored closet and an armoire that serves as a bookcase.
COURTESY VIC SIBILLA
Experiences are more important than material goods to photojournalist Guy A. Sibilla, photographed in Guatemala.
In the living room, a stone sculpture by John Koga brings a touch of earth 16 stories above the ground. Opposite the sculpture is a heliconia plant rising above a decade-old refurbished sectional couch.
"Someone asked me if that was a real plant. Why would anyone go through all the trouble to have something fake?"
In the long run, Sibilla said experiences are worth more to him than material goods. Just back from photographing Mayan temples in Guatemala, he's heading for Central Asia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan next month, and says there's nothing like stepping into another culture, "tasting their food, drinking their coffee, wearing their clothes."
"You get to a point in life where friendships, family and experiences really dominate. You realize none of your stuff is going with you. If you live a good life, bring love and joy into the world, have these experiences, that's more important than having a huge house."