A 25-foot-high ceiling and lots of window light give the entrance hall an airy, grand feel.

The gov’s new digs

Though lacking a colorful name, the Hawaii
governor’s home is a "comfortable neighbor"
to Washington Place

Quicktime VR Panoramas
Washington Place

Burl Burlingame

The place really needs a name. The Governor's Residence doesn't have a lot of zing. We've known Washington Place as the Hawaii governor's home so long that a name seems in order. After all, the home of the governor of Kansas is called Cedar Crest. Maryland's is Government House. Delaware's is Woodburn Mansion. But then you discover that in most states the governor's home really is just called the Governor's Residence. (Snore!) Some states call it the Governor's Mansion, but these tend to be little states with attitude problems.

California and a handful of other states have no governors' residences at all. Gov. Jesse Ventura allowed Minnesota's Governor's Mansion to be shut down for demolition this year -- after it was reported that his son regularly held all-night booze-binge parties there.

By whatever name it becomes known -- send us your suggestions! -- the new Hawaii governor's home, located behind Washington Place on Miller Street, becomes the only such home built in the United States that was designed from the ground up as an official gubernatorial residence. Other governors' residences were selected from existing homes in their communities.

"It was pretty much the governor's idea," said Jim Bartels, Washington Place director. "We were trying to figure out how best to turn Washington Place into a museum and historic site honoring Queen Lili'uokalani, and we were wondering where to put the first family, and Gov. Cayetano said, 'Hey, let's just build a little place out back.'"

Quicktime VR Panoramas
Click on pictures to view panaromas

By Burl Burlingame,
The lanai of the new Hawaii Governor's home.

By Burl Burlingame,
The first floor features a small dining room and kitchen, living room, and a built-in Bose sound system.

By Burl Burlingame,
View from the air-conditioned second floor.

The "little place" is now up, all 5,000 square feet of it (7,000 if you count the lanais), with no attic or basement footage included. Designed by architect Previn Desai, with input from interior designer Mary Philpotts, historic-preservation architect Glenn Mason and furniture mogul Bob Wo, the home wound up costing about $1.2 million, all of it privately raised through the Washington Place Foundation created for that purpose. Going with public money -- and the attendant oversight committees and political hay-making -- would have stretched out the process for a decade or longer, said Bartels.

"My input was strictly on the exterior of the building -- we wanted it to echo the design aesthetic of Washington Place, to be a comfortable neighbor," said Bartels.

The interior design had the luxury of hard experience behind it -- the Cayetanos paid attention to their own needs and listened to the experiences of first families past. The concerns boiled down to privacy, space, privacy, security, privacy, a modern kitchen, privacy, enough electrical outlets and privacy.

Did we mention privacy?

The new governor's residence, with 5,000 square feet of living space, is all about providing privacy to the state's first families. Gov.-elect Linda Lingle will have four bedrooms -- three upstairs and one downstairs -- all to herself.

"There are a million stories about governors and their families being surprised and embarrassed by staff or visitors, or the public wandering in," said Bartels.

We took a quick look at the structure just after it was painted and before any furniture was moved in. The interior has a deluxe Scandinavian ambience with lots of white-on-white walls and blond-maple flooring and wood accents, assembled around a clutch of grand, oversize rooms, wall niches and faux-marble Corian countertops.

"Almost everything is off-the-shelf," said Bartels. "The strategy was a mix of modern with a colloquial decorative palette. And there's not a square inch of koa anywhere."

The entrance room has 25-foot ceilings, with an anchor point for a chandelier that has yet to be chosen. It's light and airy and grand, and likely to be hot in the summer. Only the second floor is air-conditioned, and there's no way to access the high windows in the entrance room.

The dining room is fairly small -- "to discourage formal gatherings; that's what Washington Place is for," Bartels said -- and the kitchen has a state-of-the-art range and exhaust hood. "The only part of the house I really lust after is this," said Bartels, demonstrating a vertical roll-out pantry.

The kitchen is small as well, being a corner of a larger family-gathering room. A Bose sound system is built right into the walls, for those cooking-and-karaoke evenings.

Down the hall is an ADA-compliant bathroom and shower, a laundry room (the incoming governor gets to choose her own washer and dryer), and across from that is a storage closet squirreled under the stairs that, inexplicably, has Dutch doors. The downstairs is completed by a "bedroom" that likely will serve as an office -- the view through the windows to the left is across the garden to Washington Place; the view to the right is directly into the security guards' bathroom stalls.

The small kitchen, with a state-of-the-art range and exhaust hood, and a vertical roll-out pantry, is housed in a corner of a family room.

A strategically planted tree would take care of that, but the grounds and garden around the house have to be designed by the Secret Service for security purposes. Our only suggestion: The east side, facing Miller Street, could use a higher hedge for privacy and an in-ground lap pool. Maybe a barbecue pit, too.

The master bedroom upstairs has a small lanai and an interior window that looks out over the entrance room. Between the master bedroom and the master bathroom is a master exercise area, which has about two dozen electrical outlets.

Two smaller bedrooms -- "smaller" is a relative term -- along with additional bathrooms are upstairs. One of the bathrooms has a bizarre toilet room, long and narrow, with the toilet looking lonely at the end, like a tiny toilet bowling alley.

The house has a lot of closet space but no closet organizers. Some of the interior woodwork is a bit too crowded; the governor is going to have to clean between some door frames with a Q-tip.

Although the home has no elevator, Bartels said a couple of the closets are roomy enough to retrofit for one later.

The Cayetanos were determined to have the house completed on their watch, while also building their own retirement home in East Oahu. Vicky Cayetano was so delighted with the carpeting -- a kind of off-white, nubby Berber -- that they ordered the same kind for their own place.

The Cayetanos plan to sleep in the new place once before Gov.-elect Linda Lingle moves in. Last week, Vicky Cayetano took Lingle on a tour of the residence. Someone who was there said the two started out rather stiffly, with Lingle looking doubtful about rattling around in that big house by herself, but soon the two were talking excitedly about the house's prospects. Maybe they're planning a gubernatorial jammy party.

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