The New Van­guard

In­te­rior de­signer Michelle Jaime looks back to look ahead.


WAN­DER INTO THE LOBBY OF WAIKIKI'S SURFJACK HO­TEL, AND THE DIN OF LEWERS STREET fades quickly in the dis­tance. You're home now. You sink into one of the ban­quettes and gaze at the pool. Your room's up­stairs, but you're hang­ing here a while. It's okay ; you've fallen un­der the spell of in­te­rior de­signer Michelle Jaime (and her grand­mother). Jaime grew up re­treat­ing to her grandma's liv­ing room in Wahi­awa's Whit­more Vil­lage. As one of eight sib­lings, that spe­cial place grounded her, gave her room to breathe. At Surfjack, she's shar­ing it with the rest of us. “I knew I wanted to bring her liv­ing room to that lobby,” Jaime says, talk­ing about the col­lab­o­ra­tive project that al­lowed her to stretch her imag­i­na­tion and bring lo­cal place and cul­ture to the ho­tel. “I wanted to cre­ate a space where lo­cal peo­ple come through and feel like they've been there be­fore.” It worked. The staff calls it Tutu's Liv­ing Room. Jaime rock­eted onto Hawai‘i's in­te­rior de­sign scene when she and her busi­ness part­ner, Judy An­drade, launched The Van­guard The­ory, a col­lab­o­ra­tive de­sign stu­dio, in 2010. But her mus­ings and sense of place started per­co­lat­ing long be­fore that. “I went off to school to be a psy­chol­o­gist,” she laughs, “But then had an epiphany that it just wasn't what I wanted to do.” Pretty soon, she dumped psych for in­te­rior ar­chi­tec­ture, and Philpotts in­vited her to work with them in the ven­er­a­ble Philpotts li­brary. When she fin­ished school, they hired her full time, where she stayed un­til the 2008 re­ces­sion forced lay-offs.

When the Amer­i­can Can­cer So­ci­ety's Hope Lodge called, Jaime knew just what to do. She'd seen the power of in­te­rior de­sign first-hand when her par­ents bat­tled can­cer. While her dad's chemo ses­sions were in an old, dark, de­press­ing part of the hospi­tal, her mother was at Kapi‘olani's chemo cen­ter, with big win­dows over­look­ing the city, com­fort­able treat­ment bays with per­sonal TVs and room for a vis­i­tor. “There was so much more hope in the battle [at Kapi‘olani],” she says. “I saw the pro­found im­pact de­sign can have on health care and well-be­ing.”

“At Hope Lodge, we needed to cre­ate a space that's res­i­den­tial, not a hospi­tal,” she says, “And we went to our ven­dors, ask­ing for dis­counts and their sup­port.” The com­mu­nity de­liv­ered, with ven­dors all chip­ping in, cre­at­ing a home away from home where res­i­dent can­cer pa­tients lounge un­der the stars on gar­den chaises, nap in the li­brary, or share a meal in the com­mu­nal kitchen. “Ev­ery­body pitched in,” she says, “Be­cause this dis­ease has im­pacted ev­ery­one.”

While Tutu's Liv­ing Room still draws her in for a respite, she's now swimming in fab­rics and tex­tures and draw­ings for a bou­tique hos­tel—com­plete with a beer gar­den, fire-pits, and a front lawn for food trucks. On this project, like so many oth­ers, she's look­ing for new ideas, new col­lab­o­ra­tions. “There's so much tal­ent in Hawai‘i— street art, fash­ion, food and de­sign­ers,” she says, “And so many fresh ideas com­ing from these young de­sign­ers and artists.”

As a lit­tle girl, Jaime watched TV shows, not for the plot but for the magic of place and set­ting. “I had no idea you could get paid to do a job like that!” she laughs. Thank­fully for us, she dis­cov­ered she could.

Jaime was re­spon­si­ble f or the in­te­rior dé­cor of the swanky Surf jack Ho­tel & Swim Club ( lef t) and the new Amer­i­can Can­cer So­ciet y Hope Lodge Hawai'i ( right) ( phot os by Mariko Reed, and Michelle Jaime, re­spe c tively; por­trait by Rhema Jaime).

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