Howard Liljestrand was born in Iowa in 1911. The child of medical missionaries, he was raised in Sichuan, China. He graduated from Harvard Medical School and met his wife, Helen Betty Horner, at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Cape Cod.
In 1937, Betty and Howard Liljestrand arrived in Hawaii as honeymooners and medical missionaries en route to China – they came to Hawaii so Howard could complete his residency at Queens Hospital.
The two had planned to return to China, but the country’s growing political tensions of the coming Communist revolution delayed and, ultimately, diverted them and kept them in the Islands. He worked at a plantation hospital near Pearl Harbor, where the couple raised four kids. (Quill)
When Howard and Betty Liljestrand decided to move from their Plantation Style cottage in Aiea to a neighborhood closer to Honolulu.
Knowing that they wanted to build a house, the Liljestrands spent a decade looking for the ideal plot of land. It was on a hike in the rain forest on Tantalus that they decided that this was where they wanted to build their home.
While hiking they met George Coulter sitting on his porch watching the sunset. They struck up a casual conversation, telling George about their desire to move to the mountain. Realizing how much they loved it, George offered to sell them a portion of his land.
The Liljestrands purchased 2.5 acres from Coulter in 1946: a 2 acre square parcel on one side of Coulter’s house lot, and a half acre parcel on the other side that was just below a ridge-line overlooking the city. The half-acre parcel didn’t have the entire view they wanted, the other side of the ridge was conservation land owned by the Territory of Hawaii.
They made an even trade with the Territory; they would deed the 2 acre square parcel to the Territory for conservation land in exchange for the half acre parcel on the other side of the ridge-line from their own. This secured the view of the city that they wanted, and created the house lot for their new home. (NPS)
Given their lifestyle, they had an extensive list of programmatic needs. First and foremost, the wanted a home of unusual quality and livability. They firmly believed in the ‘emotional power of architecture to give meaning to life’ and pursued a ‘spirit lifting’ quality in their home. (Penick; Pace Setter Homes)
They wanted “morning sun in the kitchen, no morning sun in the bedroom (Howard was a late sleeper), a single loaded corridor, views from every room, no rooms as passageways, lots of storage, a front door easily and naturally accessible, places where work can be left out, and a circular drive.” (Liljestrand House)
They hired Vladimir Ossipoff to design their 6,700-square-foot dream house, with Betty, who was clearly ahead of her time, serving as general contractor. The Liljestrands moved into the house, which was nearly complete, in 1952. (Quill)
The house has an irregular H-shaped floor plan, with one wing set at a 45 degree angle, instead of perpendicular to the middle wing. The house is constructed of redwood which throughout has been managed with a variety of treatments to fit the feeling and flow of the floor plan. (NPS)
The house is set far off the street, down a private road with a security gate. The road services two residences, and divides after 50 yards or so, with the left driveway leading to the Liljestrand property.
Ossipoff designed the house to showcase the view from the ridge. The house was situated on the ridge to extend the view from Diamond Head in one direction to the airport in the other.
The natural beauty around the house was an important element incorporated into the design. The use of floor to ceiling windows and walls that slide away, entirely open the house to the outside world. The long driveway and forested area provide privacy.
Between 1946 and 1965, House Beautiful named 17 Pace Setter houses for the post–World War II years. The Liljestrand House was selected in 1958, commanding the cover and 53 pages of the magazine.
The Pace Setters were not designated to impress the fine-arts world but to translate high design for a postwar nuclear family. Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses could be too dark, and Le Corbusier’s roofs leaked, but the Pace Setters were livable. (Departures)
The Liljestrand House typifies a romantic vision of midcentury life, with a kitchen that includes work stations for flower arranging, sewing, typing and gift wrapping.
The living and dining rooms have an open plan for parties, with conversational seating areas for intimacy. Recreational activities are relegated to the downstairs – with billiards, Ping-Pong, movie screenings and a kidney-shaped pool outside.
The house builds on aspects of previous Hawaiian architecture, the low, simple front façade draws from earlier Craftsman and the vernacular Plantation Style of houses. Ossipoff’s vision embraces key concepts of life in Hawaii, such as the expansion of the living area to include the outdoors. (NPS)
Almost fifty years after its publication in House Beautiful, the Liljestrand House appeared in Western Interiors and Design, on the cover of Metropolis, and in the book, The Hawaiian House Now.
In 2007 and 2008, respectively, The Liljestrand House was listed on the Hawaii State and the United States National Registers of Historic Places.
In 2009, the Liljestrand House received a Preservation Award from the Historic Hawaii Foundation. In a letter to the Liljestrand Family the Historic Foundation called the house “one of the most, if not the most, intact historic structures in the state.”
They also recognized that the furniture, built-in interiors, and contents – all designed or selected by the architect – remain in original condition; the architectural source materials – notes, memos, letters, drawings, materials lists, invoices, and even the building permit – exist; and that film and photos of the construction exist.
The Liljestrand family has created the Liljestrand Foundation. The mission of the Foundation is to preserve the house and to make that preservation purposeful by opening the house to the public for tours and for charitable, cultural, and educational activities. (Liljestrand House)