How a Maximalist Lei Maker and Her Family Downsized to a 1,000 Square-Foot Honolulu Bungalow

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When Meleana Estes downsized her family of three from a large home in need of major renovation to a turnkey beach bungalow on Honolulu’s south shore, she knew some Tetris-like organization would be part of the process. 

Front porch with woman sitting near stairs

“Fitting my massive, crazy vintage collection has definitely been a challenge,” admits the jewelry designer and author of Lei Aloha, who counts an antique Indonesian dresser and original artworks by Allen Akina among her many treasures. Thankfully, a small back cottage could be converted into a  “muumuu sanctuary,” she adds, so no fashion sacrifices were necessary. Heirloom furniture, oversize casegoods, and a suite of surfboards all made the transition, too—as did Estes’ penchant for bright colors, which she attributes to her Hawaiian heritage. 

living room with vintage wicker furniture

“Adornment and layering and extra is just in me, because of my culture. There are pops of pink in a lot of places in our house just because I love pink and, unintentionally, they all play off each other,” she says. “If something gives you joy and feels right, then it is probably meant to work together in some way.” Her 1000-square foot abode is a living testament to that philosophy—and to how bold details can make beach vibes incredibly chic. 

white side chair in front of green bookshelf

Built in 1926 and tastefully updated with a light touch, the space didn’t require renovation. White walls and black double-hung windows serve as an elegant backdrop throughout, while shades in those same hues provide practical light control and architectural enframement. 

bedroom with two windows next to bed
Corner of bedroom with dresser
stool nightstand next to bed

From the get-go, Estes set about incorporating much-needed storage. That included open shelving in the kitchen as well as standalone cabinetry, like an oversize glass-front piece in the living room, purchased from a friend’s furniture shop. A patina-perfect green hutch in her son’s bedroom provides elevated organization for an assortment of monster trucks, books, and trinkets. 

kids room with green cabinet holding toys

She designed a blue bar cart for the kitchen in collaboration with a local design studio, Woven, who also fabricated the sitting area coffee table in the living room. The cart does drinks duty but also serves as storage for books and seashells. 

wood dining table with four white chairs
blue bar cart next to a hat rack

Everywhere in the house, vintage pickups and modern furniture find themselves in eclectic harmony. But it’s inherited pieces that ground the design. “For a long time, Hawaii didn’t have many trade routes, so a lot of furniture was made from our own materials and passed down through generations, “ Estes explains. Like many cherished elements in her home, the rattan sofa and chair set in the living room belong to Estes’ grandmother; she updated them with new  upholstery. The pedestal dining table, made from Koa—a wood exclusively found in Hawaii—is another treasured heirloom. 

Kitchen with island and three bar stools
Open shelving in kitchen with bowls and vases
bathroom sink with marble and white cabinets

Her advice on achieving the perfect balance of styles and eras: “Mix it up! My [vintage] rugs obviously aren’t Hawaiian, but they work. Trust what you love. There’s a reason you love it.”

Two women and two kids on porch

While the bungalow still isn’t meant to be forever, for now it works perfectly for them. “Right away, it kind of became like a surf club,” says Estes. Her husband’s boat is always at the ready in the garage. Friends regularly drop by to rinse off after hitting the waves, while her son’s buddies stream through between beach volleyball games. Their ever-expanding collection of colorful boards function as decor between sessions in the surf. The water is beautiful. There’s always cheese and crackers and rosé. It’s really the best of Honolulu life.”