The Designs of Shay Zak

A Study in Island Simplicity

Visionary. Editor. Artist. Architect. These are just some of the roles Shay Zak plays when designing homes for his many clients. Over the last ten years, Shay, principal of Zak Architecture in San Francisco, has designed almost twenty distinctive custom homes within the Hualalai community.

Shay’s first commission at Hualalai was in 1997. “The first thing I did was hop in a car and drive around the island, just taking it all in,” Shay recalls. “I was particularly impressed with the old churches.”

The home, designed for a family member, overlooks the tee boxes of the 18th hole and out to the ocean beyond. Shay says, “It’s subtle and has a richness to it. It has led to all these other commissions.”

A few years later, Shay was the first architects to design a Hualalai home as a series of pavilions. “We were able to have a design that really moved away from our Californian or Western idea of what a house was. That is, all the rooms being connected by a hallway,” Shay explains. “Think of it as a series of pavilions totally disconnected, with the gardens being the connections.”

Every commission uniquely captures the spirit of the site, as well as the dreams and passions of the owner. “The primary thing is the views. The first thing we do is set up the main rooms for that–the great room, the living room, the master bedroom,” says Shay. “I also can’t emphasize enough how important the owners are to a home. For me, a house that is successful in its design really projects the personality of the owners.”

If there is one consistent theme throughout Shay’s work, it is a steadfast dedication simplicity. Every residence reflects a focus on elegant, timeless materials, as well as natural palettes. “As an architect, I consider myself an editor. We like to keep the house as low-key and neutral as possible,” explains Shay. “What we like to emphasize is the life living within it– the people, their particular artifacts, their life.”

People’s lives often dramatically transform when they become homeowners at Hualalai. Shay sees it as part of his job to help his clients with this personal evolution. “Its important to get into the Hawaiian lifestyle when you’re designing a house. You want something that’s very simple, because you’re going to be outside all day long. It’s very casual, relaxed living. We always want the architecture to emphasize that.”

Project Featured: Cluster House
Photography: Matthew Millman