When the tiki aesthetic gets alongside the mid-century modern living space, a transformation takes place that, in spite of the apparent clash of styles, can be downright harmonious.
An eclectic, tropical mish-mash may appear to clash with the clean lines of an Eichler or other mid-century modern home, but the two styles have more in common than you might think.
In settings like this, a tiki bar is almost always at the heart of home dècor.
We recently talked with several tikiphiles who live modern. All had been smitten by the tropical craze as children, through visits with their parents to the tiki palaces of yore.
While their modern home tiki bars today provide an active way to show off their collection of tiki memorabilia, more importantly they create a familiar and fun common area at home.
For Brendan McMullan and wife Cindy, who live in a 1957 Eichler in Marinwood, the tiki bar set in the corner of their front room ties together an exotic vibe that runs through the house, from the tropical plants in the front garden through the open, galley kitchen. It's not just for cocktail parties, but for everyday living.
"I think that's the idea that Eichler had, of having a utilitarian space. And I think that's something that the Tahitians and Hawaiians did—that it's a space to enjoy life," Brendan says.
The McMullans' gable Eichler, with its exposed beams, harkens to the large, open construction traditional in Samoa and the South Pacific, as do the tiki sculptures Brendan carves himself. "I use all lumber that's either been discarded from construction or is reclaimed pieces of timber," he says.
McMullan took a series of road trips in the late '90s to collect artifacts from venerable tiki bars around the country (including the long-gone Kahiki, in Columbus, Ohio) that he now displays at home. "We still have a lot of the original Philippine mahogany paneling, so that works well with the warm tiki bar theme," he says.
Meanwhile, at Amy Boylan's mid-century modern home in Palm Desert, Hollywood history reigns. A partner in Hollywood's legendary Tonga Hut bar, Boylan lives in Rock Hudson's old house and bought the neighboring lot to convert it to a large-scale tiki oasis.
She had the tiki bar and a small reconstructed 'shipwreck' in the backyard custom built by Bamboo Ben, a well-known tiki builder, but many of the artifacts are original collectibles.
Most of Boylan's tikis and ornaments come from classic Southern California tiki palaces that have been torn down. The benches in the bar were made from timber salvaged from John Wayne's now-demolished Newport home, and one of the tikis is an original 1960s-era Barney West carving Boylan had shipped from Long Island.
"I think tiki is a state of mind," Boylan says. "It's a way to spend time with your friends and family and grab a little bit of downtime in a technology-driven incessant information world. Some people don't know how to do 'vintage,' or don't care to, and some people, like me, try to hold onto it all."
Collecting is a big part of tiki fandom, both in its current inception as a history-oriented subculture, and in the original, escapist aesthetic. A key part of any tiki bar, author Sven Kirsten points out, is the collection of exotic souvenirs, beachcomber objects, and nautical paraphernalia—anything that seems like "souvenirs from exotic travels."
For Colin Birdseye, who built his bar near the swimming pool of his Terra Linda Eichler for his wife Shelley's birthday party 13 years ago, those souvenirs came organically.
"We must have had a thousand people through here who've had a drink at that bar," Colin says. "People started coming and bringing little gifts to the bar—crazy stuff they got in Hawaii, little gifts that get hung up [around the bar]."
Birdseye's rough-edged, bamboo-and-corrugated iron bar intentionally stands in contrast to the sharp lines of his Eichler.
"I wanted it odd shaped, not going with the house," Colin says. "Eichlers are so square, and everything's at a right angle. So I made the round bar with the roof pointing up, and the support at an angle, just to set it off from the house. But we painted it the same colors, so it actually works in an odd way."
Randy Gummow, who lives in a 1964 Streng in Sacramento's Overbrook neighborhood, says he and wife Amelia Wilder use both their existing fireplace and pool to enhance their home tiki bar and maximize the exotic effect.
Their bar, in the den at the back of the house, opens onto the pool, suggesting a beachfront or resort. "We specifically wanted to have the bar there because we wanted to have a gas fireplace so we could have what I call the 'Dancing Fires of Pele,'" Gummow says, with the fire's reflection dancing along the decorative fireplace glass.
Cindra and Rod Stolk also incorporated the pool in their 1948 Palm Springs mid-century modern by builder Paul Trousdale, turning their detached pool house into what they call the 'Tiki Hut.' It's festooned with collectibles, such as original Witco decorations, a shirt from Napili Hawaiian Apparel, and art prints by 'Shag' on the walls.
"The rest of our house is very contemporary mid-century—but integrating the tiki bar into that doesn't fit smoothly," Cindra says.
So the pair of longtime tikiphiles decided to house their collection in its own building out back, with tiki decorations spread about the yard.
"It makes people feel like they're in paradise, looking out the sliding-glass windows onto the pool, palms, tikis, and torches," Cindra says. "It's like you're on your own little island when you're in that room."
Photos: David Toerge, Daniel Chavkin Photography, Colin Birdseye; and courtesy Amy Boylan, Randy Gummow, Cindra Stolk