Words by Teena Apeles
Personal Space: Each month, writer and home-tour addict Teena Apeles gives us a peek into the spaces of AA+PI creatives around the country. She’ll explore what’s out in the open—from their unique collections and family heirlooms to quirky tchotchkes and vintage furniture finds—and delve into the stories behind them, to find out what makes each person’s house a home.
“I live literally in the middle of nowhere,” says Haily Zaki of her two-story home located on the North Shore of Kauai, known as being the most picturesque and rural of the Hawaiian islands. “There are still lots of kalo (taro) farms, open fields, and big, inaccessible mountains,” and little tourism compared to the Big Island. Her family of seven—husband, Brian Tuey, and their kids Cael, Rowan, and Hana, ages 7 to 12, dog Pax, and tabby Pru—moved to Hawai’i in the summer of 2021. Zaki had called Los Angeles home for two decades; it’s where she launched her communications agency, We Are Secret Agent, in 2007, and co-founded the popular LA Design Festival in 2011. The move provided quite the change for the Angelenos, who left the endless freeways and nearly 4 million neighbors for a lush Kauai landscape, its population of about 73,000, and a view of Mt. Namahana instead of the downtown L.A. skyline. And they’ve been relishing every minute.
Like many dreamers on vacation, the family began considering the move after visiting Hawai’i years prior. “Brian had come here as a little kid, back when his family was still together,” shares Zaki, “so it had good memories for him, and he adamantly wanted to bring the family here.” Their 9-year-old son, Rowan, was especially taken by the scenery and the air. “Whenever we got off the plane, he would inhale the air and say, ‘This is majestic, Mom, it’s like magic!’” And the whole family concurred. “The humidity…it smells like grass, you can smell the flowers and the trees. It just smells fresh and alive.” Even during their vacation, she adds, “We all felt happier, healthier, and home. Kauai just called us. We loved the character and culture of the island and wanted to be a part of it.”
When the pandemic hit in 2020, it prompted the family to accelerate their plans, as sheltering in place together—homeschooling three kids, running a PR business, and having her audio-director husband working all hours—under one roof proved challenging. “Brian does sound [for Call of Duty] so there was the sound of gunfire and bombs constantly,” Zaki recalls. “We couldn’t be in the same house together because he was just too loud.” So finding a home with completely separate workspaces was among their search priorities; they found that in Kauai, and so much more.
The home they ended up purchasing, built in 1999, is situated on nearly five acres, with features you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere. “What captured my heart immediately is to enter the house, you come in through this,” pointing out a covered wood bridge that leads to their front glass doors. (And it’s not the only one: there is one in the back of the home as well that connects to an Ohana structure, formerly a garage, which serves as Tuey’s office.)
Through the doors is the foyer with a low ceiling, then the home dramatically opens up into a light–filled, double-height family room with an exposed wood ceiling, a wall of wood-framed louvered glass windows along the top and sliding glass doors. The home’s original Saltillo tile floor also keeps the home cool and runs throughout the bottom level and into the adjoining dining room and kitchen, where the ceiling drops down again.
Since moving into the home in June 2021, they’ve done a lot of renovations, in both function and design, to make it work for their family, though “no one had any input except me,” Zaki laughs. “The first thing we did was repaint everything white” to replace an undesirable shade of taupe, and make the kitchen more welcoming to brighten up a space that Zaki firmly claims as her domain: “So here’s the thing. There’s no takeout, there’s no DoorDash here. I cook six days a week, two meals a day each day, at least. So the kitchen is mine. All mine.”
They actually bought the property “sight unseen,” as there were only two photographs on the listing, and Zaki and her husband were unable to see the property in person before putting in their offer. The only tour they had was when their real estate agent friend took them via video chat. “It had zero charm but good bones,” says Zaki, “but I felt like, this is it.”
A feature she adored was the lanai that wrapped around the home and gave it a “boat-house vibe…it felt like a sanctuary,” exactly what she craved at this point in her life. The first time they saw the home was when they picked their keys up, and there have been no regrets. “There’s not a lot to do after 7 p.m. [on Kauai], which I love because I’m an old person at heart now. It hits 7 and I’m like, we’re going to go to bed now.”
On the family room wall facing the outdoors are dreamy ocean prints by her friend Laure Joliet and a whimsical surf fin collage by Jim Beaudoin of Leftside Six Studio, all artwork fitting for their island abode. Running above the wall is the second-level walkway with railing—giving a clear view of activity on the floor below—that connects to the three bedrooms the family occupies. When Zaki takes me up the staircase (where the laminate flooring starts), she points out the decorated risers, mentioning that the first owner did all the wrought ironwork in the home, “so I kind of leaned into the Spanishness, and put the tile on the front of the risers.”
There’s a landing with a gallery of family photos on floating shelves, then at the top of the stairs is the We Are Secret Agent’s Kauai branch office, if you will: a modest-sized nook with a small wood desk. A groovy glass sphere lamp is atop a stack of books to the left of her computer, revealing both Zaki’s passions (surfing) and the agency’s focus (architecture and design clients); to the right, an LA Original sculpture by Krizia Flores of Concrete Geometric “as a reminder of the city I used to love” and a brand she helped launch. She still travels to L.A. regularly for work, but admits, “Three days and I can’t do it anymore...this mad rush. You get to a point and you don’t want the frenetic pace of city life.”
She still travels to L.A. regularly for work, but admits, “Three days and I can’t do it anymore...this mad rush. You get to a point and you don’t want the frenetic pace of city life.”
Above the desk is her “absolute favorite thing on Earth,” a photograph of Zaki’s kids on and under a bench in their Mt. Washington residence in Los Angeles that she affectionately titled, “The Royal Tueybaums,” photographed by her friend Monica Orozko after the family had packed up the home to move.
She then proceeds along the railed walkway to where the kids’ rooms are, giving me a peek into the eldest son’s room she calls a “perpetual mess,” including a bed that’s never made. Cael’s walls are decorated with a Banksy print, Call of Duty poster, and trophies, and you’ll find his cat, Pru, taking refuge from the family’s dogs. In the two younger kids’ room, there’s a bunk bed and cool climbing wall (“that was their idea”) they created to access a loft space where Rowan and Hana enjoy hanging out with friends.
At the end of the walkway, just past their laundry room, is the enviable master bedroom Zaki describes as “probably the biggest, best bedroom that I’ve ever had in my entire life.” Before she takes me in, she points out a feature of the home just outside their bedroom that previously had them scratching their heads—“really weird Romeo and Juliet windows”—a wide, arched wood frame window of sorts with folding panel doors, overlooking the bottom floor. They later figured out, if you open them, they allow winds to come through to their bedroom during the hotter months.
In Zaki and Tuey’s room, below its sloped ceiling is their wood bed and a neighboring day bed for lounging. Their space is mostly neutral in tone, with textured furnishings and beddings, along with decor “that make me happy,” says Zaki. “Ten years ago, I was like stark, stark white or really bright prints and color. Now I feel like I’m earthy and neutral,” adding that “the island has made me a lot more chill and peaceful. I like calm...I’m not as crazy as I used to be. I like mellow.” Two black frames on one wall are the noticeable departure from the earthy palette. In them are photos of Zaki and Tuey when they were toddlers when, she laments, “our parents gave us the worst haircut,” that she gifted to him when they were dating.
“Ten years ago, I was like stark, stark white or really bright prints and color. Now I feel like I’m earthy and neutral. The island has made me a lot more chill and peaceful. I like calm...I’m not as crazy as I used to be. I like mellow.”
Back on the ground floor, Zaki takes a seat on their long couch and shows me why she loves this vantage point. “My favorite part is waking up, doing the walk from my room to the kids’, getting them up, and then when you’re sitting down here,” she points out, “you can look up and be like, ‘Oh shit, my laundry is about to be done...Oh, wait, they’re not taking their bath...’” The layout couldn’t be more friendly for their bustling household.
Throughout the tour, Zaki uses the words peaceful and calm to describe her Kauai life, but then there are occasional sounds of a rooster crowing in the background. I ask if it’s a neighbor’s. “No, that’s Mr. Roosties!” she says, then gets up from the couch and pulls the sliding door open out to the lanai, when a chorus of not only Mr. Roosties crowing greets her, but a whopping 16 other assorted chickens happily clucking—including Brahma and Silkie chickens, each of whom are named and locals, by the way. They also have a still-to-be-named partridge. Zaki greets Mr. Roosties, saying, “He’s super tame. I take him to pick up the kids in the car with me, and sometimes I also take him up to the barn to hang out with the horse.” Yes, their family even has a horse. He’s named Waipa, is boarded a mile away, and “loves beer, only Hawaiian beer.” Zaki adopted the 28-year-old from her former riding instructor who had rescued him years ago, but had to move away. (That’s 22 animal family members in all, if you lost count.)
Zaki takes me around the lanai where their family spends half of their time together. At one end is Hana’s creative space, a small picnic table with art supplies; near the sliding doors, a large dining table where meals and social gatherings often take place (and Zaki’s video work calls); and an inviting cushioned bamboo bench at the other end, with throw pillows, where Zaki enjoys relaxing while looking out at the peak of Mt. Namahana. You can tell it’s one of her favorite spots, because there’s even a slight ring stain on the wood railing from where her coffee cup often sits.
Beyond the lanai and down a mere three steps—versus the 85 steps the kids had to descend to play in the backyard of their steep hillside home in Mt. Washington—is a wide-open green space, where the chickens roam during the day and there’s a seating area of adirondack chairs around a fire pit, with a family of palm trees nearby. “In L.A., they would have to pack provisions to go into the backyard because they knew they couldn’t come back up,” she says. “So here, it’s great. The kids literally are in and out, running around the lanai. Their favorite game is to spray each other with my watering can.”
Elsewhere on the property is the chicken coop Zaki proudly built, a swing under a giant monkeypod tree, and a slack line between another set of trees to enjoy. They also live just seven minutes from the beach. “I still pinch myself every time we drive in,” she admits. “I’m like, do we really actually live here? Is someone going to come and take it from us?”
Published on March 22, 2023
Words by Teena Apeles
Teena Apeles writes about art, culture, design, activism, and history, and edits books on an even wider range of subjects. Her latest book, 52 Things to Do in Los Angeles, is now available from Moon Travel Guides. She is also the founder of the creative collective Narrated Objects, which produces books and experiences to showcase the diverse voices of Los Angeles.