Interior designer Michelle Jaime of The Vanguard Theory paints a picture of living well in Hawaiʻi, and shares some well-learned tips.
By the age of 12, Michelle Jaime liked to regularly rearrange her bedroom, drawing up furniture plans and, as a self-proclaimed Virgo, neurotically trying to find the perfect, tidy place for everything.
One of eight children, six of whom are half-siblings, Jaime grew up in Hawaiʻi Kai among a sprawling yet close-knit family drawn to creative endeavors—her dad fixed up old VW buses, her grandfather was a hobby calligrapher, her brother David now builds out interiors and boutiques like Echo and Atlas and Sig on Smith.
Jaime followed her own creative drive after earning an undergraduate degree in psychology, leaving Oʻahu for California College of Arts in San Francisco to study architecture.
She returned to Hawaiʻi to pursue a doctorate in interior architecture at the University of Hawai‘i, but dropped out when she got a job at Philpotts Interiors, having realized that interior design was her calling.
Three years later, the economy tanked, and she found herself jobless. Jaime worked independently, but kept in touch with former coworker Judy Andrade. A couple years later, they struck out together, founding The Vanguard Theory.
“There was this void for a younger voice in the design field,” Jaime says. “Now I see that everyone who was spurred on by that recession made something really cool.”
The company has quickly climbed the ranks of interior design firms in Hawaiʻi, and in 2016, it won a Gold Key and two Indie awards for its work within The Surfjack Hotel in Waikīkī, where its restoration of the ground floor took inspiration from the midcentury timeframe during which the hotel was constructed.
For a new project, a luxury hostel housed in a structure built in 1970, Jaime and Andrade are looking to the corresponding era for inspiration.
“I’m making the whole office listen to ’70s music,” Jaime says. “We look at old photography, magazines, all that kind of stuff. … We’re also looking at what uniforms would look like—we’re not doing bell bottoms or anything like that, but more the Hawaiian vibe, like the baseball shirt that everyone had with felt letters.”
Such concepts are more than charming visuals for The Vanguard Theory; they connect to deeper stories.
For the hostel concept, they want to reflect the significance of the corresponding era in Hawaiʻi—a decade when the Sunshine Festival set up in Diamond Head, the University of Hawaiʻi introduced the Center for Hawaiian Studies, and the voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa set sail for the first time.
“The ’70s were a really vibrant time for Hawaiʻi, and we want to celebrate that and talk story about that,” Jaime says. “Everyone understands midcentury, and beyond Hawaiʻi, everyone loves midcentury. But not a lot of people know how significant the ’70s were to Hawaiʻi.”
The Vanguard Theory has designed a range of projects, from private homes to sprawling resorts. But living well in Hawaiʻi doesn’t require much, according to Jaime. At its best, it looks like everyone sitting in their garage.
“Having that outdoor community space where everyone can congregate, whether it be a proper outdoor lānai or a carport, that is Hawaiʻi,” she says.
Michelle Jaime’s design tips for creating a comfortable space:
Good lighting makes a space more inviting. For a home, go with a warm bulb color like 2700K. The higher the number, the cooler the light color becomes. Also, dimmers are your friends.
Invest in good bedding. Look for natural fibers like cotton or linen. Synthetics are not breathable and trap heat—companies will market these fibers as “wrinkle-free.”
Be savvy about your paint finish. For home walls, use a flat finish, which will show a truer color. The higher the sheen, the more it will reflect light and show the texture on the wall. Higher sheens are great for areas that get more usage, like an office, bathroom, or kitchen. Use an eggshell finish in these areas. Hang art or assemble accessories in odd numbers. I don’t have a specific reason why, but it always looks better.
Decorate your home to reflect your style. Some people cut out a picture in a magazine or copy-and-paste designs from Pinterest. Though these are great points of inspiration, make sure to inject your own personality into any space.
Focus on sight lines. Think about what you see from the entry, or from the beginning of a hall. These sight lines are a great opportunity to showcase artwork and to create a nice surprise around every corner.
Have art in your workspace. Who likes to stare at paper and the computer screen all day? Even if you have an amazing corner-office view, it’s nice to add a little culture into your space. We have lots of art in our office, and it makes me happy.