Step into the courtyard of this modern home and you’d never know that one of Oahu’s busiest malls is just across the street. No traffic noises — honking horns, revved up cars — all you hear is the sound of gurgling water, the breeze and an occasional chirping bird.

A lush, courtyard-focused backyard. 
Photo: David Croxford

But it wasn’t always this way. Peter Vincent Architects designed this new home to reflect a peaceful lifestyle, with an eye toward shutting out the busy surroundings and creating a centralized courtyard. “Peter Vincent Architects did an excellent job of helping me transform it into a Balinese-style home,” says the homeowner. “Now we needed the landscape to complement that feel.” 

The homeowner turned to Gary Shinn of Hokuahi Lawns to design a new landscape with a focus on the courtyard. “I saw Gary’s work in Hawaii Home + Remodeling and decided to give him a try,” says the homeowner. “Once I met him, I never called anyone else.”

Careful use of various types of fauna help set the mood.
Photo: David Croxford

Shinn says the homeowner had a clear vision going into the project. “She had specific things that she knew she wanted to do,” he says. “She wanted a waterfall that was visible from anywhere in the home including entryway, kitchen, dining room and bedrooms. We had to make it large enough to be the dominating focal point of the courtyard.”


The lack of privacy was also a concern. “Look, this property is right next to a large drainage ditch and a mall, so it’s not naturally that private,” the homeowner says. “So, the landscape needed to address that.” 

Hokuahi Lawns got to work replacing fencing and walls, raising the backyard grade by 24 inches, adding lighting, sprinklers and a dominant water feature with multiple waterfalls. “There was a lot that had to be done to make it walkable and accessible,” says Shinn. 

"The homeowner didn’t like the look of the usual black plastic [pond] border, so we created one out of concrete,” Shinn says. “She wanted it to look rugged.”
Photo: David Croxford

Today, the homeowner couldn’t be happier with the results. “The whole place has been transformed as though you were in Thailand,” she says. “At night, I sit on my lanai meditating or doing yoga with the breeze and the sound of the waterfall and it’s truly wonderful. It’s pure joy.” 


A courtyard should bring everyone together. It brings the outside inside and vice versa.” 

— Gary Shinn, Hokuahi Lawns 


  • One of the homeowner’s hand-picked favorites, this Spirit House from Thailand, adds to the courtyard’s peaceful ambience. The Spirit House is intended to provide a shelter for spirits that could cause problems for the people if not appeased. “Every Thai house should have one,” says the homeowner. 
  • The homeowner asked that mature bamboo palms be used along the narrow side yard opposite the expansive courtyard. “She didn’t want to have to look at the neighbor’s house while she waited for it to grow in,” Shinn says. “We put one in front of every window.”
  • This bamboo enclosure cleverly hides the pond and irrigation systems. “The homeowner did not want to have to look at any equipment,” Shinn says.
  • The completed landscaping design.
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