Forty years ago, Steve and Irene Au didn't think it was much of a sacrifice to stack their 1,200-square-foot dream home into four levels of living space.
They'd found nearly 2 acres of preservation land on the Hawaiian island of Oahu for $125,000 -- a not-terrible price for paradise, yet about twice as much as the architect and his wife could afford. So they went in on the land with his business partner, and each man built a house there.
The couple's house was "inexpensive to build," Steve Au told Yahoo Homes, "which at the time was crucial to us, because in '75, we weren't earning a lot."
They'd fallen in love with "grand houses of a tropical nature" -- those that are "free-flowing, very large and spacious" -- but they learned after a brief stint abroad that "in Asia, they don't grow up with the same ideal of space that has become a standard in the United States." That gave the Aus the confidence to build smaller.
The result was this treehouse-style idyll on an Oahu mountainside.
Square footage wasn't their only concession to economy. "Typically in kitchen design, you would put in $30,000 worth of cabinetry," Steve Au said. "We didn't have $30,000, so we went with open shelves." They also skipped an oven, preferring instead to cook in a wok.
And because the house was stacked vertically, the Aus didn't need doors, either: "The rooms are all on different levels." (As preservation land, about three-quarters of the acreage is unavailable for building, though owners are welcome to farm on it or create gardens, as Irene Au has.)
At its fullest, the house accommodated five children plus Steve and Irene Au. They adopted two children, and they fostered four others. (In fact, they said that because of the small size of their house, Catholic Services deemed them ineligible for child-rearing. "We didn't go with Catholic Services," Steve Au said drily. Instead they adopted their children from Korea.)
Each of the home's four stories has breathtaking views of the Mokulua, or Twin Islands. The larger of the two islands permits visitors at its beach area, though there's no climbing; the other island is closed to visitors.
The islands are a bird sanctuary, and the Aus often receive avian travelers on their land. When the couple first moved in, the soil on the slope was an inch of clay atop little but volcanic rock, but Irene Au soon set to work creating "my personal Eden," a terraced "secret garden" with mango, pomelo, avocado, papaya, cherries, starfruit, plum and rose apple (similar to mountain apple, but it tastes like rose, she said).
"We had to rent a jackhammer to break the ground to put the trees in," Irene Au said. She started driving around collecting neighbors' bags of leaves and other materials for mulch to enrich the soil; she even breeds worms for vermicasting.
She'd carry 5-gallon bucket after bucket full of compost from the green waste yard into her garden, 30 at a time. "That kept us healthy" and in shape, she said.
But now they're getting on in age, and they've listed their treehouse-like home in paradise at $3.8 million. (Lynn Young Soldat of Coldwell Banker holds the listing.)
When we asked why they wanted to sell after all the time, labor and love they've poured into it, Steve Au answered: "We're just ready. I'm 81 years old, and I've been running up and down these stairs for 40 years."