A reclaimed life

Summit + Hawai‘i Life

Text James Charisma

“Working with reclaimed material is important because you’re giving objects a second life, using creativity to come up with new things,” says architect Bundit Kanisthakhon.

As creative director of the award-winning multi-disciplinary design agency Tadpole Studio, he and his team are able to create beautiful furniture, artwork and installations incorporating recycled materials while promoting community engagement.

“It’s about taking something mundane that people don’t appreciate anymore and that’s on its way to the wasteland and giving it new life,” Bundit says.

Bundit grew up in Thailand, where he spent his childhood with family on farmland, climbing trees, swimming in the rivers and lakes and drawing.

“A lot of drawing,” Bundit laughs.

It was this time spent illustrating that helped to shape Bundit as an artist. What new inventions could he create that were never before seen? What objects could be built that utilized the natural world around him?

When he went to college, Bundit’s parents wanted him to become an engineer and he wanted to be an artist. They agreed on a middle ground: architecture. Before settling in Hawai‘i eight years ago, Bundit had previously lived and worked in Seattle, Boston, Rome, Osaka and Lund in Sweden. Traveling has given Bundit a unique worldview and perspective, particularly when it comes to sustainability and the scope of projects that can be created.

In Thailand, Bundit co-founded Tadpole Studio with his wife, Janice Li. “Tadpole” being Bundit’s childhood nickname growing up—a title that Bundit says fits their spirit.

“I’m not grown up yet,” Bundit says. “I’m still developing, a work in progress.”

Originally located in a small space in Honolulu’s Chinatown, Tadpole Studio relocated to a loft studio on King Street near McKinley High School in 2012.

The agency has created and worked on a variety of projects including the renovated façade and interiors for Interisland Terminal’s former R/D location on Auahi Street; bus stations; converting a tennis court into a gallery for the Honolulu Museum of Art’s Spalding House; architectural concept renderings for private residences; a Free Store Rickshaw, inspired by the take-an-item, leave-an-item Free Store at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Art Department; interior renovation for the pop-up restaurant Meatball Hawai‘i; and a parking attendant booth at the Honolulu Museum of Art School, which was a finalist for the Dwell Vision Award in 2013. All of these projects use recycled materials.

Bundit recalls construction of the attendant booth: “There are a bunch of bedframes lying around on streets every month, so ... we went around with a pickup truck and collected as many as we could, and we cleaned them out and fabricated them with local craftsmen from Kaka‘ako.

All the plywood we received from Schofield Barracks were pieces they didn’t use anymore,” Bundit explains. “Those were the two elements we used for the parking attendant’s booth. That’s all.”

Tadpole Studio’s latest project is the construction of a new office facility in ‘Ewa for an equally sustainably-minded organization: the real estate brokerage Hawai‘i Life.

Since their inception on Kaua‘i six years ago, Hawai‘i Life has become one of the fastest growing brokerages in the state, with more than 200 expert agents. They’ve even have a national television show on the HGTV.

Hawai‘i Life is a company rooted in design, and for owners Winston Welborn, Matt Beall and Justin Britt, their offices should be an expression of that foundation.

“Design is central to Hawai‘i Life,” says Welborn. “Before we were a real estate brokerage, we ran Wasabi Design. Design communicates and resonates with our clients. It’s also an element that is seriously lacking in the real estate industry.”

Hawai‘i Life began as a small startup and didn’t initially require offices. But as their team grew, so did their need for formal office spaces as gathering places, both for their team and the community. Despite their growth, the company strives to retain the intimate and design-oriented perspective that has always been a hallmark of Hawai‘i Life.

“We’ve faced resistance from a few agents who want cubicles,” says Welborn. “But eventually everyone seems to appreciate the interaction and vibe that comes from an open office space.”

The company connected specifically with Tadpole Studio, being familiar with their work and commitment to ergonomics, simplicity and sustainability. It has always been important for Hawai‘i Life to have workspaces that feel more like a gallery then an office. Each of their locations incorporates elements of their surrounding communities, added through imagery and materials. Bundit’s emphasis on using reclaimed materials and on community engagement is a key factor for Hawai‘i Life's future growth.

For both Tadpole Studio and Hawai‘i Life, good work is about pushing the limits and challenging the conventional ways of thinking through design and sustainability.

“How we can consolidate all these things, especially in Hawai‘i where everything has to get shipped in?” Bundit asks. “It’s about engaging with the community. People can learn from the process and see that it’s possible to do. That’s how the knowledge can get passed on.”


Summit is Hawaii's global magazine of ideas, style and smart living. We're named for Queen Kapiolani's motto, "kulia i ka nuu," strive for the summit. Summit is available on fine newsstands throughout North America and the Asia-Pacific region.

Archipelago Inc.
PO Box 11934
Honolulu, Hawaii 96828
Ikaika Hussey
Creative Director
Mae Ariola
Will Caron
Associate Publisher
Michelle Garcia
Copy Editor
Karen Shishido
Assistant Editor
James Charisma