Gray Malin’s Newest Series Captures the Spirit of a Historic Hawaiian Hotel

I first went to the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel four years ago. I’m attracted to that [kind of] design, but never had the chance to shoot at an historic midcentury property. The shoot was supposed to take place last April or last May and got pushed to June and then July. We ended up doing the shoot this past fall.

Before the shoot, I knew that the Mauna Kea was built in the 1960s by Laurance S. Rockefeller. I knew broad strokes about the design, primarily the open concept. The hotel is home to so much beautiful art. It truly is museum-worthy and incredible, all outdoors, mostly Asian Pacific and also some Hawaiian cultural art, maybe Oceanic and Pacific Rim, that sort of style. Laurance wanted the property to conform to, rather than intrude upon, the natural setting. When you walk into the hotel, you can see right through, because there are no walls. You are inside but you are outside. It’s amazing how someone had a vision on an empty island and built the very first hotel and how it’s remained historically the same as his original intent.

There’s a small cottage at the end of the beach: Laurance’s house while they built the hotel. I was instantly inspired to choose an image looking back at the hotel. It’s an ode to him and his vision—and what he saw while the hotel was being built.

[The pandemic] really transformed the project from what was originally going to include people to a project based on simple vintage props, and the architecture and foundation of iconic moments in the hotel itself. I had the beach almost completely to myself. I decided to custom-design beach umbrellas with a vintage twist. Mauna Kea has a very famous orange color associated with it, which we used as a nod to the hotel. Once we decided to make the umbrellas, we completely built out a beach club. I had seen in Italy perfect beach clubs being made and the way they measure everything. Then we brought in custom orange-and-white-striped towels.

The lobby was a must-shoot location. This is one of the most beautiful lobbies I’ve ever seen. We ended up just letting it stay exactly how it is, how it was intended. We added a luggage cart with vintage orange luggage in honor of Mauna Kea. People really love the lobby’s blue tile. I’m glad I found out because I made sure it was in the series.

Incredible stairs frame this giant five-foot-tall granite Buddha from India. It’s underneath this beautiful bodhi tree. Every time I’m there I say hello to Buddha and make a peace offering. Truly spiritual. I wanted to do something with Buddha that was respectful but also a nod to the architecture of the hotel. We had leis created with an orange flower and threw them in the air and created a shot where the flowers and the leis are floating, and Buddha and the bodhi tree are behind it. We also styled a shot very much inspired by the lava-rock entrance sign. We found and shipped out maybe eight or nine surfboards, some shorter and some taller—we needed one in the orange color of Mauna Kea. —As told by Gray Malin to Kristine Hansen

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