Graham Hill and LifeEdited Go Off-Grid in Maui

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Two-story rectangular house with an upper deck on a tropical green hillside

Shawn Hanna for LifeEdited

Since before he started TreeHugger, Graham Hill has delivered the same message: sustainability can be beautiful and fun.

Graham Hill dreamed up TreeHugger about fifteen years ago with the intent of making sustainable design sexy and desirable, to move it away from granola-eating, Birkenstock-wearing hippie types. With his LifeEdited project, he is pretty much still doing the same thing. In his New York apartment Graham made a tiny apartment into an object of desire; now, in Maui, he is changing our perceptions of off-grid cabins. No roughing it in the bush here; Graham has made the off-grid cabin sexy and desirable.

Back view of second-story deck
Shawn Hanna for LIfeEdited

There is a lot for a TreeHugger to love here; the giant water tank to the left, the electric conversion of an old Volkswagen Thing in the garage. And of course, a big beautiful patio.

Dining setup on patio
Shawn Hanna for LIfeEdited

When Graham wrote the program for his New York LifeEdited apartment, one criterion was that he should be able to serve a sit-down dinner for 12. I thought this was nuts; that's why you live in New York -- they have restaurants. And his kitchen there wasn't even a proper range, just some portable induction hobs. But here in Maui, it is a very different story; I doubt you can dial up Uber Eats.

LifeEdited kitchen
Shawn Hanna for LIfeEdited

So this time, Graham has a full kitchen with a Smeg induction cooktop and he actually has a real oven and fridge. We are definitely not in SoHo anymore. I wonder if he has learned how to cook.

Open door to hallway, with wood cupboards on the right
Shawn Hanna for LIfeEdited

The New York Times is covering this house and the comments are almost universally critical and derisive, claiming that there is nothing sustainable about this. But if you look at the history of what Graham has done, there is an internal and consistent logic to it, about making green living aspirational and pleasurable. Take that blue "we are happy to serve you" coffee cup in the espresso machine- that was one of Graham Hill's first ventures, a porcelain version of the traditional New York disposable cup. Yes, he is selling a $12.75 copy of a paper cup because it is a fun design, has humor and style, and is environmentally the right thing to do.

Peg wall holding photos and other trinkets
Shawn Hanna for LIfeEdited

Graham has shown that being green doesn't mean you have to check your sense of humor or style at the door. He has also consistently said that the market for sustainable design has to expand beyond the old hippies and young hipsters drinking out of mason jars. From his Happy To Serve You cups to TreeHugger to LifeEdited, the challenge has been the same: How do you make people want to do the right thing?

Bicycle parked in front of batteries
Shawn Hanna for LIfeEdited

There are some pretty interesting things going on behind the scenes, too -- giant Blue Ion batteries charged by Sunflare solar panels. These batteries keep the joint charged as well as the bikes and electric car. This is pretty high tech.

Bathroom view with wood cupboards, a white sink, and toilet
Shawn Hanna for LIfeEdited

Interestingly, things get really low tech in the bathroom, where Graham is using a Separett composting toilet. There are other systems that have long drops to composting units below the floor; some fancier units even have china bowls and pumps to make one feel that they are on a conventional toilet. Graham has chosen instead a unit where men have to sit to pee (it is urine separating) and everyone is sitting directly above a pail of poop. I will be very interested in seeing how this choice works out.

A pair of feet next to a "Howdy" welcome mat
Shawn Hanna for LIfeEdited

As Graham originally defined TreeHugger, "a green lifestyle website dedicated to driving sustainability mainstream," we have shown everything from sustainably harvested materials, Richlite counters, LED lighting, electric bikes and Transformer Furniture, all of which can be found here. Graham's LifeEdited House on Maui is very much TreeHugger in built form -- sometimes a little over the top, occasionally wrong, but also often inspiring. No faint praise from me on this one. Lots more photos at LifeEdited.