“I don’t know what it is, but I feel really connected to tiki. Maybe it’s where I’m from. Maybe it’s from my early experiences. Maybe it’s in my genes.”
For Adrian, I suspect the answer is (d) all of the above. Now a major influencer in the tiki revival movement known as Polynesian Pop, Adrian grew up on the beaches of Southern California surrounded by his parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles of Filipino heritage. His first experience with tiki was a memorable night at Don the Beachcomber’s. It was back in the “decade of destruction,” the time when mid-century tiki palaces were falling into disrepair and being torn down. Destruction didn’t dissuade Adrian. In his college days, he was visiting thrift stores to look for vintage clothing but leaving with tiki artifacts.
At first, no one seemed to understand Adrian’s tiki obsession. In fact, some were downright resistant, even laughed at him. Sadly, his collection ended up boxed away in the garage and neglected for years. That changed when he met the woman who would become his second wife. Stephanie offered no resistance. Quite the opposite, she encouraged Adrian to build the home tiki bar he always wanted. When that moment came, Adrian was touched. After double- and triple-checking to get the green light from Stephanie, he started the process by ripping up carpet in the mother-in-law suite of their new home. Within months, the Desert Oasis Room was complete.
“I want the Desert Oasis Room to be authentic to tiki. I want to feel like I live in paradise.”
Adrian’s foremost objective for the build was to create an exotic lounge that is true to the mid-’50s pop-culture period called tiki. To achieve authenticity, Trader Vic’s became Adrian’s archetype of inspiration. Both the Emeryville and Scottsdale locations had alluringly-decorated walls, intact from that time period. Adrian studied the design composition, noting how the wall was divided into sections of bac bac matting and elaborate trim, then decorated solely with carvings (mostly masks from Papua New Guinea), but no other styles of art. These elements would become his template for an authentic look and feel of the Desert Oasis Room.
Polynesian Pop combined his goal for authenticity with his own distinctive look using the design principle of thirds. Take any rectangle and divide it into three parts both vertically and horizontally, and you’ll visualize this principle. As we looked around the Desert Oasis Room, Adrian pointed out how the walls were divided into three horizontal sections (bottom bamboo, middle matting, and top mug shelf) as well as three vertical sections (the divisions per wall separated by bamboo and/or trim) with a personalized trim of three repeating, carved patterns. Collections of pufferfish, Papua New Guinea masks, and fish floats are organized into threes. The shelves behind the bar are grouped by threes as well. The end result is as distinctive as Adrian’s fingerprint, yet authentic to the tiki period. When you see any picture of his masterpiece, you know it’s the Desert Oasis Room.
“If you are trying to recreate the escapism they perfected, consider the commonalities when designing your space.”
The creators of tiki had key design elements in common. Stephen Crane, Don the Beachcomber, and Trader Vic all perfected the look by paying close attention to what to include. Structural elements of South Sea islands set the stage in the early tropical period. Tikis added exoticism and a sense of taboo by mid-century. Conversely, these creators also paid close attention to what to exclude. Note the absence of clocks, outside daylight, or televisions. These intrusions tended to break the illusion of timeless escape. Their absence, along with the low-light glow of numerous and elaborately-constructed lamps, facilitated a never-ending dusk, one where happy polynesiacs would linger for longer periods of libation.
Adrian applies these commonalities equally well. When you enter the Desert Oasis Room, regardless of time of day, you’ll feel it’s dusk. Adrian even stays true to the electrical systems of the time period with lighting type. His tiki lamps use C7 Christmas bulbs and are all switched to one control to illuminate the space.
Adrian has come a long way from those early days of resistance and the decade of destruction. He’s no longer laughed at; he’s now highly regarded. He now consults with other polynesiacs on the design and build for their escapes. His biggest compliment? When his aunt visited the Desert Oasis Room, she summed it up nicely:
“This feels like I’m back home.”