Trend-on: UH Hilo’s main dining room is transforming into a cozy, modern eatery

The busiest dining room on the UH Hilo campus is being transformed with new decor and furniture to encourage students to gather, lounge, study, eat, enjoy the surrounding gardens and make themselves at home.

By Susan Enright.

Rustic stools lined up at new rustic counter overlooking gardens.
Beautiful custom made counters and stools were installed at the Campus Center Dining Room over winter break. Christian Kanani, a local wood craftsman created the rustic window bar counter tops, and Hawai‘i Community College carpentry students did the installation Dec. 27. Photos courtesy of the Office of Administrative Affairs, click to enlarge.

Over winter break, the Campus Center Dining Room at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo underwent the second phase of a three-phase Refresh Project. The project aims to create a comfy-cozy space for students to do more than just scarf down a meal—with decor that blends rustic with modern, three main sections of the large dining room are being transformed into a bright and cheerful café, an area to lounge and study or gather with friends, and sit-down counters that run the length of the wall of windows overlooking the gardens.

“The overall goal for this refresh project is to provide a vibrant, inviting gathering place for students,” says Brenda Hamane, director of special projects at the UH Hilo Office of Administrative Affairs. “This initiative is part of UH Hilo’s strategic plan, and supported by Chancellor Straney and Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs Marcia Sakai to create the first of many gathering places for students.”

The Refresh Project work in the dining room is being done over three phases to avoid disruption to food service operations—Phase I happened last summer, Phase II has just been completed this winter break, and Phase III will complete the project this coming spring break.

Last summer, rustic looking flooring was installed. At the start of the spring semester next week, students will find more work was done over winter break that enhances the new organic look—rustic counters now run the length of the wall of windows complete with bar stools and a view of the gardens, renovated planters are now encased in reclaimed wood, and for contrast, splashes of bright green accent are on some walls and trim.

The majority of the work over break was done by a UH Hilo Auxiliary Services crew under the direction of Kolin Kettleson, auxiliary director, and students from the carpentry program at Hawai‘i Community College under the direction of instructors Gene Harada and Darryl Vierra.

Phase I, summer 2016: A good foundation

During Phase I of the work, which happened over two weeks during the summer of 2016, approximately 6,000 square feet of rustic-looking vinyl flooring was installed in the Campus Center Dining Room. The work was done by students in the Hawai‘i CC carpentry program under the direction of their instructor Harada.


In addition to the flooring installation, staff from the UH Hilo Office of Technology Services and Support installed additional WiFi access points to improve WiFi capability, and UH Hilo Auxiliary Services replaced existing lights with LED lights, installed additional electrical outlets for electronic devices, and worked on much needed cosmetics such as hiding exposed wires in conduits, relocating the audio-visual cabinet, and painting conduits.

Phase II, winter break 2016: Adding to the rustic charm

Work during this winter break was fast and efficient—existing planter boxes were refurbished with reclaimed pallet wood. Staff from Auxiliary Services collected discarded pallets throughout UH Hilo campus and the Pana‘ewa Farm Laboratory for this project. It was a great opportunity for Hawai‘i CC carpentry program students to learn how to refurbish existing furniture with reclaimed wood. The students completed 15 planter boxes within three days. This sustainability-minded design for the existing planter boxes is on-trend, and enhances the overall new rustic look at the Campus Center Dining Room.

Two carpenters who refinished planters flash the shaka.
Students from the Hawai‘i Community College carpentry program work on refurbishing a dining room planter with reclaimed wood, Dec. 20, 2016.

Wooden counters for eating were also installed along the wall of windows in the dining room facing the gardens and Library Lanai. Christian Kanani, a local wood craftsman created the rustic window bar counter tops, and the Hawai‘i CC carpentry students did the installation. Rustic bar stools add a finishing touch to the counters.

Workers install new counter in front of the windows looking out at gardens.
Students from the Hawai‘i CC carpentry program install custom wooden counters overlooking the gardens outside the UH Hilo Campus Center, Dec. 27, 2016.


A fresh coat of paint was put on all walls and the lower ceiling, and there are now bright chartreuse green accent walls and trim to add a pop of color to tie in with the new furniture that will arrive during the next phase of the project, scheduled for March during spring break.

Accent wall in bright green.
Bright chartreuse green accent walls and trim now add a pop of color to the room. Additional electric outlets have also been added to all walls throughout the entire dining room.

Additional wall outlets for electronic devices were also installed over break along all walls in preparation for the new, modern furniture arrival during Phase III.

Phase III, spring break 2017: Rustic meets modern

The final phase, to be done in March over spring break, will bring the addition of new modern furniture, Hawaiian art and signage on the accent wall, and finishing touches such as wheat grass and lavender plants for the refurbished planter boxes.

Blue and green cafe chairs and white tables that will be added to the dining room at a future date.
The above is a sample photo of the style of chairs that will be arriving in March. There will be varying heights of tables and chairs (café height, regular and counter height), with pops of color to brighten the dining room area. Lime green and calypso (shown above) are the colors selected. A majority of the tables will be square and regular height, with a few round cafe height tables for two interspersed within the dining room.

New café style tables and chairs and new comfortable lounge chairs will contribute greatly to the overall ambiance.

A model sits on sample furniture looking at laptop.
Model depicted using big lounge chair and skate table. The colors of the furniture for the Campus Center Dining Room will be lime green and bright blue.

The furniture will add pops of color similar to the accent colors on the walls, their bright modern lines adding contrast to the overall rustic look.

Hamane says a “comfy cozy” lounge area is planned for the back area of the dining room, near the bookstore entrance. The colors will be lime green and bright blue for furniture named the Big Lounge, Half Lounge, Round Ottoman, C-shaped Personal Table, and Skate Personal Table.

This furniture can be easily moved around the lounge area, meaning students can configure chairs and tables as they wish to create gathering areas or personal study spaces. For example, students can use the c-shaped or skate personal tables to study solo, use their laptop or eat; the lounges and ottomans can be pulled together for groups. The tables are sized perfectly to use with the furniture.

Model sits on sample furniture looking at laptop on mobile table.
Model depicted using c-table and half lounge chair.

“It’s important for students to know that this is their gathering place, so they can configure the new furniture to create their own gathering space,” says Hamane. “The furniture was selected with this in mind.”

The designers of the Refresh Project also ensured that the majority of tables—40 of the 70 tables—are ADA accessible, and each area—lounge, window bar counter, and café—will have ADA accessible tables.

Hamane will be meeting with Larry Kimura, associate professor of Hawaiian language and Hawaiian studies  at the College of Hawaiian Language, later this month to collaborate on artwork for the green accent wall. She says she’d like to include a Hawaiian phrase on the wall that conveys to students that this is their gathering space.

“Chancellor Straney and Vice Chancellor Marcia Sakai’s vision is to create this gathering place for all students to come together and feel welcome and invited to reconfigure tables and chairs to create a comfortable college hangout space for all to enjoy,” Hamane explains.

A grand opening celebration for students is planned after the Refresh Project is completed over spring break.


About the writer of this story: Susan Enright is a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.