As life propels us at what feels like breakneck speed, it’s a pleasure to reunite with a childhood friend. That’s what happened with Marina Purcell, a school friend from kindergarten through seventh grade. It’s been years since we’ve seen each other, but I’ve followed her, and she’s followed me. Turns out we have similar passions and both landed in creative fields.
Marina is the founder of the online tropical emporium Aloha Marina. If you can’t get to Hawaii, Aloha Marina is the next best thing. In board shorts, dresses, and table linens, Marina has transferred her original artwork to fashion, both for the body and the home.
It’s been decades since we were schoolgirls, but just as we found a common thread at field hockey and slumber parties, we now have found a link in our professional lives too.
It’s not exactly difficult to fall in love with anything having to do with Hawaii. Where did your affinity begin?
I grew up traveling in New York and Palm Beach. In Palm Beach, I was exposed to big, colorful, joyful prints early on. I’ve always loved Hawaiian prints for the same reason. They are bold and happy. And of course, the more color the better! I started collecting vintage Hawaiian prints and had amassed an entire trunk of them. That sparked an idea to start working with a textile designer for my own collection. I pulled elements from different vintage finds to come up with my own original designs. I knew that classic board shorts were where I wanted to start. That snowballed into dresses, table linens to suit my entertaining passion, even giant rafts that have become a huge deal for leisure time in the pool.
Has creating product always been part of your plan?
Not necessarily. I’ve loved my primary role as a stay-at-home mom. It’s kept me busy and comes with so much fun activity. My professional life has been all over the map. I was in sales and marketing for a luxury brand—Vendura jewelry. Then there was the American Express emergency hotline. When we moved to Boston for my husband’s job, I managed the recruitment processes for Harvard Business School. At about the time I was preparing to go on maternity leave at the online registry company The Wedding List, Martha Stewart was getting ready to buy the company. That’s when my professional life came to a halt, and I wanted to stay home with my kids.
Why is developing your own style important?
Style represents who you are. I love wearing a white shirt, but it has to have some interest to it. I have to make the look mine. I definitely have a style. I am tall and feel most comfortable in a maxi dress. Tailored fitted clothes don’t work for me. It’s all about comfort, and when you know your personal style, it’s easier for you to edit. I could never do all white, beige, and black. That’s not the vibe of my closet even though I recognize that it is in fact beautiful and elegant.
Other than the collection that you’ve designed, does Hawaiian-inspired design make its way into your home?
We started traveling to Hawaii regularly when our kids were toddlers. It ended up being an extra-quiet getaway in the summertime when not as many people traveled there. Every time I went, my passion for Hawaii would grow deeper. And I would want to bring that home when I left. For instance, I created a sunken bar in my house. I painted the floor with lily pads and koi fish. I have hula lamps and lots of tiki things. One of my best buys is a bunch of scorpion bowls that I bought from a Trader Vic’s location before it closed. In my Florida house, I have huge palm leaves painted on my headboard. So yes, so much of what I have has a Hawaiian vibe to it.
So many people are afraid of color, but you address it head-on with confidence.
It’s true. I love color. I always have. My house is filled with color, and I’ve never been afraid of it. About 10 years ago, a friend of mine put together “insider” trips to unique places with an intimate group of a dozen or so people. Since then, I’ve done at least one or two trips a year. That has helped me appreciate different cultures, people, and colors because every destination has its own color scheme. The tropics have always been a favorite destination of mine, and I guess that’s why I’m so drawn to making my own collection so bold and bright.
How do you like to decorate your house?
I like a surprise around every corner. I’m in a 1970s floor-to-ceiling glass house on Long Island. It’s comfortable, fun, and you always feel like you are on vacation. But the same is true in my Florida house. It has personality with color and artwork at every stop. It’s frivolous, fun, and out there. I mix patterns. I mix colors. I want to create a happy vibe. It’s important to me that my house feel joyful and vibrant.
My objects are all curated though. I’m methodical about how everything is arranged. I don’t like a lot of clutter but rather carefully curated pieces with great organization. It’s important to collect things, but you must be able to see those things. That requires editing. On my front hall table, I have a carved shell that I carted home from India. Our car keys go there. I try to make the pieces that I buy functional when I can.
We know that you bring home plenty of objects with a Hawaiian vibe. What about other collections?
If something makes me happy, it’s great to collect those things. So many people buy for the sake of filling a space on a shelf or the top of a table. They end up with pieces that have no meaning, and therefore, they have no connection and relationship. One of the best parts of shopping is the hunt and discovery of something unusual and special to you. Even the books on my bookshelves have meaning. I would never ask a designer to buy me a bunch of slick coffee table books just to make a decorative statement. My books have meaning and are curated. They are books that I chose and are about artists, places, and subjects that I love.
One design challenge is having too many things. How do you address collections that have become too large?
Make photography your friend. I don’t mean candid pictures that you snap yourself. Have an artful photograph taken by a professional. We have jars of matches that are displayed on a shelf in one house from restaurants where we’ve dined. I had an artist capture them as a photograph for the other house. After I had them documented, I thought that maybe we could get rid of them. But the photograph presents a different way to appreciate them. And in their real form, it’s a point of conversation because people always ask about them.
The same is true of wine corks. They represent both special days and ordinary days, and we always wanted them with us. So I had a photograph done.
Finally, my daughter had a stuffed bunny rabbit that barely looked like a bunny anymore. It was tattered. She loved that bunny, and I had a fear that she would lose it and be devastated. To make sure that never happened, I preserved it as a watercolor. A friend who is an artist painted it for me, and it’s so special.
Sometimes the documentation of a piece is more important than the piece itself. People are afraid to buy art because it’s expensive. We buy beautiful important art, too, but we find the art that we make just as meaningful. I am always interested in hearing about the history of something.
Let’s talk your bucket list—for travel specifically. With so many trips to interesting places stamped on your passport, what’s left?
There are so many places that I continue to dream about. I find beaches to be some of the most beautiful destinations on earth. They speak to me. So most of what is on my bucket list involves the water.
Tahiti is a place I think about all the time, and that might be a place I take my daughter someday. I want to return to Indonesia. It boasts the most diverse marine culture that I’ve ever seen with vibrant colors that makes the reef so stunning. There is a route that goes from the Spice Islands to Bali. There are so many islands there, and I want to see them. Maldives, the Philippines. I want to see it all, really. That’s why collecting and bringing special things home from your travels is so important.
Take the situation that we’re in right now. I appreciate where I live and having treasures around me that make me feel comfortable in my space. Those treasures remind me of travel during a time when I can’t. And that gives me something to look forward to.
Take your own trip to the islands at Aloha Marina.