There’s something about Hawaii that makes leaders of the men who are drawn to its islands (Sailor Jerry and Barack Obama being two of the more famous examples). Take native Pennsylvanian Michael Fairall: In 2003, he was a transfer student at Hawaii Pacific University with a stick-and-poke on his foot and a leprechaun on his shoulder. Today, at 28, he’s the sleeved-out owner and principal RME of Mokulua Woodworking, a green building firm in Kailua, HI, with 21 employees and counting. But despite his obvious leadership skills, Fairall is quick to credit others—including God, his family, and his employees—for the rapid rise of his business. “The people I work with are the reason we’re successful at what we do,” he says.
What they do is environmentally friendly home building and remodeling. “We’re not of the mind-set, Here’s how you’re supposed to frame a house,” says Fairall. “Our company is young and flexible, so we approach each project thinking, Can we reuse it? Can we salvage it for this project or maybe another one?” Unlike other builders who have earned a certified green professional designation from the National Association of Home Builders, Fairall says his company has been operating this way from the beginning, before there was even a green-building bandwagon to jump on. “I think we’re more conscious of the environment because we’re young. We grew up hearing about how it’s important to save nature and protect the ozone,” he says. “We all surf or dive, so we don’t want runoff water from our construction sites pouring into the ocean. We want to keep it clean and not have reef fish disappearing.”
As noble as that goal is, all the green building techniques in the world wouldn’t have made Mokulua Woodworking a success if the homes they built weren’t well-crafted. “I’m really proud of the work we do,” Fairall says, citing a challenging addition his company recently completed as one of his favorite projects to date. “The house was from the 1940s, and we found windows and materials from that era to repurpose and use in the new wing,” he says. “Honestly, you look at it, and you can’t tell where the addition begins—that’s really hard to do with new construction.”
When he speaks about his projects, it’s obvious Fairall loves the details of hands-on woodworking, despite the fact that he spends most of his time in the office. “I miss banging nails,” he admits. “You can’t get stressed when you’re doing that. When you take the tool belt off, the job goes away. But dealing with clients and employees … I thank God at night for what I do, but it is stressful.”
To unwind, he paddles an outrigger canoe, spearfishes, hikes, and visits his favorite shop, Koi Tattoo, in Kailua. “Lisa Bennett over there is amazing,” he says. She’s done the majority of Fairall’s work, including his most meaningful piece, a depiction of St. Michael on his arm, close to his heart. But there’s still some room left for more, and he plans to go back to Bennett soon. “In Hawaii, people think of tattoos differently than they do in other states. Out here, you know, you turn 16, get a driver’s license, and get a tattoo,” he laughs. “Sure, some clients look at me differently, but they know tattoos are like a rite of passage here.” If that’s the case, Fairall has more experience than builders twice his age.