Whoever buys Jo King’s Hawaiian dome will buy so much more than a home. They’re buying a dream.
The dome has a lot to offer, starting with breath-taking views. Snuggled on an acre of land in the Waimea Valley on Kauai, it’s surrounded by an abundance of history and natural beauty. The open floor plan offers two bedrooms and two and a half baths upstairs with another bath as well as two outdoor showers downstairs, all covering about 1,700 square feet. Painted coconut palms adorn the concrete walls, and a large lanai takes full advantage of the scenery.
But as unique as her dome home is, Jo King’s journey to Hawaii may be even more unique.
Jo King’s Early Life
Jo King designed her dream home when she was only seven years old — and it was round. She says a cartoon inspired her, though she doesn’t remember what cartoon. But in a childhood marked with familial discord and a series of foster homes, TV was an escape, and that round home looked safe to her.
The people in her life, though, took a different view.
“I was always made fun of because of that,” she recalls. “‘Oh sure, you need a round house, but it’d better be padded.’ That’s what they’d tell me.”
But lo and behold, she has built her round house — a Monolithic Dome.
A self-described “weird kid,” King grew up in sometimes-snowy Ohio craving sunshine and beaches without even realizing it. She preferred Almond Joy over all other candy bars, and she liked bananas and coconut. She never gave any thought to beach life, though, because she didn’t know there was such a thing as beach life. “I didn’t even know snow didn’t exist in Florida till I was in the sixth grade, for crying out loud,” she says. That changed one night when she was about 11 years old, and she caught the opening credits to “Three’s Company,” with its sweeping shots of the Santa Monica pier, beach, and boardwalk. She was enthralled.
She couldn’t shake the idea of such a paradise on earth, even as one foster mother assured her such a place didn’t exist. “And if it does exist, kids like you don’t get to go there,” the woman added.
But that didn’t discourage her. Two years later, King slipped out of Ohio and headed toward Southern California.
She made it as far as Arizona.
Law enforcement normally put runaways on a bus home, but King was having none of that. “At age 13 and 3 feet tall, I told them, ‘I’m not running away — I’m running to, running to something.’”
Her logic apparently worked. Authorities relented and allowed her to stay. She finished up school while working a job busing tables and putting away every spare dime she could. She was determined to continue west as soon as she could afford a vehicle.
A near-fatal car wreck in high school almost derailed everything, though, leaving her with lifelong pain and nagging questions.
“I shouldn’t have survived it,” she says. “And you have to ask yourself why.”
Her recovery was a hard one, but she went back to work as soon as she could. Once she saved enough money, she bought a car, loaded it up, and hit the road.
She was now 18 years old.
Success in California
She followed Interstate 10 through Arizona and into California. “I just drove all the way until (the interstate) stopped,” King says. “It stops at the pier, the Santa Monica Pier.”
From the car, she could see the stretch of beach and the bike path she remembered from television. At that moment, her childhood trauma took a step back. “That’s when I knew I had control,” she said. “That’s when I knew I was normal, and everyone else around me was insane.”
King quickly settled into Southern California life. She found steady work in front of the camera. She also worked behind the camera, teaching herself the finer points of filmmaking and producing an instructional video that ended up winning an international award. Her work caught the eye of one film industry insider, who was shocked when she told him she hadn’t attended film school. He immediately offered her a chance to intern in his company, one of the largest post-production facilities in the world.
The internship turned into a full-fledged job as director of operations eight months later. She climbed the executive ladder there, all the while helping polish well-known shows like “The X Files” and “NYPD Blue” as well as remaster classic films like “The Sound of Music.”
She was happy, living out her dreams and not looking for anything new. When a colleague invited her to Hawaii in 1999 to attend an industry Christmas party, she saw it as a vacation and nothing more. But when she emerged into the warm, scented Hawaiian night weeks later, something unexpected happened.
“All the pressure and everything I was putting myself through from working in the film business — it all came off in that moment,” she remembers. “I thought, ‘What am I doing to myself? Holy cow, this is the stuff that kills people!’ I had no idea the pressure I was putting on my body.”
She immediately made up her mind. “I just felt like, wow, I just have to stay here.”
Finding Home in Hawaii
In between holiday celebrations, she researched the local scene to find a niche she could turn into a new career there. She knew her best shot was to open a business of her own.
“It turned out, ironically, to be a dog groomer, one of those dog grooming trucks,” she says. “I’d never groomed a dog before in my life. I was bitten when I was three years old and was scared of dogs my whole entire life, but the numbers worked.”
A lot of the older population there own small, long-haired dogs, she says, often gifted by their grown children to keep them busy. “And those dogs need grooming.”
King continued to research the mobile dog grooming business idea, and a few months later, she made the move and shipped a truck in from the mainland. She launched her mobile dog-grooming business with modest expectations, but she found herself immediately in demand.
“It was an instant hit,” she says.
She also worked as a mortgage broker and made some profitable real estate investments that helped provide even more of a financial cushion. She bought land for her new home in February 2006, just in time for her birthday. “And all of a sudden,” she says, “(my dream dome home) was a possibility.”
Building the Dome Home
A friend had sent her information about the Monolithic Dome Institute, so she flew to Texas to attend a Monolithic Dome building workshop at its headquarters. She walked away, feeling good about her decision.
“I just thought everybody there was so awesome because here they are — they live and work in the same place, in that dome park,” she says. “And they’re family, all so kind to each other and respectful. That’s the kind of people I want to do business with.”
Josh South from South Industries, who works closely with Monolithic, flew out to Hawaii a few months later with a small crew to help King get the project underway. “They explained how they did everything,” she recalls. “They were such sweethearts.”
Things got complicated once the team departed, though, as King dealt with contractors who were skeptical about building a round house. “Even halfway through the build, they were asking, ‘Are you sure you want to build a dome? Are you sure you’re doing the right thing?’” she remembers.
Many of the homesites in the Waimea Valley are in the hands of families who have lived there for generations. Naturally, neighbors took notice of the fair-haired stranger who parked a pink dune buggy in their midst and pitched a tent. But no one made a move for months. “Later, I found out why,” King says. “They weren’t sure whether I was a ninja or was nuts.”
One day, as she was digging on-site with a backhoe, King spotted one of the more prominent neighbors driving by. The car slowed as the woman peered out, obviously trying to make sense of what she was seeing.
The next day, the neighbor approached King at the local grocery store, introduced herself, and stuck out her hand to shake. King hesitated, afraid she’d squeeze her neighbor’s hand too tightly.
“I’m kind of muscular that way, and I didn’t want to be intimidating,” she says. “And she sticks her hand out and gives me the handshake I was trying to avoid giving her. So, I gave it back to her, and right away, we clicked. We’ve been close ever since.”
The New Dream
The only thing that could drag Jo King away from her dream here is the promise of another dream. Plagued with pain since the car crash in high school, she finally found drug-free relief with sessions in a sensory deprivation tank, which is sometimes called flotation therapy in therapeutic use.
The enclosed space of a flotation tank shuts out light and sound, leaving a person floating in warm, salted water. It helped her so much, she bought her own and began booking private flotation sessions as well. She wasn’t sure what to expect, but what she saw as people emerged from those tanks made a deep impression.
“I can tell you stories that will make you cry,” she says. “I can tell you stories that will blow your mind. There were miracles in front of me.”
One was a military veteran who normally required a long list of medications to function.
“He said he felt a difference after the first one and was able to get off some of his medication,” she says. “Long story short — the guy’s getting his life back, mentally and physically.”
He returned, and he brought comrades with everything ranging from PTSD to migraines. Watching how well they responded, King saw a need for something on a larger scale that could serve more people. So she has put the Kauai dome on the market and is planning a facility consisting of two domes housing flotation tanks, rehabilitation spaces, client lodging, and more.
The facility will be tailored to the needs of veterans who could support each other in recovery as they did on the battlefield. It also helps King gain some perspective on her life and what drives her.
“Van Gogh cut his ear off because he was frustrated,” King says. “He had a painting in his head, but he couldn’t visualize it enough to put on the paper. At least he was lucky enough to know it was a painting in his head. I didn’t have a clue about what was driving me, and that was my frustration.”
Frustration has turned to focus, though, as she works toward the new facility.