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A Respectfully Restored Fisherman’s Shack on the Australian Coast

by Sofia Tuovinen

A Respectfully Restored Fisherman’s Shack on the Australian Coast | Design*Sponge

In the early 80s while still in his teens,  spotted a rustic shack in a TV commercial. The simple waterfront house, which Jamie thought must have been located somewhere in the Mediterranean, felt warm and inviting and made a big impression on him. Well over a decade later, while out exploring the waters outside their Palm Beach, Australia home, Jamie and his wife Ingrid spotted a familiar house on the opposite shore. It was the shack that Jamie had seen in the TV commercial a decade earlier, located just across the bay from where the couple now lived! Over the next 20 years, Jamie and Ingrid would admire the modest fisherman’s shack from afar, only imagining the stories it had told.

In 2013, during one of their sailing excursions, the couple spotted a “for sale” sign in front of the crooked little shack that they had loved for so long. Both surprised and thrilled by the opportunity, they steered for the shore to take a closer look. Originally built in the 1920s by local fishermen to a style heavily dictated by the steep bush block, the shack was completely untouched and exactly how Jamie remembered it from the commercial. He and Ingrid were both completely taken by the shack’s unique history, not to mention the breathtaking views overlooking the bay. “It was the most special place we’d ever been so we knew [it] was the one. After being attracted to the shack for around 30 years, when we saw it for sale, it was a no-brainer,” Jamie shares. What soon followed was an environmentally friendly restoration, renovation, and rescue project that took 18 months to complete.

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Located on Great Mackerel Beach, the shack and its neighboring beach houses can only be accessed via boat across Pittwater bay or via hiking trails through the 37,000-acre Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Just as a century ago, building or restoring anything meant using what was available on site, transporting it by rowing a boat out the front or carrying it through the national park all the way to the shack. “There was clearly a lot of work to be done and the boat access only made this more challenging but we had never felt so sure, so determined and so at home,” Jamie explains.

To bring the shack back to its former yet humble glory, Jamie, a CEO and creative director, and Ingrid, a graphic designer and artist, wanted to acknowledge the shack’s history by working with the traditional methods and the same makeshift approach that the fishermen had relied on all those years ago. The shack was taken apart bit by bit and rebuilt exactly as it was, weird angles and odd roof lines included – just about everything in the shack was either repaired, recycled or repurposed.

Jamie and Ingrid strongly believe that making a home shouldn’t cost the earth – literally. To get the renovation work done with this principle in mind, the couple had help from an environmentally friendly French builder named Jerome, along with numerous backpackers and travelers from around the world. “There were carpenters, stonemasons, furniture makers, electricians, landscapers and laborers from across the globe who all grew to love the shack as much as we did. They brought with them centuries old carpentry and stone masonry techniques that give the shack its warmth and character,” Jamie says.

When it came to furnishing the shack, the couple made use of leftover building materials to create unique pieces for their home — the ramp that was originally built to transport materials from the beach was used to build a king-size bed, fallen trees and stumps were used to make tables, and old floorboards were transformed into kitchen cabinets. In addition, Jamie and Ingrid embraced the idea of finding and collecting everything secondhand for the shack. “We made a list of what else we needed and then spent about two years finding it all,” they share.

Today, is filled with Jamie and Ingrid’s favorite, much-loved and well-worn pieces that make them feel comfortable and at peace — nothing fancy, just a warm family home with things gathered, made and found. What was originally meant to be a getaway from the mainland has quickly turned into a future forever-home. “Our aim is to one day live full-time and completely off the grid at the shack, generating our own power, growing, gathering and catching our own food,” Jamie and Ingrid share. For now, the couple and their three children Indiana, Jye and Fin enjoy the shack on weekends and holidays. After suggestions from friends and family to open the shack to others, Jamie and Ingrid do just that. “Until we can live here permanently, our aim is simple: positively influence our guests and the environment, one group, one weekend at a time.” —

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Family portrait by
Evening exterior photo and last photo by  /

Image above: Built at various heights and joined together at odd angles, The Little Black Shack stands humbly on a steep bush block on Great Mackerel Beach. The shack can only be accessed by water or by walking through Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.

 

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To blend the 1,030-square-foot shack into the natural bush environment, Jamie and Ingrid mixed a black and a brown stain and watered it down to achieve a color best described as “Coca-Cola.”

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The kitchen, which is oddly taller than the rest of the shack, features kitchen cabinets made of old floorboards, handmade concrete countertops, a farmhouse sink and unfinished black steel behind the stove.

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Jamie and Ingrid bought the shack from the granddaughter of the fisherman who built it. The kitchen table is original to the house and a wonderful reminder of its humble history. The floating shelves hold everyday items and were made of large leftover decking planks.

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The lounge room, with its handmade sandstone fireplace, is the heart of the shack. “After spending so much time traveling we have collected many treasures and memories. The shack is full of them,” Jamie shares.

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The shack has 14 windows all overlooking the sea. All of them were either swollen, jammed, stuck or nailed shut when Jamie and Ingrid started renovating. “To retain the shack’s original character, we recycled and restored every one of them. The fishermen had designed them to slide completely out of view into storage cavities built into the wall. This original and practical design provides uninterrupted views and maximizes the cooling effect of the summer sea-breezes,” the couple explains. 

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The window bay bench in the lounge offers breathtaking views of the beach and bay, as well as Barrenjoey Headland and lighthouse.

We bought a humble fisherman’s shack, the last thing we wanted to do was turn it into a fancy beach house.

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The window bay bench consists of two large storage chests that Jamie and Ingrid made out of old timber. “They work as seating, guest beds and storage all in one and are one of our favorite places to sit and enjoy the view, a good book or a snooze,” they share.

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The fireplace makes the shack a cozy retreat even in the wintertime. “Once the stone heats up it stays warm and radiates heat all through the night and long after the fire has died down.”

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Jamie and Ingrid’s favorite wall is clad in rough-sawn board and batten and stained the same color as the exterior. “The wall is home to some really old nautical and seafaring pieces we’ve gathered on our travels all around the world over the last 30 years,” Jamie says. 

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Hundreds of well-worn books that Jamie and Ingrid have collected over the years now fill the shack’s many shelves.

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The walls in the bedroom have been painted charcoal and white for contrast. “We’re not sure of the age or history of the shelves, desk and stool but each piece is handmade. We got them all separately at various secondhand stores and flea markets, but they seem to just go together,” Jamie says.

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The couple built a king-size bed out of old recycled timber that they had used as a ramp while renovating the shack. 

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The windows of the main bedroom offer a clear view of the moon and starlit night sky. “There’s nothing more comforting than falling to sleep to the sound of the water lapping on the shore just below the windows, whilst lying between linen sheets in a bed you made yourself,” Jamie shares.

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The storage area under the house was turned into an additional bedroom and art studio. “We repaired all the stonework and lined the walls with board and batten timber to protect the room against the weather and ocean elements,” Jamie explains.

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The bed and shelves in the downstairs bedroom were also built on site out of old timber. “The sandstone areas of the shack feel very Mediterranean and whilst technically this is a guest bedroom, we’re often torn between which bedroom to sleep in,” the couple say.

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Jamie and Ingrid added two decks, a stone terrace and a pergola that links the shack to the storage shed and serves as an outside dining area. 

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The shack sits on one of Mackerel Beach’s biggest blocks of land and borders the 37,000-acre Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park at the back. “Despite the land size, the shack is one of the smallest houses here and luckily for us, was built the closest to the water on, amongst and around boulders that had fallen down from the sandstone escarpment above.”

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“When we bought the shack, given it was in such a bad state, really small and on a huge block of prime north-facing, waterfront land, everyone assumed we would knock it down and build a big new house. We loved the shack for what it was – a family shelter.”

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Jamie and Ingrid Kwong with their children Indiana, Jye and Fin and Luna the bull terrier. The family’s advice to others: “Our approach is not for everybody, but try to think of the impact your decisions will have on the environment. To us, newer and bigger is definitely not better. Just like the shack itself, there is so much beauty, history and memories in well-worn, well-loved objects.”

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“We love how our home connects us to the sea” – the Kwong family.

SOURCE LIST
Most of the things in the shack were made, found, swapped or bought secondhand over the last 30 years all over Australia and the world. Here are some of Jamie and Ingrid’s favorite places where they have found treasures over the years. 

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