A 1920s Fisherman’s Shack in Australia Breathes New Life as a Cozy, Unique Rental

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By Lucy Wang
An eco-friendly restoration turns a ramshackle shack into a magical seaside getaway in Australia.

In 2013, when Jamie Kwong and his wife Ingrid saw the "for sale" sign go up outside an old fisherman’s shack near their house, the two jumped at the opportunity. After all, the crooked little cottage wasn’t just any old beach property—Jamie first spotted it in a television commercial during the early 80s. Once the couple inadvertently discovered that the shack lay just across the bay from their home in Palm Beach, Australia, the modest fisherman dwelling continued to pique their curiosity for years to come.

The shack is only accessible via two ways: taking a boat across Pittwater Bay or hiking through the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.

The shack is only accessible via two ways: taking a boat across Pittwater Bay or hiking through the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.

Once ashore, it didn’t take long for Jamie and Ingrid to fall in love with the remote cluster of buildings—never mind that the shack was falling apart.

Built in the 1920s, the collection of buildings exuded a welcoming handmade character from its humble origins and years of use. Nearby fishermen cobbled the shack together using locally sourced materials that formed odd angles and shapes to fit in, on, and around a landscape of huge sandstone boulders.

Jamie and Ingrid stained the timber facade a dark blackish-brown to blend the shack into the landscape, but kept the window frames white for a stark pop of contrast.

Jamie and Ingrid stained the timber facade a dark blackish-brown to blend the shack into the landscape, but kept the window frames white for a stark pop of contrast.

"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," says the couple, who has made the 1,030-square-foot property, named the Little Black Shack, available as a vacation rental.

Rainwater is harvested for bathing and washing, while greywater is reused for irrigating the garden.

Rainwater is harvested for bathing and washing, while greywater is reused for irrigating the garden.

"We loved the shack for what it was—a family shelter. Despite the fact it was crooked, crumbling, peeling, and wobbly, all we wanted to do was rescue the little group of buildings and use them like the generations of fishermen’s families before us."

The shack is decorated with found and secondhand treasures from around the world. If the couple couldn’t find an item secondhand, they decided to make it themselves.

The shack is decorated with found and secondhand treasures from around the world. If the couple couldn’t find an item secondhand, they decided to make it themselves.

Although Jamie and Ingrid were determined to preserve the shack’s makeshift character, they didn’t want to do it at the expense of the environment. The couple took an eco-friendly approach for the renovation by recycling, repurposing, and repairing materials wherever possible—just as the old fishermen had done.

The couple built many furnishings, such as the storage chests, out of old leftover timber.

The couple built many furnishings, such as the storage chests, out of old leftover timber.

The couple even rebuilt the termite-affected buildings exactly as they were, including the weird angles, crooked walls, and odd rooflines.

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Sea breezes keep The Little Black Shack cool in summer, while a hand-built sandstone fireplace warms the property in winter.

Sea breezes keep The Little Black Shack cool in summer, while a hand-built sandstone fireplace warms the property in winter.

"We loved being able to make a home out of things we’ve collected, gathered, made, found, swapped, or bought secondhand," continues Jamie. "And because the shack is not fancy but filled with all our favorite, much-loved and well-worn things, we feel really at peace and comfortable here."

A full-length window seat overlooks views of the beach and bay.

A full-length window seat overlooks views of the beach and bay.

The heart of the lovingly restored two-bedroom, one-bath property is the living room, where a hand-built sandstone fireplace anchors one side of the room, and a row of windows above a full-length window seat fills the space with natural light and views of the sea.

Two French doors open up the open-plan kitchen and dining area to a covered outdoor terrace overlooking the water.

Two French doors open up the open-plan kitchen and dining area to a covered outdoor terrace overlooking the water.

The open-plan dining room and kitchen features a fully stocked pantry, and is outfitted with concrete bench tops, wooden cupboards made from the original floorboards, a large farmhouse sink, a gas stove, an electric oven, and a microwave.

The surrounding landscape is ripe for exploration and hiking. Adventurous guests can borrow kayaks, fishing rods, and even snorkeling gear, while more relaxing days can be spent barbecuing or embarking on leisurely nature strolls.

In the main bedroom, the couple have built the king-size bed frame out of recycled timber.

In the main bedroom, the couple have built the king-size bed frame out of recycled timber.

"Our aim is to one day live full-time and completely off-grid at the shack, generating our own power, growing, gathering, and catching our own food," says Jamie and Ingrid. "For now, we’re happy to share it with like-minded souls who share our passion for travel, adventure, peace, quiet, and the environment."

The second bedroom, located on a lower level, includes a handmade queen bed nestled between walls that have been built from original sandstone and lined with timber.

The second bedroom, located on a lower level, includes a handmade queen bed nestled between walls that have been built from original sandstone and lined with timber.

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Project Credits:

General Contractor: JB Green Carpentry / Jerome Beaussart 

Landscape Design: Lawns, Gardens & Landscapes / Troy Bendeich