In the early 80s while still in his teens, Jamie Kwong 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, The Little Black Shack 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.” —Sofia
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.
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.