Your Opportunity to Own Karen McCartney’s Dangar Island Holiday Home

Floating high among the treetops, with views to the Hawkesbury River in one direction and a rocky outcrop in the other, the Dangar Island House, just a short ferry-ride from the mainland, was designed as a weekender, but could work just as well as a more permanent home.

The Dangar Island House was designed as a weekender for the family of renowned architectural writer Karen McCartney (Iconic: Modern Australian Houses 1950-2000) and Design Daily’s David Harrison. It’s a family house in all senses of the word – David’s sister, Jan Robertson of architectural firm Robertson & Hindmarsh, collaborated with the couple on the design of it. His brother Rob Harrison, along with longstanding colleagues Jason Barnes and the esteemed potter Andrew Halford, meticulously hand-built it.

The involvement of David’s siblings might, at first glance, merely seem like an interesting aside but, according to Karen, it speaks of the care and attention to detail they took with the project. The aim of everyone involved, she says, was to create a robust and comfortable house that would both be a lovely place to spend weekends and holidays as well as a building that would withstand the ravages of time and nature, needing as little maintenance as possible. And, in the fourteen years since Karen and her family moved into the Dangar Island House, it has achieved those ends admirably.

Part of the appeal of the house, of course, is its location. The only way to get to Dangar Island is by boat via the small township of Brooklyn (an hour north of Sydney). It’s a 15-minute ride on the restored vintage ferry, the MV Banksia, or, if you’re in slightly more of a hurry, a quick dash by water taxi. Either way, it’s impossible to take the stresses of the working week aboard – they’re left behind, somewhere on the Pacific Highway, as you take in the quiet charms of the Hawkesbury (the setting, some years back, of an indie film, Oyster Farmer).

“There is something about travelling over water that allows the working week to drift away.”

–  Karen McCartney

Dangar itself only adds to the feeling of getting away from it all, with its lack of roads and absence of cars. The most common wheeled vehicle on the island is the wheelbarrow – essential for carting supplies up from the wharf to the house – and, when you really need it, there’s a community buggy for hire.

It’s only a few minutes walk from the wharf to the house and, unless someone tells you where it is, it’s easy to miss. Hidden away among the angophoras, its roofline deliberately follows the slope of the heavily treed site, and exterior timber is stained black to blend in to the landscape.

The brief to the architect was to create an open space that captured the views and northern light. As well as wanting to make the most of the views and northern light through siting and the extensive use of glass, it was important to keep the bush intact as much as possible – part of the rationale for the siting of the house is that it disturbed very few trees. Situated high off the ground, the feeling once you’re inside is of being in a very comfortable and airy treehouse.

“We have applied the mantra that things should be beautiful or useful and open cupboards force you stick to that philosophy.”

–  Karen McCartney

Choice of building materials was partly to do with their affinity with the location, but also for ease of maintenance – the particular timbers used last well and require very little attention. Cladding is of Australian blackbutt; windows are of merbau, and decking of stringybark. Flooring throughout the house is bleached American oak, which is a contrast to the dark stain of the exterior.

The house is built over two levels, with the main entry level comprising open living, dining and kitchen, along with two bedrooms and bathroom, plus a generous L-shaped deck large enough for a dining table, and orientated to catch the northern light. In keeping with the overall simplicity of the space, open shelving is used in the living area for display, and shelving is also open in the kitchen, which has a custom-made stainless steel bench incorporating a deep sink, plus opening for a dishwasher, oven, fridge and freezer.

Freestanding units have been used throughout the house for storage – as it’s a holiday house, the owners steered away from built-in cupboards to add to the casual atmosphere. Jan Robertson points out, though, that the bedrooms are all large enough to accommodate built-ins if needed.

A staircase tucked away behind the kitchen leads down to a guest bedroom with its own bathroom and deck – yet another outdoor area for enjoying the views and bush.

It’s a house that’s suited to all seasons and various permutations, equally able to accommodate a couple or a crowd. Heavily insulated and shaded by surrounding trees, it keeps cool in summer, and the extensive glazing picks up any breeze in the area. But the insulation and wood-burning stove means it’s also cosy in winter, with plenty of spots inside and out for chasing the sun.

“The rock formations and the natural vegetation on Dangar Island are very beautiful and this is a great vantage point to watch the bird life.”

–  Karen McCartney

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