Luxe vintage vibe at cool surf shack

Shaka Shack, image by Sheena Martin and Todd Stephenson

This article was first published in the Newcastle Herald ‘Weekender’ magazine in print and online on April 9, 2022.

Back in mid-2017, Sheena Martin was “fairly innocently checking out properties” on real estate apps when she came across a sweet ’70s A-frame house in Smiths Lake.

“I convinced my husband to go up and look at the property with me that weekend. So, we drove up and then we both just fell hopelessly in love with it.”

Soon after, Martin, a media and communications professional and keen renovator, and her husband Todd Stephenson, a carpenter, decided to make the shack their next renovation project.

They purchased it from a Blue Mountains couple and set about developing the renovation plan and creative concept.

“The property already had an inviting and relaxed quality and is such a quirky and unique building and facade, but it was absolutely showing its age in certain areas,” she says.

Over a year, including a solid month of work and most weekends, the Kahibah-based couple – with the help of Martin’s parents who live in the region – extensively renovated the property. This included installing a new kitchen and bathroom, ripping up the lino and carpet and refinishing the floors, lots of painting, and reworking the layout to increase the size of the kitchen and create a back door directly to the back deck (instead of having to walk through the laundry and bathroom).

“Upstairs was just an expansive open top floor, so we divided that into two separate bedrooms. Then my Dad fabricated new custom balustrading for the staircase, which he made with reclaimed materials,” Martin says.

They also built front steps and landscaped the garden while Stephenson installed a new front deck, which at some point had been removed.

“Our whole philosophy with this project was really trying to retain those characteristics that imbued the cottage with that gorgeous, relaxed surf shack vibe.”

Sustainability was a priority for the couple too: “Where we could, we used recycled materials. The front screen door downstairs is reclaimed from a building wrecking yard in Redhead, the window in the bathroom is recycled, and any hardwood that came out of the house we donated to a local furniture maker.”

Artisan pieces and locally sourced vintage furniture feature throughout, such as cane and rattan pieces from the ’70s sourced from nearby op shops and secondhand stores in Forster and off Gumtree, artwork by Byron-based artist Jai Vasicek, and a piece by a local weaver purchased from a homewares store in Islington.

The awkward format of the A-frame house also provided challenges from a practical perspective.

“My approach was really to try and stay low and furnish minimally to make the best use of the available space.”

With a fun ’70s-inspired palette of mismatched patterns and colours like turquoise and mustard, Martin describes the shack’s style as somewhat “boho-chic” and “an exercise in highly curated nostalgia”.

As for the name, the Shaka Shack was inspired by a trip the couple took to Hawaii.

“We’re both devoted water people and were fortunate to have spent a chunk of time on Hawaii’s north shore a few months before we bought the shack,” she says.

“We got to experience so much of the local culture and surfing scene and were taken in by the deep and widespread connection to nature and family.

“It shone a light on the things that truly matter – and we wanted to never forget that.

“When we found the shack, part of our inspiration for it was to emulate that way of life.

“Something that could be a meeting place to be shared and enjoyed with your family and your loved ones.

“A place that fostered that connection and synchrony with the natural world.”

The term “shaka”, Martin explains, is a universal gesture with Hawaiian origins used by surfers to indicate friendly intent, so tied the concept together perfectly.

Nestled among the many beautiful white-sand beaches of Pacific Palms and Smiths Lake, the Shaka Shack now doubles as the couple’s weekender and a popular holiday rental.

“There’s this thing that happens every time that we go there. When we pull up, I don’t know, my heart just swells, and I have a little moment every time.”