At Home on Lord Howe Island with Interior Designer Chloë McCarthy
Images by Chelsea Holden
This week we visit interior designer Chloë McCarthy at the beautiful home she shares with her partner Jesse, son Max (4) and daughter Margaux (6-months) on Lord Howe Island. We spoke to Chloë about the nuances of island life, her creative process and unique perspective on Australian design. A special thank you to photographer Chelsea Holden who captured the lifestyle Chloë shares with her family and friends on Lorde Howe so beautifully for this piece.
“We moved to Lord Howe, a tiny UNESCO World Heritage listed island with just under 400 permanent residents, about four years ago. My partner Jesse is a builder and we left Sydney to take on a project which was meant to be a six-month stint, but two kids later, it’s been hard to leave.”
“Finding rental properties on Lord Howe is not an easy task as residents are not allowed to rent their houses unless they need to leave the island while older children attend high school, or their career requires them to live off the island. You also need to have lived on the island for at least ten years before you are able to go into a ballot to secure property and you must then live at least six months of the year on Lord Howe. This helps prevent an island full of empty holiday homes. You need to really be part of the community to live here.”
“Our house is the oldest on the island and is World Heritage listed. The old wing was built in the 1860s from mainland cedar washed up on the beach by Nathan Thompson, a whaler, and like me, from Massachusetts who was one of the first settlers. Lord Howe was one of the most recent places in the world to be discovered and wasn’t settled until 1834. You can read a bit more about how the island was discovered here.”
Our house is the oldest on the island and is World Heritage listed.
“I love the history and character of the house, its connection to the outdoors and its location. Max sleeps in the old wing and always has a couple blocks propped under his bed to help level the mattress! We are also about a one-minute walk to the lagoon and essentially in the “CBD”. When we first moved from Surry Hills and were given a tour of the house, we were warned that it can get a bit “noisy” some nights given its proximity to a restaurant and about three shops.”
“As we are renting a furnished house and it’s not cheap or easy to get larger items sent to the island (a ship arrives from Port Macquarie every two weeks with supplies), I only have smaller personal items in our island home. I think if I had known we were going to spend so many years here originally, I would have brought more furniture and art pieces over with us, but what is here suits the house and we have everything we need. My most important possessions are related to my home office and cooking. There are about four restaurants here including the Golf Club and Bowling Club so cooking is an important part of our life. My kindle is also essential as well as my suitcase as I travel back to Sydney frequently for work. My partner bought me a new Rimowa for Christmas that I love. Our bedlinen also helps the house feel more personal.”
“Life on the island is very relaxed and quiet. There are just under 400 permanent residents and only 400 visitors are permitted on the island at any one time. We also have a pretty healthy and active lifestyle. Lots of home cooking, hiking, swimming, surfing, biking and fishing. I love that I don’t need a car. Each time we go back to Sydney I have to try to explain the concept of traffic to my son as he sits frustrated in his car seat. Every couple of days we walk to the milking shed with empty glass bottles and dollar coins and have fresh milk dropped at the end of our driveway that evening. Our backyard is filled with banana and pawpaw trees and our fishing skills have also greatly improved.”
Our backyard is filled with banana and pawpaw trees and our fishing skills have also greatly improved.
“While we never intended to live on the island for so long, we have been fortunate to keep securing interesting projects and it has got to be one of the best places in the world to raise kids. Your children can be so free. Everyone knows each other and you don’t have to panic when you haven’t seen your four year old for an hour or so at dinner because you know he’s outside running around with about ten other kids who all know each other. I think living here has helped shape Max into a very independent four-year-old and I hope that he’ll remember growing up on the island.”
Chloë carries an IN BED organic cotton beach towel in khaki stripe on her way to one of Lord Howe’s many beaches.
“One of my favourite places on the island is called ‘Little Island’, where a short walk at the end of the Southernmost road takes you to a pebble beach at the base of Mount Gower. It always feels quite surreal being underneath a 845m high mountain with swarms of petrels soaring above. To give you an idea of scale, the tallest building in the world is only 828m high. On top of Mount Gower there’s an otherworldly forest in the clouds where ferns and moss cover every rock and tree. We also love to do a hike called Malabar for exercise which loops around the north end of the island and has amazing vistas nearly the whole way.”
While Chloë and her family make island life look endlessly appealing, she also spends a lot of time back on the mainland with her interior design business Room on Fire, a practice that was born after time in both publishing and working with one of Sydney’s leading spatial communications firms.
“I actually studied law and journalism at university but have always loved architecture and interiors which led to my first job at Vogue Living. I loved working at a magazine and learned so much about design through Editor-in-Chief at the time, David Clark (2003 – 2012). However, being exposed to so many amazing interiors made me realise that I’d love to create spaces of my own, so I started to study interior design at nights while working at the magazine then ended up getting a job with Kelvin Ho at Akin Atelier who mentored me during my last year of study. After about five years at Akin, my partner who is a residential builder, was asked to visit Lord Howe by a former Sydney client who also owned land on the island. The project involved the conversion of an existing restaurant and mid-level lodge into his own private home and two luxury guest houses (now Island House whose most recent guests include Chris Hemsworth and family). We were both ready for a change, visited one weekend in May with perfect weather, made a pros and cons list and obviously the pros far outweighed the cons especially considering I was pregnant with our son Max.”
“All projects begin with a research stage where I try to learn as much as possible about the client, brief and site to help develop a narrative/ concept that will inform the design direction. I then use a combination of imagery, drawings, 3d modelling and material palette explorations to create an initial concept presentation. Once this information is reviewed with the client, I refine the concept and begin to add more detail to the design. It’s important for me that each design feels unique, reflecting each client or brand’s distinct personality.”
“I think Australia’s sunny climate and saturated light coupled with our sense of playfulness contributes to a unique feeling of openness, energy and connection to nature that pervades many local projects. How light is tamed and harnessed plays a big role in Australian design. Currently I also believe there’s a real interest in the ‘feeling’ of a home and this unique feeling is achieved through inventive material combinations and more layered designs in addition to a renewed emphasis on the flow of spaces and on how they are used. Clients don’t want generic spaces anymore. There also seems to be a resurgence of traditional materials such as brick, timber and concrete as architects and designers are introducing more curves and fluidity into their work.”
”For the rest of this year I’m hoping to be able to enjoy more travel. While the island is a great place to live, you do need to have a decent stint off every so often. I’m also looking forward to watching my daughter Margaux learn to crawl. She’s not too far off at the moment!”