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Karen McCartney Values Connections Over Commodities

Karen McCartney Values Connections Over Commodities | Habitus Living

There’s no denying that Karen McCartney knows an outstanding piece of residential architecture when she sees one. And it’s not always the biggest, nor the newest.

Having held several prestigious editorial positions (for the likes of Marie Claire lifestyle, Inside Out, and Belle) and with a current total of eight iconic residential design books published under her name, Karen McCartney is well attuned to – and widely respected throughout – the industry. Needless-to-say we are looking forward to having her back on the judging panel for the 2019 House Of The Year awards.

And it would seem that the eager anticipation is mutual. As comprehensive as her perspective of the architectural landscape is, Karen is looking forward to another showcase of cultural and design diversity from across the Indo Pacific Region. Reflecting on last year’s program, Karen notes “It was really interesting to see how [the houses in Asia] were culturally different and how they responded to the needs of multi-generational families as well as site… it did open my eyes to new thinking and new architects.”

Such diversity of perspective is a breath of fresh air for Karen, who is subtly wary of certain inclinations and attitudes prevalent in Australian residential design. The inclination to rebuild rather than restore, for instance, or the developer-driven commoditisation of real estate. These tendencies, as Karen sees it, can do more damage than good to the quality of a residence. “In Australia we are a bit carried away with how many metres we have,” she muses, “… it’s sort of become entrenched with, ‘that’s what people want.’”

While a sizable space is valuable, yes, it is fair to say that what is gained in square metres can result in lost intimacy. For Karen, it is what happens within and around a house that defines its essence, not the measurements of its floor area. On this merit, an outstanding piece of residential design in her eyes is human in scale, fluid in use, and balanced in spaciousness and intimacy.

“It’s very much about communal spaces and then separate spaces,” Karen describes her own house, by Bruce Rickard, as an embodiment of these virtues, maintaining a sense of openness while not being an open void. Andrew Burges Architects is another exemplar that springs to Karen’s mind when she ponders a house’s need to find balance between openness and intimacy. “Every house that he [Andrew Burges] has been in… cuts right into the garden, right into the heart of it,” she admires, “and so there’s skylights and these connections to nature, even if you’re in the heart of Bondi.”

In Karen’s vision of architectural utopia, residential design is driven by the notion of forging connections as opposed to being a commodity. Using Jeremy McLeod’s Nightingale and The Commons as an example of this ideal, Karen boils it down to say, “it comes back to end-users and what might be a lovely way for them to live, with some communal spaces and some private spaces.” It’s this thoughtful, balanced and human-centric approach to design that will win Karen over come judgement day for the 2019 Habitus House Of The Year selection. And when she sees it, she’ll know it. “I’m always looking for… the point where suddenly you stop and you go, ‘actually this is really good’.”


Habitus House of the Year wouldnt exist without the support of our friends, colleagues and regular collaborators in the industry. We would like to extend our sincerest thanks to our Major Partners Gaggenau, StylecraftHOME and Zip and Supporting Partners Armadillo & Co and Earp Bros. Likewise we would like to recognise our Television Partners for joining us on our journey to a new medium.

Meet the full 2019 Habitus House of the Year jury here

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