An Incredible 1896 Waterfront House, Accessible Only By Boat

We see phenomenal houses on a daily basis at The Design Files, but rarely do we audibly gasp like we did seeing garden designer Richard Unsworth’s home for the first time!

Located on Rocky Point in Lovett Bay – a northern Sydney suburb only accessible by water – Richard has been holidaying in this house for 25 years with the previous owner’s daughter, Justine Johnston. The friends and their respective partners purchased the home together from Justine’s mother six years ago, spending weekends by the water ever since! 

Lucy Feagins
Supported by Dulux

‘The only white wall in the house’ is painted in Dulux Vivid White. Travel finds and vintage pieces fill the space. Photo – Anson Smart

Photo – Anson Smart

‘The interior has so much texture, it’s eccentric in its style and completely unexpected,’ says Richard. Photo – Anson Smart

Artwork by Evi Oetemo and photographer Gary Heery sit amongst vintage finds. ‘The house dates from 1896 but parts were heavily reworked in the late 70s using rare Australian hardwoods,’ says Richard. Photo – Anson Smart

Taureg tribal mat from Kulchi. Lampshade from Society Inc. Vintage tiled table from Rudi Rocket. Marimekko lampshade from Cheer Soon & Fitzgerald. ‘I love to sit here and write,’ says Richard. Photo – Anson Smart

Richard calls this the ‘nature table’, upon which sit ‘loved objects’, including an old French Jar, garden finds and a plate by Dinosaur Designs. Photo – Anson Smart

The beaded chairs in the sunroom are from Richard’s buying trip to South Africa. Photo – Anson Smart

‘The original inglenook has been warmed up with hot orange accents, woven plates and footstools from travels in Morocco,’ says Richard. The vintage tulip table is from Rudi Rocket. Photo – Anson Smart

‘Any colour dominates against the timber,’ says Richard. ‘The Womb chair in the library is the best reading spot. We inherited the loveliest book collection with the house.’ Photo – Anson Smart

The Womb chair and Tom Dixon lamp are from Dedece. Fabric on the wall is from Cheer Soon & Fitzgerald. Light from Society Inc. Photo – Anson Smart

Photo – Anson Smart

‘We’ve learnt to love all the dark wood, and we’re in the process of polishing it all with beeswax. It now glows,’ says Richard. Photo – Anson Smart

Portrait by Therese Sweeney. Photo – Anson Smart

‘The original front door of the house with its wide stone steps,’ explains Richard. Photo – Anson Smart

‘The guest bedroom has the best view to wake up to,’ says Richard. ‘We’ve used subtle colour in the linen and white lamp to provide contrast to the dark timber.’ Photo – Anson Smart

‘The windmill dates from the 1940s and used to pump the water captured from the roof back up to the tanks. We have restored it and next year hope to connect up the water to use for the garden in times of drought,’ says Richard. Photo – Anson Smart

‘The stone circle is a recent addition,’ says Richard. ‘It’s surrounded by majestic spotted gums.’ Photo – Anson Smart

‘The boat shed is the best spot for a coffee in the morning as the sun rises,’ says Richard. Photo – Anson Smart

Photo – Anson Smart

‘The boat shed is the dreamiest spot in the house, we love lazing in here on a hot summer day. A little snooze after lunch in here is heaven,’ says Richard. Photo – Anson Smart

The porthole view through the boat shed door offers a picturesque snapshot of the water. Photo – Anson Smart

‘The jetty is the best spot to run and jump in the water on a hot day,’ says Richard. ‘The only access to the house is by water.’ Photo – Anson Smart

‘The tidal pool is a great place to swim in the morning,’ says Richard. Photo – Anson Smart

Lucy Feagins
26th of January 2022

‘Trincomalee’ is truly one of the most special properties we’ve ever seen. Accessible only by boat in northern Sydney’s Lovett Bay, the 1896 house initially belonged to a Scottish opera singer, then the family of famed businessman Mark Foy. 

The property eventually passed hands in 1979 to the family of Justine Johnston, who grew up in the home. 

Garden designer and owner of Garden Life Richard Unsworth was first introduced to Trincomalee as Justine’s guest 25 years ago. ‘I’d spend the festive period in the boat shed and I’d never visited a house quite like it. I fell instantly in love,’ he says. 

Six years ago, when Justine’s mother required a more accessible home, Richard, Justine, and their respective partners jointly bought the house to keep it in the family.

The house was renovated in the 1970s in a modernist style, but remains untouched by Richard and Justine who spend weekends here holidaying. 

‘It’s so wonderfully eccentric with all its Australian timbers that haven’t ever been painted in over 120 years,’ says Richard. 

What Richard and Justine have done is spend endless hours tending to the previously overgrown garden using mostly Indigenous plants, grasses, and salvaged stone. Even as a garden designer who’s established numerous outdoor spaces, Richard says ‘It’s like I’ve learned to garden again being here.’

‘This place is about celebrating the natural, the surrounding gum trees, and the wildlife (with wallabies constantly coming in and eating plants!),’ he says. 

In describing what he loves most about this home, Richard paints a perfect picture of this magical place. ‘The natural landscape and bush around Pittwater is simply stunning, and it’s right on our doorstep…It’s a place to melt and forget about the hustle and bustle of the big smoke,’ he says. ‘Lazing in the window seat reading a favourite book, feeling the warm breeze through the windows – it’s so dreamy.’

If you would like to visit this home yourself, you can! Richard runs a monthly charity bush walk raising funds for The Indigenous Literacy Foundation, which concludes at Trincomalee for lunch. 

Book your tickets to Richard’s upcoming bush walk and Trincomalee charity events here

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