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Trincomalee: A Landscape Designer’s ‘Gentle Restoration’ of a Historic House

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Trincomalee: A Landscape Designer’s ‘Gentle Restoration’ of a Historic House

June 17, 2022

A reigning gardening principle is to accept and work with the conditions you’ve been dealt—be it rocky soil, low light, little precipitation, or a steep slope—and choose only plants that will thrive on that property. As co-founder of landscape design firm and shop Garden Life, in Sydney, Australia, Richard Unsworth is a proponent of this type of considered, site-specific design. So it comes as no surprise that he applied the same thoughtful philosophy to the makeover of his weekend home, Trincomalee, on Lovett Bay, a Sydney suburb accessible only by boat.

Instead of remodeling the quirky structure beyond recognition (it was built in 1896 and given a modernist bent in the late ’70s), he and co-owner Justine Johnston opted to honor its history—much of it personal. Trincomalee was Justine’s family home, and Richard, her friend of 30 years, was a frequent visitor. When the opportunity arose to buy it from her mother, the two (along with their respective partners) decided to go in on the magical property.

Richard and Justine have made cosmetic updates to the house, hanging colorful vintage fabric on the walls and buffing the wood walls with beeswax for a warm sheen, but much of it remains charmingly the same. And while they plan to eventually update the kitchen and baths (with help from Justine’s architect brother), something tells us, the new spaces will fit right in.

You can track the progress on Trincomalee’s Instagram account (its bio: “A gardener’s gentle restoration of an historic house and surroundings in a dreamy spot called Rocky Point”). For Richard’s recap of the restoration thus far, read on.

Photography by Anson Smart, courtesy of Richard Unsworth.

the cottage like exterior belies the modernist leanings, introduced in the & 9
Above: The cottage-like exterior belies the modernist leanings, introduced in the ’70s, inside the home. The house was originally built as a retreat for a Scottish opera singer in the late 19th century.
&#8\2\2\1;there are many timbers used in the house, all australian hardwood 10
Above:”There are many timbers used in the house, all Australian hardwoods—red gum, turpentine, and Huon Pine and celery top pine, both from Tasmania,” shares Richard. “We have started to apply beeswax onto the walls which is wonderful. It brings out the grain and smells beautiful.”
the lone white wall in the main living space is painted vivid white by dulux. t 11
Above: The lone white wall in the main living space is painted Vivid White by Dulux. The vintage rugs scattered throughout are from Richard’s sourcing trips to Turkey and Morocco for his store. Other vintage finds include the lamp from Rudi Rocket with a shade covered in Marimekko fabric.
in the writing nook, a blue fiberglass chair from marrakech pairs unexpectedly  12
Above: In the writing nook, a blue fiberglass chair from Marrakech pairs unexpectedly well with a vintage French tiled table.
vintage pieces abound in the dining room. underfoot is a tuareg tribal mat from 13
Above: Vintage pieces abound in the dining room. Underfoot is a Tuareg tribal mat from Kulchi.
a &#8\2\20;womb&#8\2\2\1; chair and &#8\2\20;tulip&#8\2\2\1; st 14
Above: A “Womb” chair and “Tulip” stool by Eero Saarinen make for an ideal reading spot. The books, which belonged to Justine’s parents, came with the house.
an original \1897 artwork of japanese sakura is the focal point for the firepla 15
Above: An original 1897 artwork of Japanese sakura is the focal point for the fireplace and inglenook in the formal living room. The fabric stools and woven plates are from Marrakech.
the beaded chairs in the sunroom were sourced in south africa. the many windows 16
Above: The beaded chairs in the sunroom were sourced in South Africa. The many windows in the home are wonderful but can be drafty. “We use the house year-round, and there is a terrific small French wood burning stove in the kitchen that keeps it warm and a large fire in the lounge. We tend to just rug up inside and even the dog has a heated blanket,” says Richard.
the guest bedroom has the best view in the house, says richard. 17
Above: The guest bedroom has the best view in the house, says Richard.
&#8\2\20;we hung vintage fabric  on the walls in the hallway to help bounce 18
Above: “We hung vintage fabric [from Chee Soon & Fitzgerald] on the walls in the hallway to help bounce light off the walls, as the brown in such a narrow space can become a little much.” The floor lamp is by Tom Dixon; the oversized cotton lantern is from Society Inc.
the \1940s windmill used to pump the water captured from the roof back up to th 19
Above: The 1940s windmill used to pump the water captured from the roof back up to the tanks. Richard and Justine have had it restored and will eventually be able to recycle the stormwater it collects for use in the garden.
Trincomalee A Landscape Designers Gentle Restoration of a Historic House portrait 6_34
Above: The stone enclosure, surrounded by spotted gum trees, is a recent addition. The trunk stools are from a Norfolk Island pine tree on the property that had to be chopped down.
featuring a sleep loft with a view, the boathouse is an ideal napping spot. &am 21
Above: Featuring a sleep loft with a view, the boathouse is an ideal napping spot. “We are at Trincomalee every other weekend, and as often as we can on top of that,” says Richard. “As the house is only an hour away, it’s easy to pop up there when I need a breather.”
the enclosed tidal pool is a perfect place to cool off. 22
Above: The enclosed tidal pool is a perfect place to cool off.

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