View of living room at the Harbour Master's House, Dawes Point.

Harbourmaster's House, living room. Photo © Sharrin Rees

Harbour Masterʼs House c1832

Focus Tour - Saturday 2 November

Dawes Point



Additional architects

William Smart, Jeremy Unger, Marie Burgess, Smart Design Studios (2009–12)

Tropman & Tropman Architects, heritage consultants


2013 Master Painters Awards for Excellence – Heritage and Restoration

2016 Finalist Dulux Colour Awards – Single Residential Interior

2016 Fairfax Media - Top 10 House in Australia: The Domain

As a fitting tribute in its 185th year, the Harbour Master’s House in Dawes Point was featured in the 2017 ABC television series Building Australia: Episode 1 The Terrace, hosted by respected writer and commentator, John Doyle. What makes the Harbour Master’s House so special is the vibrant marriage of dynamic contemporary elements with its classic Georgian bones. The four-level townhouse was built in 1832 by Governor Macquarie’s first Harbour Master and Master Attendant, Captain John Nicholson RN, as an investment on land he'd received as a grant in 1823.

At the time, Dawes Point was vying for the patronage of society's fashionable and cultured set – those of circumspect or educated tastes, who could imagine no more pleasant a maritime setting for their homes. Certainly, there was indeed a great deal to command Dawes Point as a headland ridge located adjacent to ‘one of the finest harbours in the world in which a thousand sail of the line might ride in perfect security’, as observed by Governor Arthur Phillip in 1788.

The convict-constructed gem was a typical example of late Georgian architecture, until new life was breathed into it in a three-year conservation, completed in 2012. Designing for contemporary life in significant heritage spaces is never easy, so the results accomplished in this special residence speak volumes.

The owners’ brief was to augment the residence’s heritage features, to create a bright and colourful home that melds the home’s heritage with a modern touch and an element of surprise with the use of space, colour and texture. The big tests for turning this gem into somewhere suited to a contemporary lifestyle were a living space with low ceilings and creating a modern kitchen in a room with no windows. The team of the owners, conservators, architects and designers from Smart Design Studio and Tropman & Tropman Architects sought to achieve a distinctive character through creative tension between the old and new, complex and ordered elements, and a brave attitude towards colour.

Stripping back the decades and layers of paint, the team found rich remnants of bold colour that they've woven back into the rooms – such as the kitchen staircase repainted a lively Frog Hollow apple-green, complemented to great effect with blue-green Tiffany on the timber-clad walls and ceiling; the ember-red dining room with metallic gold detailing, and the turquoise living room with pewter accents. An adjoining reception room showcases the original one-of-a-kind 1860s Japanese-influenced wallpaper that has been lovingly restored in situ. With the assistance of specialist restorers, the intact wallpaper was cleaned and conserved, and breaks, cracks and gaps filled with fine render that was painted over to create a smooth surface. Simple beige Cobbler paint was used to complement but not detract from the wallpaper. Without a dramatic contrast between the two, this clearly shows the old and the new parts of the room in the same way that a re-assembled antique Grecian vase in a museum distinguishes its new parts from its old within the original form.

Today the 1832 house sits within the Dawes Point heritage precinct, under a stretch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge completed 100 years later, in 1932. With direct views across the water to the Sydney Opera House and from the rear to Walsh Bay, this intriguing residence is an energetic dialogue celebrating the old and the new and the continuance of tradition by recognising the unique built, social and cultural characteristics of a Sydney Georgian townhouse.

Tour experience

The owners, Mary Sutton and Andrew Jackson, will lead the tour, explaining the historical significance of the Harbour Master’s House and their approach to its conservation and furnishing with modern and antique furniture.

Of note is the living room’s stylish custom-made light fitting inspired by the work of the French artist Guy de Cointet, the kitchen’s LED ‘halo’ that mirrors the Corian island bench and the 19th-century interior decoration.


Mary Sutton and Andrew Jackson.

Key information

Session duration

45 mins


This tour has a capacity of 20 people per session.

Visitor requirements

Please arrive 10 minutes before the tour is due to start. Once tour has begun it cannot be joined. If you miss your tour time, there will be no refunds.

This is a private home, please be respectful.

Storage is limited; please bring only essential items with you. Sydney Living Museums bears no responsibility for items lost or stolen.

to know

  • Photography restricted
    No interior photographs permitted.


The Harbour Master's House's involvement in Sydney Open has been made possible by Sydney Living Museums members Mary Sutton, Andrew Jackson and Smart Design Studio.