The Househunter: A 1950s Dutch Barge

Something different this week – who’s up for living on a boat? I do slightly feel that one should view something like this in the depths of a grotty winter to wipe away the romantic illusions but it’s July, the sun is out (maybe) and it’s for sale now so we can only work with what we have and. I’ll go first, I’m completely suckered in by the idea of this.

It’s on the market with The Modern House and has three bedrooms with over 2,000 sq ft of living space and was designed by LAB architects for their own family. It’s on for £1.8m which we will say very fast and very quietly (whisper before we move on to looking at all the clever design ideas and how you might find inspiration for your own places and spaces even if they are moored to the earth.

So this is the sitting room on deck. You can see what I mean about summer versus winter – currently idyllic with the rattan blinds to keep out the sun (and add privacy) and the warm natural wooden tones with plans and the black windows framing the view. I mean I’m a fan of a stormy deserted winter beach so this might work for you but do take the time to think about it.

Here is the view across the deck to the main living quarters and there is another sitting room below so it does divide into winter and summer living. This would also make a great home office. Imagine looking up from wrestling a boring spreadsheet and seeing the water rippling gently past carrying the odd boat. Tempting non?

Then, weather permitting, you can come out here for the aperitivo hour – beats sitting in an overlooked urban garden and at least you don’t have to worry about mowing the grass!

One more look at the deck before we head below to see the main living quarters beginning with the sitting room. This perhaps isn’t a property that you can take a huge amount away from but it’s always interesting to see how other people live and, don’t forget, boats are often full of clever, hidden design tricks and space can be tight.

This is clearly a super comfortable space with a woodburner, a stylish serif tv and a squishy sofa with of of book storage .

And again from another angle – there’s no bannister but I guess if you felt you needed one it would be easy enough to add a rope to the wall or the open side to give you something to grab onto if you had had one too many aperitivi on deck.

The kitchen has masses of storage and natural light and the mix of stainless steel, natural wood and marble (or quartz worktop) is a classic combination that would work in any kitchen. The focal back wall colour could be changed to suit any colour scheme.

Here you can see how the kitchen leads to a cosy dining area at the far end. So here’s a tip – if you have a long narrow space you need to stop it looking like and endless tunnel. One way of doing this is to paint the far wall in a contrasting colour – this people is where your feature wall serves a purpose – as it will bring the wall forward and prevent the space looking like an endless corridor. If you live in a notoriously narrow Victorian terrace townhouse this might be a trick you want to try – especially if you have a knock through sitting room.

I have added a wall of bookshelves to the far end of mine and painted the shelves the same colour as the walls of the front half of the room so the shelves appear to come forward to meet the  rest of the room .

The bedroom could be any room on dry land. Just because it’s a boat you don’t have to fill it with ropes and shells. There is a delicate balance between being aware of your environment and being dictated to by it. So one example might be that if you live in the middle of a field you don’t have to paint everything green but equally covering the whole thing in urban grey might not work either. And you must also take your architecture into account. I see a lot of holiday homes (in the US) that are blue and white with rope lamps and seashell decor – you don’t have to be that literal.

So this bedroom is grey – nods to the urban mooring of the boat on which it is situated but is then full of vintage furniture (always good in any style) and sticks to the natural material palette found in the rest of the barge.

It is a balance and one that you will have to experiment to find what works for you because in addition to referencing your architecture and location, a good interior scheme will involve a little contrast so while I’m not banning parrots and palm trees from your East Anglian holiday home it may be that you can bring in tropical colours rather than tropical wildlife. This is where a moodboard and a pile of samples can help you see it all laid out and, of course, don’t rush. Take the time to consider what you want to use and where in the house and if it fits the mood.

Leaving this main bedroom to show you a child’s room but pointing out the clever four poster in the meantime. This feels a bit ship-like as the bed is fixed to the wall but it also takes up less space than an actual four poster and, if you wanted to soften the look you could drape fabric over the top to create a luxurious tented feel.

We’ll end with this bathroom covered in this rich inky blue shade and here the boat has been referenced in the bulkhead lights but in brass, which gives this room more of a luxury hotel feel rather an industrial look .

So anyone for living on a boat. I still quite fancy it – in summer at least.

Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. If you want to know what it’s actually like to live as a family on a houseboat on the Thames, may I suggest the brilliant writer, Penelope Fitzgerald and her novel Offshore.

  2. Interesting, makes me want to poke through the windows at a number of houseboats (year round) on the Mississippi, where I live. How they cope with -1.1 C in the winter is amazing.

  3. I think if you have had one too many aperverti on deck the lack of a bannister won’t be problem as you will gone overboard long before managing to safely descend the living quarters Kate! I don’t think this house is for the faint hearted – it would be cold in winter and difficult to live in all year round I suspect. Nice for a holiday though.

  4. Looks lovely, but I wonder what the costs for licences, insurance and utilities are? You might not have to mow a lawn, but you might have to have the loo pumped out….

  5. That’s gorgeous and I would love a holiday there. Got to be a terrible way to spend £1.8m though, I mean, it could just sink, it will rot, it might be hard to sell, and I assume there are significant other costs for mooring and utilities… Sorry to party poop!

  6. For a couple of years my husband and I lived in a 40ft narrow boat. It was quite a test of our relationship. If we argued the guilty party would sit on the roof while the other one swayed inside to make the other (him) fall off, or vomit.
    Disagreements aside it was pretty idyllic. Though much smaller than this lovely barge, it never felt small having such a large view. Also the winter months were much quieter and calmer when you haven’t got tourists literally poking through your windows. It solidified our relationship in the end- we became a team; building a fire and hunkering down.
    Sadly though the end came when we couldn’t face living in what I describe as Russian dolls; possessions in the car, under work desks, my parents garage, etc
    If I had the cash this would definitely my escape!

    1. Funny, my favorite bloggers both show this the same day! It’s been one of yesterdays friday finds on
      Love it!

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