Eight of the world’s most stunning floating homes

Eight of the world’s most stunning floating homes

From Scandinavia to the US, people are finding community and freedom living on water. Dominic Lutyens looks at eight examples of remarkable houseboats across the globe.

There is something rebellious and individualistic about swapping a life lived within bricks and mortar for a simpler, less conventional existence on a houseboat. Boat-dwellers feel a sense of adventure and, if based in a remote, rural spot, are totally at one with nature.

The cover of a new book, Making Waves: Floating Homes and Life on the Water by Portland Mitchell, captures the freedom many associate with water-borne homes. Viewed through a porthole, two swans glide by on a glassy lake. In the foreground is a less distinct glimpse of a houseboat interior. Boat-dwelling isn’t always plain sailing, however. After all, houseboats are often buffeted by the elements, while truly remote ones can be completely off-grid, which can take getting used to.

But houseboats are also often moored along with others in city wharfs, their occupants benefitting from a strong community spirit. In terms of design, houseboats vary stylistically and structurally, and many boat-dwellers take sustainable living and design seriously. “They’re bringing everything from a rescued shipping container to a houseboat built from recycled materials on to the world’s waterways,” Mitchell tells BBC Culture.

Now with climate change precipitating rising sea levels, expediency is also driving a need for living on water. “Based on climate predictions, boat-dwelling might prove a prudent, even necessary alternative to land-based living, essential to human survival,” adds Mitchell.

BBC Culture looks at eight examples of floating homes across the globe.

Reetainer, UK

Max McMurdo’s home is testament to the broad variety of houseboats that has emerged in the past decade. About seven years ago he converted a 12m by 2m metal shipping container that he’d bought for £2,000 ($2,500) at a London industrial estate, and created his new home, which now floats on the River Ouse in North Yorkshire.

This has allowed him to secure a mortgage-free home. He previously lived in a cottage in Bedford, which he renovated – upping its value – and then sold. Once the battered shipping container, which had travelled the world, had been reconditioned and transformed into his houseboat, McMurdo also fulfilled a long-held fantasy to live near or on water: “I’d always dreamt of living by the water in a tiny home,” he says.

A former car designer, McMurdo had previously converted shipping containers into structures with different uses, including an office for his cottage’s garden, and has a company that upcycles shipping containers, called Reetainer. His new home rests on a reinforced-concrete pontoon  and a large deck that provides plenty of outdoor space. A wooden pergola crowns the roof, and projects beyond it to provide a more shaded area.

Clever space-saving ideas have allowed him to incorporate a normal domestic bathroom suite and shower. He also built a storage compartment on top of the floor of the shipping container, which contains a concealed bath, wardrobe, fridge and dining table that ascends through an opening in the living room floor via a scissor lift, and concertinas down when not in use. Pebble-covered mesh on the floor of the shower slides to reveal the bath, while his bed splits in the middle, revealing steps to the wardrobe.

Aiming to reduce his energy consumption, McMurdo has added solar panels, and plans to install energy-efficient infrared heating in the houseboat’s ceiling.

Le Cid, France

In 2018, Agnès Combes Bernageau moved from her “cosy flat” in Paris to a transport barge moored on the Seine – between Pont Alexandre III and Pont de la Concorde – which she shares with her two children and French bulldog. It has a colourful history: it was built in 1930 in Mainz, Germany, then handed to France as part of the post-World War One reparations imposed by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. During Hitler’s occupation of France, it serviced German submarine flotillas, and in the 1950s was bought by British Petroleum.

Le Cid was moored in this Paris harbour in 1980. “I was bored of the impersonal life of conventional Paris,” says Combes Bernageau, https://www.happylandgummybears.com/ a senior executive at a French luxury brand, who bought the barge following “a gut feeling”. The move has had positive psychological and physical effects on her: “I’ve gained a more open mind and heart – as well as a community with a common mindset of freedom. You learn a lot on boats – from mooring to all the technical stuff I knew nothing about. I gained muscle strength.” There’s a strong “community life”, and a harbour committee that Combes Bernageau is part of.

Combes Bernageau has converted the interior of Le Cid into a stylish open-plan living room incorporating a well-equipped kitchen and dining area. There’s also a crisply monochrome bathroom. The overall effect, below deck, is elegant, uncluttered and spacious.

Mini, Argentina

Living on a houseboat can sometimes be sparked by an existential decision to abandon a humdrum life for one bringing greater self-determination. Anibal Guiser Gleyzer is a case in point. About 30 years ago, he found city-dwelling life unfulfilling. “So I bought a sailboat and explored the delta of the Paraná and Uruguay rivers,” he says. He later sold his flat, acquired land in the delta and, aware that this wetland is prone to flooding, built a floating home.

Rather than conform to the European architectural style of many local buildings, he chose to create a self-build structure inspired by flat-hulled barges that traditionally transported wood through the delta. He wanted his design – a two-storey structure  to be made of environmentally friendly materials, and so fabricated the hull using ferro-cement, which involves applying reinforced mortar or plaster over an armature comprising metal mesh, expanded metal or metal fibres. The houseboat’s walls are made of wood.

He has since established an eco community of similar, water-borne homes called Econáutico Hipocampo, whose occupants are equally drawn to living close to nature.

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