08/31/2017

Houseboats

By Andrew Dolan

In the eighth grade, one of my childhood best friends and I made a pact that when we each turned 25 we’d buy an old boat, convert it into a beautiful residence, then sail it through the Panama Canal (not sure why there specifically) and travel the world. At the ripe age of fifteen, I would have told you that there was nothing going to stop me and that this would be an easily attainable goal. Obviously, I was wrong and I have yet to buy said boat. I’ve had a fascination with houseboats since this childhood fantasy, and I plan on buying one in my next life.

Houseboats in Seattle, WA

I have yet to see a houseboat community in New York City, however in Seattle, WA, house boating has been around for over a century. The first houseboats in Seattle were born out of financial necessity and typically took the form of a floating shack assembled from random lumber. Some workers who were fortunate enough to own a boat converted their boats to include small living spaces. By the late 1930’s, there were over 2,000 houseboats docked in Seattle.  Following the end of the depression, a more Bohemian, anti-government crowd replaced workers on the house-boating front. The early houseboat trend in Seattle is reminiscent of today’s small house movement; both offering a cost effective, tax-free alternative to owning a home. However, today’s modern houseboats can sell for millions of dollars. 

3 bed, 2.5 bath houseboat for sale in Seattle: $1,998,000

3 bed, 2.5 bath houseboat in houseboat community in Seattle, WA

My former eighth grade self wasn’t dreaming of a stationary luxury home on the water, as lovely as that may be. At the time, I was more fascinated in taking an old boat and converting it into whatever I wanted it to be. Architects Olle Lundberg and Mary Breuer did just that. They looked far and wide at boats of all kinds (tugboats, ships, etc.) and ended up buying an old car ferry, which they converted into their houseboat/office. Purchasing the ferry cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that cost was a mere fraction of the cost of renovation.

Office work space and conference room inside the converted ferry

Bedroom inside of the converted car ferry

Exterior view of the car ferry

Adding to the cost of renovation, the architects also had to hire a crew to take the car ferry on a week long trip from Iceland to its final destination, San Francisco. Nevertheless, their boat did get to go through the Panama Canal.