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Women In Real Estate: Interview with a Young Professional who Lives on a Narrowboat in London

I had such a blast talking to Kate and getting to know more about her life on a narrowboat on the canals of London! She opened up about why she and her husband, Baz, decided spontaneously to take the leap, and how they were able to benefit financially from living in such a creative way. As a result, in the past three years they have been able to save up enough money to purchase a home of their own, an old Victorian fixer upper! Kate also was generous enough to share with me her design process and everything she learned about the inner workings of her boat along the way after stripping the inside down to the hull and redesigning it to meet their needs. I’m not going to lie, it made me want to move out to England, purchase a narrowboat and moor it right next to her at the marina!

Kate on her narrowboat, Moksha

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

I think her story is inspiring because it shows yet another way young professionals can get creative and look for alternative routes to jump on the property ladder. I admire how she has not settled when it comes to the quality of their own life and has chosen a journey that has taught her so much more about herself. Through this experience Kate now lives a more meaningful and sustainable life. Talking with her has inspired me to reexamine some of the aspects of my own lifestyle too. Check it out:

@MackofAllTradesNY: Okay, I know you get this question a lot but what made you decide to live in a boat? Was it to save money? Was it to live a minimalist life? Did you grow up on the water and just always wanted to live that on a boat?

@OurFloatingHome: We bought it on a bit of a whim really. It was definitely a spontaneous decision. After living in North London for 8 years and dealing with crazy high rent, we were looking for a way out. We had a friend of a friend who lived on a boat and so we just thought, why don’t we do that? It seemed extreme, yes, but we thought if we live on a boat we will be able to get out of the rent cycle and save some money. That was the plan to save up for a deposit so we could eventually be able to buy somewhere. To be honest, we didn’t know what we were doing at all. In hindsight, it was probably best that we didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into as it was a big undertaking.

Moksha, their narrowboat moored in London

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

@MackofAllTradesNY: Where do you even go to get a boat? And can you tell me what are some of the challenges that come with having to moor your boat? How often do you change your location? Where are you primarily located now and what made you choose that spot?

@OurFloatingHome: We got it in London which is roughly where we wanted to be. In the UK, the waterways are maintained by the Canal & River Trust (CRT). They maintain the canals and waterways, so if you have a boat on the canals or rivers you have to pay a licensing fee. It’s like the equivalent of council tax if you were living in a house, and it means you can basically move around on the canals and moor up more or less wherever there’s a suitable mooring. The only caveat is that you cannot not stay in the same spot for more than 14 days, so you kind of have to keep it moving.

Moksha, the narrowboat, moored in a canal

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

When we bought this boat, we were new to boating, so that sounded great not being tied down to one specific place. But after we moved in fully, we realised that we both have jobs where we kind of needed a car so ultimately we ended up mooring at a marina just outside of London so that we could have a guaranteed mooring and didn’t always have to move on. The marina provided other benefits too such as a chandlery, a boat supplies shop, and laundrette. There is also a car park so we can safely keep our car here, and we can hook up to electricity and we have more permanent neighbors, which is really nice. On the days where we have nowhere to be we can still take the boat out and explore. It’s nice to know that we always have the freedom to go out if we want to.

Exploring more canals on the narrowboat

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

We do like to explore the canals but that is usually weather dependent. In the spring and summer, we go about quite a bit. You have to keep in mind though that narrowboats move very, very slowly. They move along at about 4 miles per hour so wherever you go you need to keep that in mind so you can plan accordingly and be back when you need to be back. It’s not unusual for people walking along the towpath to overtake you! That’s part of the beauty of it though, it’s a much slower pace of life, we always joke about being on ‘canal time’. There’s also some canal etiquette that you need to take into account, for example it’s a kind of unwritten rule that you’ll only have the engine on between 8am and 8pm, and you can’t really safely cruise around after dark so in Winter the ‘8-8 rule’ becomes more like the ‘9-3 rule’. So it just makes it easier to go out when the days are longer.

More weekend excursions on the narrowboat when the weather is nice!

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

@MackofAllTradesNY: What condition was the boat in when you got it? Did you have a vision for what it could be or did that evolve over time?

@OurFloatingHome: We definitely planned to get a rundown, cheapish boat that needed some work. We always intended to renovate it and make it our own. We like a project. As we began searching, we kept our eyes out on Ebay, searched some local marinas and went to look at a few different boats. Basically our choice was narrowed down based on whether or not Barry could stand up in it or not because he is 6’2’’ tall. Most of them he was unable to so for those we’d always be like, no, not this one. Then we eventually came across one which did need a lot of work to it, because the last owner just sort of left it on the side of the canal. What we liked about it was that it was 50 foot so a reasonable size for a narrowboat, and Baz could stand up in it. Also it was in our price range so we ultimately went with it.

Boat interior when they first bought it

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

The interior after the renovation

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

@MackofAllTradesNY: Your boat is adorable. Tell me about your design process. What was the biggest challenge to designing a small space, especially a boat?

@OurFloatingHome: So we got the boat not really knowing anything about boats. Baz’s dad is a builder so he’s pretty handy already. He’s also not really scared of doing things like taking on a project which is probably both a good and a bad thing.

When we got it, it had its original paint job on the outside. The paint work was very traditional, which we liked but there were parts where the paint was wearing off and rusting so in the end we ended up sanding it all down and painting it fresh. On the inside everything was very traditional dark wood and it had fitted furniture like most boats. While the dark wood was amazing, for such a small space it was just too dark which made it feel smaller. So we chose to make it feel more open by ripping some of the built in furniture out and painting everything much, much lighter.

A fresh coat of paint on the exterior does wonders!

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

The layout now is pretty similar to what it was before, but we did make some significant changes. The bed was too short and we really didn’t like how you had to walk through the bathroom to get to the bedroom. So we decided to sacrifice a little bit of bathroom space to have a separate walkway through to the bedroom. The rest of the boat is in a similar layout to before though.

The bedroom before

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

The bedroom after! So cozy!

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

And although it was my suggestion to make some adjustments, when Baz gets an idea, he runs with it. One day I came down after work and he had ripped everything out! I mean the boat was cleared out back to the metal! I panicked, “Baz we’re homeless!” because we were planning to do just a minor reno and move into it in a couple of weeks. This was when we were still living in a rented house and were making the transition, but after he cleared it out he quickly realized that we now had way more work to do than what we initially planned. And of course more work means a much longer timeline!

Moksha stripped down entirely

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

New hallway after interior was rebuilt

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

It was very stressful because we had a move out date on our other place already set and now our boat wasn’t ready for us to move into it, we actually ended up living in a Travelodge for a few weeks! I guess looking back, the good thing is that we now know the boat inside and out. Like we know every system, where it is, and how to fix it. We were definitely way too optimistic with timing though and the whole project ended up taking a couple of months, rather than just a couple of weeks, which made it very stressful at the time.

This experience also taught my husband a lot about himself. I think we will benefit from it because we recently bought an old Victorian house that needs a lot of work and we don’t want to go through the same stress again so we now know how to be more realistic about the timing of a renovation. We have a better appreciation for how long it will really take and how things always don’t go exactly according to plan. I think we will do a much better job managing it this time around.

Also I think we really learned that renovating a boat is not like renovating a house. I mean doing everything on a boat is a much bigger logistical nightmare than on land. From the beginning it was difficult just to get the materials to the boat simply because of the location. I mean it was on the side of a canal where we had to walk supplies down the towpath to and from it! Also, there are so many more things that you have to buy or make custom in order to fit a narrowboat. Things like installing electricity ends up being ten times the job you thought it would be because it’s really quite different and there’s a lot more to take into account.

I will say that the boating community is lovely though and everyone is keen to help you out. If you need anything you just reach out to your neighbor and they usually are able to help in one way or another.

Moored at the marina

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

@MackofAllTradesNY: So wait, you bought a home. Congratulations. What are your plans for the boat?

@OurFloatingHome: We are selling it and yes I’m pretty sentimental about it, I don’t want to let it go! We have been living on it for over 3 years, but it was always the intention to sell the boat in order to buy our first house. Baz felt the stress of it more and I think he’s really ready to move on to the next project, which is an old Victorian house we have bought. If we could afford it though, I would keep the boat. I’m really sad about having to let it go but also I think it deserves for someone else to live in it rather than for it to just be a holiday home. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll get another one?

Picnics on top of the narrowboat!

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

@MackofAllTradesNY: How would you describe your aesthetic if you had to sum it up?

@OurFloatingHome: I think my style has changed a lot since starting this project. When we did up the boat I wanted everything really light. I’d almost describe it as a “Scandinavian Boho” vibe, with pops of colour and not super minimalist, although living on a boat sort of forces you to be minimalist to an extent. So it’s mostly a very light grey but we’ve got a bright teal bathroom and colourful rug and soft furnishings. So yeah “Scandinavian Boho.” With our new house it will probably be a bit different. We’ll have a similarish boho vibe, but it’s an old Victorian house with loads of original features, so we’re planning on going with darker colors because it has very high ceilings so it can handle it.

"Scandinavian Boho" Style

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

@MackofAllTradesNY: What project are you most proud of?

@OurFloatingHome: There are a few bits that I am really proud of. My husband would probably say the desk area because of its design and functionality. He created this foldy bit that can be set up to be a desk or folded down to create more space. Also, on the side he created these shelves where we can store our records so they are easy to pull out if we have any guests. Most of the time though this ends up being our table. So he’s pretty proud of that.

I’m proud of the kitchen because designing a kitchen on a boat can be pretty tricky. There is not a lot of surface space or cupboards so we really had to think about maximizing the space and making it functional. So we basically put this together ourselves. We found a space for the fridge and freezer on the front side, snuck in some storage there as well on the backside if you look around our peninsula. The wood top we fitted out ourselves with reclaimed wood, which doubles as a cutting board. We are pretty pleased with how it all turned out. The layout is super functional.

Kitchen before the reno

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

Kitchen after the reno

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

Always an amazing view from the kitchen!

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

I also am really proud of the bathroom because a lot of boat bathrooms are usually purely utilitarian. I wanted to make mine like a house’s bathroom though. I really didn’t want to scrimp on that. So we were able to fit in a normal-sized shower, while creating bits of storage with a cupboard here. We added in another cupboard below the sink and chose to go with a compost toilet. We made sure all of the finishes were like those that you would find in a normal home which is why I love this bathroom!

Bathroom before the reno

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

Bathroom after the reno

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

Another project we did was resolve the issue of this open gap at the bottom of the bed. It was a waste of space really. So we made these shelves, which have been good because it has created more storage. And since there is not really space for the bedside table it doubles up as that as well.

Other projects we did were completely repaint the outside of the boat. It had traditional painting, which we tried to keep but there were these huge patches of rust coming through due to lack of maintenance. Unfortunately, it was just not possible to match paint colors and refinish it so Baz ended up sanding it all back to the metal and painting it grey, which sounds boring but actually looks nice and bright, I also later painted the window frames black which made a big difference.

Baz working on the boat

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

I should also say that when we first got the boat, we did have to repaint the bottom of it. They call it ‘blacking’ the hull and it really should be done every 3-5 years to keep the hull in good condition. So in order to get your boat ‘blacked’, they have to lift it out of the water which is done with a crane. Then they place it on stilts, clean the bottom of the hull and paint it with this black bitumen stuff to protect it. That was definitely stressful to watch, but it needed to be done in order to ensure that the hull was kept in good condition, which is essential to remain floating! The rest of the work was done while the boat was in the water, including the rest of the exterior painting.

Moksha getting lifted out of the water when 'Blacking' on the hull!

Photo credit: @ourfloatinghome

@MackofAllTradesNY: Do you mind sharing some of what you learned about the different systems on a boat?

@OurFloatingHome: Sure! You become very aware of that stuff when living on a boat. I took it for granted before and now I’m much more mindful and appreciative about everything. So we have a big water tank which is built into the hull at the front of the boat which we fill up every two weeks or so. That’s with us showering everyday. That tank feeds the kitchen and bathroom taps and the shower as well. You have to have a water pump to draw the water from the tank through to your taps or shower as there’s no water pressure like there would be in a house, so it takes a while to get used to the noise of the pump every time you turn a tap on! The water from the sinks and shower drains directly out into the canal, so we are super mindful of that and only use eco friendly washing up liquid to make sure we don’t harm the environment or pollute the water.

With the toilet there were a few different options. The boat originally came with a ‘pump-out’ toilet system, which means that all your toilet waste would be stored in this massive tank on the boat which you would have to empty every so often. We didn’t really like the idea of that and the tank itself took up a massive space, so we decided we’ll just take that out. Of course when we went to remove it we realised it was welded on to the hull and not easy to remove at all. Thank god it was corroded in the corner so Baz and his dad were eventually able to use that to pull it out, it was not a pleasant job! If you go with the pump-out option there are areas called ‘pump-out’ stations at marinas where you pump the waste out when the tank is full. That wasn’t for us. Another option is what is called a Cassette toilet, which we considered. We decided against it though because it uses some not very nice chemicals which you have to add regularly to dissolve everything. These are carcinogenic chemicals and you have to pull out cassettes regularly to empty them. That didn’t appeal to us. So we chose to go with a compost toilet. It does require us to tell guests how to use the toilet because there is a special process you have to follow but it is much better for the environment.