Daily Archives: April 24, 2009

Living Room

No, I don’t mean that part of your house where you entertain guests.

I mean how much room do you really need to live in. Once upon a time in this vast continent of North America people used to move to less populated places because they needed “living room.”

But how much does a person need? I used to drive for a limousine service offering airport pick up service and I’d take elderly couples to their McMansions and it was like dropping two BBs into a 55 gallon drum. It was ridiculous. In my mind anyway.

No matter how big your house is, you can only be in one place at a time. And if you think about it for a moment, the way most people live is that when they come home from work, if their jobs haven’t been outsourced overseas, they plop down in their favorite chair in front of the TV.  They might even eat their evening meal in the same seat. Perhaps they spend some time on line so they are at a desk and then they go to bed. Easily 99% of their domicile is rarely used. The one concession I would make for large size would be a kitchen with lots of counter space. I love to cook.

I grew up in a house on Cape Cod that was built before the American Revolution.


There were three small bedrooms on the main floor and my bedroom was under the eaves (the two larger windows on the second floor). The kitchen was in the smaller section of the house you see on the right and where the corner post and the roof eaves met they were joined with wooden pegs made of locust wood. There was my mom and dad, me and my four brothers and we all shared a single small bathroom. A few years ago when my brother Mark and his kids and I were driving around while visiting for our brother Gary’s Memorial Golf Tournament we stopped by the old house. The current owner was mowing the lawn and we stopped and introduced ourselves. The owner was very gracious and invited us inside to show us what they had done with the place. What struck me the most was how small it was for such a large family.

I lived on a 26 foot sailboat for almost 6 years.


People, especially women that I was meeting, would ask how I could live in such a small space. Actually, I never lacked for anything. Living in a marina I had a telephone, cable TV service and internet access. But granted, the actual space in which I lived was, indeed very small.


There were the vee berths forward where I slept. Aft of that on the port side was the head and opposite that was a hanging locker that I converted to a shelved space for storing my clothes. Aft of that section you see there were two berths. In the marina the starboard berth cushion was removed and a small refrigerator and a 9″ color tv sat atop it. I used the port berth as my sofa. An ingenious fold-down table was hung on the bulkhead that separated the cabin from the head and it was where I ate, of course, and also served as my desk when playing around on the computer. Aft of the berths were my galley with a two-burner propane stove to starboard and what had originally been the ice box was now used to store my pots and pans. In dead center was the sink. There was six foot head room from the sink forward to the bulkheads forward of the berths. Since I’m only 5’9″ tall it was comfortable enough. But, discounting the head area where I did have to duck my head a bit and the vee berths which were only used for sleeping, my actual living area was about 56 square feet, and the floor space of the cabin area was only about 22 square feet!

In ruminating about how big a boat I would like to build and live on I’ve run through about a dozen possible plans found on line. Many, are only 16 to 18 feet and though I’ve lived in such a small space I really want something larger than that. The 35 feet of my Louisiana shanty boat is a bit too large, too, simply because of the cost of materials. I’m more inclined to something along the order of the Bolger houseboat and the Evening Song posted earlier. They seem fairly simple to build and roughly 200 square feet of living space.

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Houseboat vs Shanty Boat vs Floating Home

I love living on the water. I’ve done so on a 65′ motor yacht, an 85′ sailboat a 26′ sailboat and my 35′ houseboat which should more accurately be labeled a “Shanty boat.”

To continue with this theme we need to clarify a few terms: houseboat, shanty boat and floating home.

Let’s start with “floating home.”  In general these are larger living spaces on the water and are minimally mobile other than vertically with the tide. Some of these can be considered “McMansions” on the water and some can be extremely artistically creative. Holland is one of the world’s leaders in floating homes and the Pacific Northwest has a decades-long history of this genre of living on the water.

These are what I would consider to be within the McMansion category:


Here’s a bit smaller floating home on Lake Erie




In this one below you can see why it would not be easy to move around and would undoubtedly require hiring a commercial tugboat in order to do so which would cost big bucks. But then if you were able to afford such a structure you’d most likely have the wherewithal to hire a tug.


In British Columbia there is even a floating home specific community: http://www.floatinghomes.com/floatinghomes.htm


On a more sensible scale there is Berklely Engineering’s Cape Codder at 24’X10′ that I think is pretty neat but certainly wouldn’t be buildable on a small budget.




Houseboats, by my definition, are self-propelled craft that are meant to be moved from one location to another. Most often they are used as vacation home and are designed for use in sheltered waters rather than the open ocean or other bodies of water that can get rough. Quite often they simply look like RVs on the water rather than a more conventional boat.



Strictly from an aesthetic point of view I’m not a fan of this type of craft. But not all boats that I would classify as houseboats are cheesy by any means. In Somerset, KY, hometown of my good friend Mark who has made comments on other post in this blog, is the manufacturer of some awesome houseboats, some over 100′ long and many cost more than most houses.

Here’s a photo of the living room of a Somerset houseboat…


This sure isn’t “slumming it”

More difficult to pin down are what would be called “Shanty Boats.” These are mostly home made and strictly intended for use on sheltered waters. My boat, pictured above, was basically a shack on pontoons and though mine was 35′ most shanty boats are on the small side, 16 to 24 feet. Back in the 40s and 50s they were often marketed as inexpensive summer get aways and magazines like Popular Mechanics offered plans for them.

coolwater1coolwater2coolwater3Phil Bolger is a designer of some very original, and many people think ugly boats, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder…


Back in the late 70s one of my favorite boating magazines was Small Boat Journal. This design by Thomas A. MacNaughton caught my attention and has lingered with me all these years. It’s called Evening Song. He had designed and build a nifty 18′ tug boat called Bantam and wrote:

“In our original article on Bantam we casually mentioned toward the end that it would be fun to have a houseboat barge to go with her. We felt it would be a lot of fun to live aboard the barge and push it down the Intracoastal Waterway of the East Coast. We hadn’t thought of this as more than a fun idea but immediately we started getting all sorts of letters demanding plans for the barge! After all, what else do you want to do with a tug so much as push and pull something around? This presented something of a challenge, as we had never known anyone to design a houseboat barge before, per se, so we had to come up with something completely new. The result was Evening Song. The combination of the tug and the barge clearly struck another cord, as we’ve sold a lot of both plans. This time it didn’t surprise us. The image of the tug and barge traveling together in the Intracoastal Waterway, or of the barge anchored in a secluded creek while the tug comes and goes with guests and provisions, is about as idyllic as it gets. Evening Song contains a whole lot of space in a reasonable compromise between camp-like and boat-like accommodations. She comes complete with two “porches” where one can sit with the dog and the shotgun waiting for the ducks, or just watch the world go by.

“There’s also a lot of “roof” space adaptable to lounging, solar panels, rainwater catchment, etc. Construction is about as simple as it could be, being epoxy and plywood throughout, with a lot of right angles mixed in with the curves of the sheer and bottom.”



Quite frankly I’m a fan of shanty boats both becaue of their funkieness and the fact that they’re usually rather inexpensive to build.

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Filed under boats, Floating Homes, Houseboat, Shanty boat