Space Saver

Published in the March 2011 Issue March 2011 Ask The Expert Reader submission by Jan Clark

Houseboats and their owners are unique. They must be compared to sailboat, cruiser and motorboat enthusiasts. It is impossible to find houseboat-specific decor. I have never seen an oil painting, a framed photograph, a replica of a houseboat model. I would love to have a houseboat calendar or a beautiful glossy coffee table book to browse and share with friends.

I recently looked for nautical items for decorating a client's office. There are the typical sea shells, bookends, buoys and an occasional brass bell. There is always an array and great selection of wood sailboats. We need to let everyone who does not know about houseboats know how awesome, practical and functional they really are for either full-time residents or for the recreational weekender. Thank goodness we have Houseboat magazine.

In this article I will share with you some ideas, pictures and advice on decorating and storage. I am not an expert, but apparently there are not many out there to share their knowledge with us. I have never been to the National Houseboat Expo, but plan to someday soon. I know there are professional experts and massive information to be known, but until I find that magical book or person I will give you tips that you may apply to your own little piece of heaven, your houseboat.

Getting Started

There are many types from floor plans to square footage. Some look like mansions with granite counter tops, cherry wood cabinets, wood flooring, stainless steel appliances, essentially the works. If this describes your boat, then you have already had the decorator and space organizer professional at your disposal. However, if you have a less-than-perfect abode, this may be of assistance.

Naturally everyone wants the ability to look out onto the water from every seat and bed in every room. Therefore, there are lots of large windows and sliding glass doors. There is a reason for this, but it also can be a handicap as far as furniture placement and wall space.

I recently saw a renovation that enclosed one of the bedroom windows to replace it with a flat screen television. Not only did it solve the wall space dilemma, but also provided much-needed privacy and light control. Below the television a vanity was built to make the precious space even more utilized. In the same renovation this houseboat had three sliding door entrances. One entrance was into the front salon, one the side and a third in the rear entering the bedroom. It was a nightmare for furniture placement and personally unnecessary for the owner. For security purposes how many doors are really necessary? One panel of the side sliding door was disabled and covered with the bead board paneling that was used throughout the rooms. This allowed another television and storage above to be more effective for CDs, DVDs and books. The other glass window remained but was disabled to only be a full-length window, which allowed light and the view.

Why Futons Work

Some floor plans sleep only two so perhaps you want to get a couch for those guests. If you only have a 24-inch sliding glass door and do not want to disassemble the entire door, here is an idea. Purchase a futon which comes in a thin box. There is no assembly, other than putting on the legs. They come in many styles, colors and fabrics. I suggest faux leather because it is water-friendly for those wet swimsuits and towels and pet-friendly for those shedding dogs. There is adequate storage underneath for storing TV trays, extra bedding or other small, flat items. The futon folds in half to make an upright couch or lays flat for your instant bed.

A Basket Case

The current answer to storage problems are the ever so popular wicker baskets. They are great for organizing and preventing small items or cans from falling off shelves. They come in various sizes from a set of three to larger ones for the floor. Hopefully you're not like me and you don't store things so well that you can't remember what is on board and what is not. (Out of sight, out of mind). With the wicker baskets it is in plain sight, attractive and functional.

If you have twin beds, think about raising the frames tall enough to store underneath. Plastic tubs come in great colors and each family member can have their own coded color for their own personal belongings and space. Laundry baskets store well underneath the bed frames as well.

Some models have bunk beds. I have turned mine to resemble a train berth with each bed having their own curtain for privacy. I purchased some mirror squares to place on the wall of the lower bunk to resemble three small windows and prevent the feeling of being closed-in. Small sconces were installed for night reading as well. When not being used for overnighters, I store my week-end luggage and extra coolers in that space, close the curtains and it is out of sight and out of the way.


Everyone knows you cannot bump out a wall and expand your real estate, so the only way to go is up. Our television resides above the refrigerator. It is the best location for viewing and saving space. After all, you can see it from the kitchen, dining room, living room and front porch. In the kitchen you can purchase a wood collapsible fold down table. It folds flat against the wall and is invisible with furniture placed in front. Whenever you need a buffet, extra prep or counter space, it is a lifesaver. We found a good one at IKEA.

When making your color choices for your rooms, think of calming, relaxing colors like the colors of the sky or water. A soft yellow paint for the sun or a soothing pastel green to resemble trees or the tropics could be appropriate. If your rooms are wood paneled and still in their natural state, I suggest you paint them. Paint will go a long way as far as updating, brightening the space and helping with the odors that accumulate through the years. If you purchased one that smells of smoke or pets, use the paint that eliminates those problems. Paint the walls with a neutral color such as cream, soft white, light aqua or pale yellow. You can add a punch of color with your choice of bedding, curtains and pillows. The majority of windows are long and narrow. If you do not sew or do not want to sew, measure your window then purchase a curtain panel that is as wide as your window is long. This is referred to as "railroading," where you turn the long panel horizontally and use clips to hold onto the curtain rod. If you live in an extremely hot or cold environment or like to sleep late, then purchase the heavy-duty lined curtains for extra insulation. You will feel the difference immediately in the temperature of the room.

Captain's Chair

Some men do not care too much about decorating their houseboat, but a nice comfortable recliner or two is great for the "man cave." It is always nice to have a great chair to watch the game or take a little snooze, but have at least one other chair and a side table for your friend and you to have a place to put your beverages and refreshments.

Do not forget about the outside as well. First impressions are made in the first 15 seconds someone sees your boat. Whether you live there full-time or you're a weekender, you need to do your part to keep it neat and tidy. We cannot do much about spiders, their webs and other pesky insects, but my hint is to use your leaf blower to get rid of the majority of the problem and do it often. I know your dock neighbor would appreciate it as well!

If your marina is well maintained and we all do our part to keep it that way then we will be good examples to the environment, visitors, future generations and ourselves.

  • Like what you read?

    Want to know when we have important news, updates or interviews?

  • Join our newsletter today!

    Sign Up
You Might Also Be Interested In...

Send to your friends!