Actress Discovers DIY Houseboat

September 2015 News Web Exclusive

The Daily Gazette reported yet another conversion to the houseboating life when Austene Van, a Twin Cities, Minn. actress/director/choreographer, took on a 1971 houseboat in need of some TLC. Her theatre colleague, Dawn Brodey, introduced Van to the idea of living on the water when she invited her to visit her houseboat on the Mississippi River.

Van said, “Something struck me,” and she decided then and there to hunt a fixer-upper to live on herself.

The vessel she purchased was about 460 square feet on one level and provided Van with plenty of opportunity to make this houseboat into her own home.

“I’ve always been hands on,” she told The Daily Gazette. “When I was little, I made a dollhouse out of cardboard. When I was 18, I didn’t have money for a bed, so I found a door and cinder blocks, wrapped them and decorated them. Even when I have money, I still look for ways to create.”

The looming houseboat remodel was definitely challenging, but Van was eager to learn as she went. A neighbor from her previous residence helped her frame a second floor to nearly double the living space. Once she was taught some tips, she took over the finishing touches and worked to fine-tune her newfound carpentry skills. She also used the scrap wood that was left over to build her own furniture, items such as a bed, bookcase, and table. 


"You don’t have to go broke," she explained. "It just takes some time, you have to look through things."

With the help of Kelly Vogel, a designer she met at Home Depot, Van put together the finishing touches on making her houseboat her home. A "fireplace wall" finished with shimmering tile and a small crystal chandelier in her bedroom are some of these touches. Van also chose Allure flooring, explaining, "It’s vinyl but with a wood grain that looks like exotic wood.”

After her initial payout of $10,000 to $15,000 in remodeling costs, Van is able to appreciate the regular housing expenses that sum up to only $319 a month. 

“If you like to live life and travel, this is a way to save money and live well in a smaller footprint," she said. 

So far, she's absolutely in love with her new life on the water. It took her no time to recognize and appreciate the natural friendship that is often found among dockmates and fellow houseboaters. 

Compared to those on land, Van said, “People are friendlier...They really look out for everybody else. They stop by, introduce themselves.”

Another bonus to living on a houseboat is being close to nature. For Van, who likes to listen to a nature soundtrack while meditating, the joy really hit when she realized she could hear all of those sounds right from her houseboat. 

"The wind was blowing, the sun was shining, the ducks and fish were jumping, and the trees were rustling. It was heaven!" she cried.

We hope she has many more days to come enjoying the houseboating way of life. 

To read Van's complete story, visit The Daily Gazette here. 

Photo credited to Minneapolis Star-Tribune

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