Dream Builders

Nothing was going to stop this family

Published in the July 2019 Issue July 2019 Feature By Brady L. Kay

There are people who are determined in life and then there is Jamie Paolucci who is on a whole different level of commitment. We all like to dream big but it’s another thing to actually succeed on those desires when things don’t exactly go as planned. To say this family had to overcome a few obstacles on their journey to be full-time houseboat liveaboards would be a major understatement. In fact, it would actually be hard to find a couple with more raw determination than Jamie and her husband Anthony.  

With a goal to live on the boat full time with their two young sons Enzo and Vini, Jamie and Anthony put their heart and extreme design style into every little detail. The result is a unique one-of-a-kind houseboat that even on Historic Houseboat Row in the heart of Key West, Fla., stands out among other beautiful boats.

How They Got Here

While living in Ohio, the family made water a priority and spent as much time as they could fishing and boating on Lake Erie. Plus they already had a knack for the extreme and were featured on HGTV's show Tiny Luxury where a tiny home was built for them in 2017. The family of four wanted to travel the country in a Bohemian tiny home so they agreed to be featured with the title of the episode being, “Beachy Bohemian Tiny Home.” The experience motivated them to take their journey in a different direction, which led them to Florida where they could take what they learned from their tiny home build and move forward with a unique houseboat design.

“We live a crazy life and we love to do fun stuff,” says Jamie. “We knew we wanted to live on the water and with our house almost paid for in Cleveland we sold all our things so we could travel around in our tiny home. We were able to visit a lot of great places and ended up in Key West and fell in love with the laid back vibe here where no one thinks anyone is weird.”

The plan was to have a houseboat built for them to live on full-time and they started by purchasing a slip at the Garrison Bight City Marina on the well-known Houseboat Row, the only houseboat liveaboard community in Key West. 

Lost In Translation

These types of houseboats are in high demand right now so finding someone who could build them what they wanted turned out to be a lot harder than anticipated. Jamie talked with several companies from all over the country as far as Oregon to try and get one built and had at least three companies tell her they were just too busy. They finally found a builder whom they provided detailed plans to, but after wasting their time for several months and never actually starting the build he just refunded their deposit.

“We had spent a lot of money on the slip and I don’t give up,” says Jamie. “I felt like I was just being forced into building one myself. Our slip is only 12 by 45 feet so I searched world-wide calling different countries looking for just a 12- by 45-foot fiberglass hull. Once I thought I had exhausted my search that’s when I found Sheldon and he was amazing.”

Sheldon Graber in the president and owner of  Destination Yachts, a custom houseboat manufacturer based in Indiana who, according to Jamie, was the only one who would sell her just the hull. She explained that she wanted to build the houseboat herself and just needed the hull, and Destination Yachts was happy to work with her and delivered on exactly what she was looking for.  

Getting Started

With a hull, Jamie and Anthony, who met in 1999 and have been married since 2004, were now ready to get started. During this time while searching for a hull Jamie was busy making plans on exactly how she wanted the houseboat to be.

“When you’re designing it yourself, you can literally do anything,” says Jamie with a smile. “I don’t think I really realized that until I started designing it. It was just really cool.”

Anthony is an electrician as well as a handy man and the plan was for him to take off work for the entire summer to build the houseboat. In the Keys labor is expensive and they figured it would be a lot cheaper if they just did it all themselves with Anthony doing a lot of the work while Jamie found a job to help support the family. However, once again their plans were derailed.

While looking for a job for herself, Jamie found an opening for an electrical inspector position with the city.

“You have to apply for this job and we figured the process would take a little bit of time anyway so he decided to apply,” recalls Jamie. “He gets the job the week we start the project! It’s full-time and I almost died. We were happy, but I’m wondering how we’re going to do this. It’s summer, the kids are out of school, what are we going to do?”

What she did was simply roll up her sleeves and get to work, determined to build the houseboat by herself if she had to. Jamie worked at the boat yard until 3 a.m. every single night with Anthony of course being able to help on the weekends and whenever else he could make time. Jamie did the “stuff  I could figure out by watching YouTube videos” and looking back now says she actually learned quite a bit.

“I know how to use saws now and cut a 45-degree angle, how to picture frame a window and all kinds of great stuff, but we seriously had no choice. It was hard on the boys but when we got it in the water it was amazing.”

Math Major?

Jamie admits that the most terrifying day of the entire project was the day they launched the houseboat. She was having nightmares about it sinking or tipping over and stayed up late calculating and recalculating the boat’s total weight.

“Weight still scares me; with hurricanes here I still worry about it tipping over,” says Jamie who felt like she just went to school for this and the actual splashing of the boat was like her graduation. “I had to learn about buoyancy and how much water displaces. I added up the weight of everything and I was able to tell the exact weight and how much we were going to displace the water, which is crazy! I knew we would be under 16 inches displaced and how I figured it out was some serious OCD worrying. I was up hours and hours trying to figure it out.”

Final Touches

With the houseboat safely in the slip, it was now time to put the finishing touches to her design while keeping to her theme of doing whatever looked and felt right to her. As you first approach the houseboat the fully operational claw foot bathtub on the upper deck catches your eye. Complete with an outdoor shower with a bamboo screen, the shower gets used daily even though there is a beautiful tiled shower inside on the main level that could be considered the center piece of the entire design if the rest of the boat wasn’t so amazing. 

As the staff from Houseboat magazine toured the boat in person, we could truly appreciate her dramatic flare while still providing a cohesive look. From the farm sink and stenciled floors to the beautiful staircase and fun lighting, both the interior and exterior is a work of art.

As impressed as we were as a staff, an exhausted Jamie – who had put in extra hours with her family prior to our visit to get their houseboat ready – was able to finally take a step back herself and appreciate the completion of the daunting task of building a houseboat themselves. 

“I seriously can’t believe all that we’ve accomplished,” said Jamie with a smile. Even something as simple as the cabinets for the kitchen we ended up doing ourselves. Just for four cabinets, Home Depot wanted $6K so I figured at this point we can just make our own and we did.”

Houseboat Gardners?

While the houseboat is extremely spacious compared to their 210-square-foot tiny home that is now on the west coast, space is still a premium. Discoveries over the years such as the Tower Garden that allows them to grow vegetables vertically has helped them live their lives to the fullest.

“I love that my family is growing our own food right on our houseboat,” adds Jamie. “It is truly a one-size-fits-all system for growing above ground crops all year round.” 

No houseboat is ever really done and Jamie admits there are still some tweaks she’s interested in doing. Of course she hasn’t ruled out starting over and building another houseboat, now that she knows it’s possible. Of course with her determination, being able to build her own houseboat is something she already knew she was capable of doing in her own mind; she just needed the motivation.  

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