Writer: Amy Guttman
Think of houseboats, or spending any significant amount of time on the water, and, unless your host is a Russian oligarch, the reality is far different from fantasy. Overnights on boats can be incredibly romantic. Most of the time, they’re also like sleeping in a triangular-shaped pod. Let’s not even talk about bathrooms and kitchens. Small price to pay for a life on the water, but there’s always room for improvement.
That’s the trouble with houseboats; they’re great for a few days, but as a viable living alternative, not so much. But a house built to float on the water, cope with the seasons, and offer regular size rooms? Now that’s a different kettle of fish.
Trained as an architect, with decades of experience working in retail, Mike O’Shea came out of retirement to build and design boats as solution to a personal problem. He and his wife were living in London on a classic wooden houseboat but longed for a more generous, open space than is typically found on converted barges. O’Shea also dreamt of what I call the “jump in” factor; direct access to the water. He and his wife started researching, and realised there was a gap in the market for traditional floating homes.
“With houseboats, although you’re on the water, you can be very disconnected from it. With Ecofloat homes you can just open up one side of your home and set your feet in the water, but with regular size bathrooms that relate to traditional homes.”
O’Shea designs and builds the bespoke homes, delivering contemporary, open spaces with full-size rooms which offer greater efficiency than houseboats. The use of traditional home building techniques rather than boat building techniques translates to more competitive pricing.
“These are, literally, floating homes rather than actual houseboats. If you’re building a boat, lots of the wood is individual pieces, whereas with house building we use readily available components and standard sizes which help us deliver thermal efficiency.”
The Ecofloat homes are built in about four months, from O’Shea’s workshop in Hertfordshire. The real challenge isn’t in building light, airy homes topped with roof gardens, it’s transporting them. They float, but the motor-less homes don’t self-propel.
“It’s tricky transporting a two-storey, 50 tonne house. We take the structure to a launch site or boatyard, put it together on land or in the water, and tug it to the mooring place.”
O’Shea says the only special considerations in the Ecofloat construction are ensuring the homes are stable. Prices are comparable to traditional houseboats, but much cheaper than homes, especially in areas known for recession-proof real estate. Most of O’Shea’s clients are creative types, working in TV, film, graphic design and architecture and most moor in and around the Thames. Cost aside, O’Shea says the biggest selling points are the size of the bathrooms and kitchens. Ducks may be welcome, but ducking’s not required.