Living large in a small space

Great design tips: See how two sisters create a paradise aboard side-by-side houseboats

Floating Paradise
Photo: Thomas J. Story

DIANE’S HOUSEBOAT: A 700-square-foot former fishing shanty built in the 1920s; the layout is similar to that of a studio apartment.

JULIE AND DAVE’S HOUSEBOAT: A 1,000-square-foot model, known as a roundtop (fishermen would hang nets over the curved roof).

What land dwellers don’t know about life on the water

Construction “The main challenge is getting tools and materials down here,” Dave says. Dropping items into the watery abyss is another hazard. “A friend of mine lost a chain saw.”

Flotation It’s a balance. “If you move your furniture around too much, or if you’re having a bunch of people over, you have to adjust your flotation,” says Dave, adding that the underwater blocks may need adjusting by a diver every year or two.

Geothermal unit Julie and Dave swear by this system for efficient temperature control and lower bills. About 1,200 feet of pipe is coiled underneath their home.

Wildlife “A family of ducks with 11 babies lives on a floating plank off our deck,” Julie says. “We see a ton of exotic birds on their migration path, and the occasional bald eagle.” Dave even uncovered a nesting beaver under the floor.

Privacy “The houses are so close together, I was worried it might feel like a trailer park―but the water is a great barrier,” Julie says. “It’s not how close you are, but what’s in between you.”




  • Floating Paradise

    Floating Paradise

    Diane Hall (left) and Julie Higgs

  • Floating Paradise

    Floating Paradise

    Landscaping improves even a tiny area. On Diane’s deck, in-ground planters with their own drainage system sprout strips of vibrant Scotch moss that add color and “feel cozy underfoot.”

  • Floating Paradise

    Floating Paradise

    An antique Chinese wedding cabinet in Julie and Dave’s living room hides the TV and CDs, and makes the most of limited floor space. Dave built additional drawers underneath, which Julie painted for a faux-antique look.

  • Floating Paradise

    Floating Paradise

    Japanese-inspired built-in bins under Diane’s bed are faced with bamboo. A paper parasol over the light fixture adds to the lush but tranquil mood.

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