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Real homes: a central London houseboat, frugally styled

Living in central London is fast becoming impossible on most people’s budgets, that is unless you live on a houseboat. Over to designer and blogger, Sarah Fox, for today's story. 

Boat owners, illustrator, Sophie Jamieson and her boyfriend Kendall Gilmore, on the Department of Health's graduate scheme, live a 10-minute stroll from Baker Street station on a peaceful stretch of canal edged with a small houseboat community.

The boat – the third they've lived on – cost the couple a fraction of what a flat in this central location would cost. But what is the reality of living in a space that measures a mere 57ft by 7ft? Where would the average person store their life’s hoardings? We all dream of minimal living, but in this tight space wouldn’t most people get cabin fever?

Kendall found their first houseboat while Sophie was living in Edinburgh. He'd been in London for a year and was trying to persuade her to move down. Sophie tasked him with finding somewhere fun for them to live – and he came back with a boat. Now on boat three, they are pros: forget any musty, dingy houseboat connotations, as the pair have created a homely but not cluttered vibe. Yes, there are lots of bits and bobs around but they are artfully placed, providing an insight into the people who live here.

It helps that Sophie is an illustrator and has a good eye. “When we moved in, the art and books went up first and the rest just followed,” she says. Stacks of books, from cookery to Harry Potter, double as shelves for teapots and jars. 

Long and narrow, the boat is divided into three spaces: the sitting room and kitchen, the bathroom and a bedroom tucked away at the starboard. 

It’s small, but perfectly formed. In the kitchen, the red worktops are lined with Kendall’s latest foodie experiment of pickling kimchi in jars. The kitchen surfaces are kept clear by nailing copper pots from Spitalfields market to the ceiling and suspending plants in handmade holders Sophie constructed by knotting twine, giving an outdoorsy feel. Herbs, picked from their little garden on the mooring and, when we visited late last year, seasonal squash and pumpkins hung on a crafted rope and leather shelf contraption. 

The inside is all white with popping postbox red cabinets, the end of one painted in handy blackboard paint. Monochrome always works well with block colours and their tiled black and white floor is no exception.  

“You’ve got to be clever when you live somewhere this small,” says Sophie. And the boat is peppered with evidence of Sophie’s frugal crafty skills. Wooden wine crates she picked up from the local wine shop and painted white act as bookshelves and another crate, upturned, hides essential items and is made into a comfy seat with a hand-sewn cushion. The portholes and windows are part obscured with little patterned curtains, more evidence of Sophie’s sewing. 

Lighting? The amber glow of a wood fire stove keeps things warm and cosy, burning olive wood collected from the local garden centre. “We are deciding whether or not to burn it all because it looks so nice all piled up,” says Kendall. A string of festoon light bulbs from look great, and they've just won some long hanging naked bulbs on eBay. “Don’t ask us how they are going to work,” says Kendall. 

If what they have done so far to their meticulously decorated boat is anything to go by, they will find a way and it will be perfect. See Sophie's work at

Words & photography: Sarah Fox 

© and Sarah Fox

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