Living on a houseboat – my decorating tips for small spaces

houseboat decorating tips for small spaces

Faith decided living on a houseboat was a good option – you can click the link to find out more. Now she’s here to share her decorating tips for houseboats and other small places where space is an issue.

I live in a space that is about 280 square feet. There’s a bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, living room and a teeny tiny Zen garden. That’s nothing – one of my neighbouring boats is 250 square feet and holds a married couple and their dog!

houseboat decorating tips

Faith’s houseboat uses every bit of space. Decorating tips below!

A lot of planning goes into living in a box. On Sundays, England’s home improvement channels are dominated by a man called George Clarke and his show Amazing Spaces. It follows people who are making incredible homes from shipping crates, minivans, tree houses and the like; when the projects are finished, they always look like perfect tiny show homes.

I’m sure there are people out there who can live minimally, with no drawers of miscellaneous junk or bits of paper that defy filing systems. I’m not one of those people!

houseboat decorating tips

We love Faith’s lamp. No sign of minimalism here…

I also don’t have several thousand pounds to spare for genius modifications that change my narrowboat into a flying walk-in wardrobe with a jet engine. No, I’ve had to find ordinary ways to make a storage-savvy space. Whether you have a flat, room or a houseboat like me, here are my tips for decorating a tiny home. 😉

1) Find out what you’re dealing with.

Whether you’re a minimalist or a trinket collector, if it’s at all possible then clear everything out of your space. The first thing I did when I got the keys to my boat was chuck away anything I didn’t need. Then I washed every inch of the inside and paint everything white. Instant blank canvas!

houseboat decorating tips for small spaces - white walls

Faith painted her houseboat white to create a blank canvas for decorating

Decide where the basics are going. At mine, the bed and sofa spaces are ready-made. If you have a choice in the matter, try to put things as close to the walls as you can, leaving a path from one area to the next.

houseboat decorating tips

An initial blank canvas helps you feel out where you want to get creative. See full-sized pic.

2) Storage tricks!

What you’re looking for here is a way to make everything multifunctional, while taking up as little space as possible.

houseboat decorating tips

Are you a minimalist or a grotto-dweller? Ceilings love being decorated too!

Can your sofa also become a bed? There are some amazingly user-friendly sofabeds out there. If you can get one of those, you’ve just saved yourself a bed-sized area!

– Put up shelves but screw hooks into them. My kitchen tea-and-spice shelves have hooks at the side which hold tea towels and kitchen equipment.

– I love to have plants and flowers so I buy lots of fresh herbs in small pots. They smell lovely, give me the greenery I want, and I can cook with them.

houseboat zen garden

Greenery creates a happy space (see full-size pic)

– Make sure every box has a lid. Then you can keep things inside and on top of it. Stackable boxes are even better! While I’m on the subject of boxes, the more the merrier. You don’t want holey carrier bags slung over door handles to be sorted out later. Though I’m looking at some right now, with no idea how they got there…

– Recycle and upcycle old containers. I bought a little set of drawers, took the drawers out and stacked them up, which has given me a lovely place to display my trinkets! Another way is to screw an old printing press box into the wall like a modern cabinet of curiosities.

– Little touches can really help. For example, a magnetic knife rack holds my tin opener, scissors and knives. I’ve bought a holder for my DVDs so the plastic cases can go in my mum’s attic. Yes, IKEA can be a dangerous place for those of us with little willpower, but some of their storage solutions are both reasonably priced and genius. I know lots of people love real books you can hold but if space is really at a premium, consider getting a Kindle to save space on shelves. Get box files for all your important papers, too.

Houseboats and caravans are designed with storage in mind. For example, my bed divides into three sections so when you take the middle out, there’s space for a table. The head and foot sections provide mini-sofas so you can have a lovely dinner for two at a proper table, or four if you keep your elbows in!

3) Appearances

To make a small room look bigger, there are the old tried and tested decorating tips like painting everything in light colours and hanging mirrors everywhere. If that’s your style then go for it. If, like me, you live in a space so narrow you can touch opposite walls by stretching your arms out, no amount of clever mirror placement is going to fool you into believing your home is the size of an aircraft hangar. You can either try to create the illusion of more space (easier if you’re a minimalist) or embrace the grotto look.

I like my cozy rooms and have given each area a character of its own:

  • My bedroom is like Inara’s shuttle in Firefly – all brocade, wood, warm colours and my best armour on display.
  • My bathroom (still a work in progress) is the size of a postage stamp and sea-monster themed; I have a teeny tiny coral display on my miniature windowsill, a piece of octopus art on the wall as you go in, a ship’s wheel mirror, and the curtain separating it from the rest of the boat has tentacles painted on it.
  • I loved the Harry Potter chapter in which Firenze the centaur moved into his own forest glade within Hogwarts, so my lounge has a mossy carpet, a tree stump coffee table, ivy climbing the walls and a door painted with trees.
  • I’ve even decorated the outside – my boarding area is a minimalist place for sitting in the summer and the front of my boat makes a miniature Zen garden.

If you can’t make the rooms bigger, turn them into little works of art instead!

4) Places of beauty

If you can’t have a proper garden, window box or space to plant green things indoors or out, think about making a teeny altar or Zen garden somewhere. All you need is a plant pot or small dish! You can collect crystals, stones, feathers, leaves or air plants to stock it with. I’ve seen some beautiful arrangements of cacti surrounded by coloured sand. A windowsill, perhaps? If you have mischievous pets, what about making a pet-proof garden in a jam jar so you can put the lid on? Even if they tip it over, you can just rearrange the contents. You can even mount miniature gardens on walls.

In summer, I use the top of my stove as a little altar. I adorn it with an incense cone and stand, a crystal, a bottlecap of water and tea light. It takes up about as much space as half a postcard!

houseboat stove

Faith’s wood burning stove

houseboat shrine

Wherever you lay your shrine, that’s your home. See full-size pic

Some of my neighbours have made incredible rooftop gardens. Though my own roof is currently empty (I prefer to lie on a towel with a book and iced drink without causing a plantquake), I love looking out across the marina at dusk. That’s when the fairylights begin to come on and little solar powered lamps glow, lighting up the plants in other gardens.

Sometimes your view is just as important as your own space. If you have a good view, enjoy it!


I draw, paint, write, make outfits and collect ‘stuff that might come in useful one day, perhaps in the year 2055’, and end up making ‘safe places’ for the tools and bits I need. The problem is, the precise location of the safe place changes from day to day! I’ve resorted to mapping out roughly where things are so I don’t end up with six boxes of thread on my living room floor, waiting for a home!

6) What matters to you?

As I live in vest tops, ripped jeans, harnesses and armour (which has its own armoury), most of my clothes fold up quite small. If you prefer big floofy tutus and have a statement jacket for every day of the week, you may need to think about how to arrange your wardrobe.

If you have an epic book collection you can’t bear to part with, think about how to make a bookshelf multifunctional, or mount ‘art piece’ books on the wall the way your elderly relatives display fancy plates.

It’s about prioritising what’s most important to you. What could you bear to do without? There are ways to live in a small space but some people will find it easier than others. It depends on what you are prepared to let go of. For me, I now go running in addition to lifting weights as I cannot do a proper cardio workout in my space. I have said goodbye to my clothes dummies and hang anything I’m working on from a hook in the ceiling while I sew. Then it goes in a drawer until I can work on it again. These are comparatively small adjustments for me because although I love my trinkets and treasures, I don’t need much to actually live on, which is the way I like it.

It didn’t take much adjusting for me to make myself at home here, but my experiences living on a canal boat have impacted my life in other ways – which is what I’ll be writing about next!

See Faith’s introduction to living on a houseboat – the basics.