Before and After: This Pink Houseboat Keeps Getting Better and Better

published Oct 9, 2018
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(Image credit: Erika Klees of Pink Lady)

If you’re thinking that there couldn’t possibly be any improvements upon this Wes Anderson–worthy houseboat, hold onto your Team Zissou beanie because things are about to get a lot cuter—and cleaner.

(Image credit: Erika Klees of Pink Lady)

Erika Klees of the Pink Lady is the person responsible for this amazing houseboat renovation. Here’s what it looked like before, and the entire saga behind the project:

(Image credit: Erika Klees of Pink Lady)

It turns out this cutie had some interior issues—read on—but I want to point out the adorable sink, the dishwashing window, the cool ceiling, and that awesome-looking gas stove. Okay, on to the less-appealing aspects:

The boat was just “blah”—very uninspiring and not welcoming. The whole interior was dark with wood paneling, there was this burnt-orange carpet under the bed area that was stained and covered in dog hair, and there were three different shades of laminate wood floor materials laid throughout. Where there wasn’t paneling, there was this gray plastic-coated particle board used for the walls. There were also two sinks within four feet of each other—which was just such a waste of space. The three appliances on board looked like they hadn’t been cleaned in years, let alone were in any working condition, and the kitchen sink was the smallest, most impractical thing I’d ever seen. There was no curb appeal either, and the railings were a hazard as they were all pretty much rusted out. It was dated and in need of a major facelift. However, the abundance of windows really sold the space. With a lot of natural light, I knew it had potential to not feel cramped, so I decided to jump in and take a risk.

I knew right away that I was going to make a change to the space. I like projects, and this was my first opportunity to transform an entire area into something more practical, efficient, and modern, and incorporate my style without having to ask for anyone’s permission. While it was livable as-is, I knew that in order for me to feel like I wasn’t living in a shoebox from the ’60s, I’d have to at least make the walls brighter, so it didn’t feel like a cave. And, I knew I couldn’t survive without a taller refrigerator and a larger sink since I didn’t want to take up valuable storage space adding a dishwasher. Plus, I also wanted to make sure there weren’t any scary things lurking behind the walls (i.e. mold) before I moved in with my two cats.

(Image credit: Erika Klees of Pink Lady)

Through sheer Tetris genius, she was able to fit a larger fridge and sink. Look how beautifully everything fits together! Everything has a spot, and it’s totally efficient without being cramped—nothing has to be moved to access anything else, which is a major luxury in any small space. The new sink is of enviable size, and even the dishwashing window has been expanded! The fresh white aesthetic emphasizes the wood detail on the ceiling and the lovely new wood floors, and all that natural lighting is just bouncing everywhere.

(Image credit: Erika Klees of Pink Lady)

I realize there’s stained carpet just out of sight in this photo, but this still looks like a pretty dreamy way to live—but the houseboat life isn’t all morning coffees on the sparkling water and sending postcards to landlocked loved ones. Erika was good enough to share a detailed account of everything it took to make the Pink Lady actually functional, and it did take everything:

This seemingly “easy” small-space project actually proved to be really tough. The TL;DR version is: The bulk of the work took 3.5 years and more money than I could keep track of—this project started and then restarted three times. The detailed version is: When I purchased the boat, I took a risk—I knew nothing about boats—I just knew that I wanted to transform it into the HGTV and Pinterest-inspired interior of my dreams. As a recent college grad, I was not making a lot of money, but I managed to find a guy who owned a boat at the marina and who also happened to work in construction to help me gut it and replace the walls. I think I ended up paying him around $2,500 and that included replacing a huge chunk of the wall that had dry rot (thank goodness we removed every panel)!

My mom and a couple of friends also lent a hand helping me gut everything. I had an electrician friend who did me a huge favor and rewired everything, as well as helped me frame a little wall so I could mount a TV. I also had a family friend who came over to help me adjust the plumbing. Needless to say, I was so lucky to have some great people help me! With a fresh coat of paint ($60), some salvaged cabinets from a local second-hand store ($50), brand new quartz counter-tops delivered and installed ($350), a new sink ($200), and a new apartment-sized refrigerator ($360) and gas/propane range ($500), I was ready to move in and just grab a few extra items to furnish the space. It took about three months to tackle.

To complete the space, my mom gifted me a combination washer/dryer unit as a housewarming present. Even after all of that work, the space was still nowhere near perfect or truly finished, but it was livable, cozy, and I made it work. Fast forward to two and a half years of me living on it with few problems, and I manage to find a way to buy a house so that my boyfriend of a year and some change and I could move in together (without having to test our relationship in such a small space). I move off the boat and into the house knowing that we were going to dedicate time to make it move-in ready for someone else. Well, managing full-time jobs, while trying to settle into our new home and tackle new projects, proved to be a challenge; we were showing up to the boat less and less.

After neglecting it for about nine months, we walked into a nightmare as all of the walls had water damage. We waited until spring to tackle gutting it and address exterior problems that caused it to leak. We spent our whole spring, summer, and early fall weekends buying all sorts of new tools from Home Depot, replacing the walls—this time ourselves—painting, and patching and sealing the exterior. I lost track of all the money I was spending. Working in such a small space with often little organization and such disarray, on the water, was very taxing. The boat became salt on an open wound as we learned the hard way on so many tasks we were trying to figure out on our own (insert flying money emoji).

When winter came, we no longer could do any work so we waited until spring to pick back where we left off. Again, heartache, as we walked in to find we had not sealed up the exterior as well as we thought. The walls were damaged yet again. At this point, we got smart and hauled the boat out to be surveyed by a professional ($400). We were given a laundry list of items to tackle. So, we hire a guy who specializes in fiberglass application to fix these very long hairline cracks on the top deck that were causing our moisture problems. That, along with a couple of other areas of concern, as well as painting the waterline to the top deck ran me about $2000 in materials and labor. We haul the boat back into the water and do a few “Hail Mary’s” that this fix will get us through winter.

We tear off the walls in the living area, again, and decide to start from scratch. We rent a commercial dehumidifier for a week to dry everything out, replace all of the insulation and tear down the vinyl ceiling. We also decide to take everything that is in the way, off of the boat and store it at our house, so we aren’t tripping over everything. Winter comes again, so we are forced to pump the breaks on this project.

Now it’s Spring 2017; we come back to only minimal moisture problems that we can pinpoint right away and fix. But this fix takes longer than we thought and we are getting burnt out not having our spring/summer weekends to enjoy ourselves. While our friends are out having BBQs and going camping, we are emotionally and financially tied to the boat, and we just need to stay focused and finish. Well, we end up slacking off a bit but we manage to install and paint a new shiplap-inspired wall, construct a new encasement for the refrigerator, install new vinyl for the ceilings, and DIY some Shaker-style cabinet fronts.

Our goal was to finish the interior before we decide to repaint and reseal the exterior, but winter reared its ugly head before we knew it, and of course, we still weren’t finished with the interior. Frustration overwhelmed me as I continuously underestimated the time it takes us to finish up tasks. Spring finally arrives, and we have no interior moisture problems (a BIG win for us)! We install new stairs, trim out the floors, caulk, apply touch-up paint, construct and install a new closet door, go through the headache of painting and applying vinyl tile to the bathroom, install new carpet tiles, obsess over ALL of the details-but we finally FINISH the interior in the middle of July!

At the peak of summer, we do some additional fiberglassing for even more piece of mind, put three coats of paint on the exterior, name her the Pink Lady, and trim and caulk all of the windows. By September 2018—3.5 years after I’ve moved off the boat—we’ve finally finished, and are ready to part ways and reclaim our summers to come.

(Image credit: Erika Klees of Pink Lady)

Erika has cleverly chosen a black-white-wood palette, an accommodating and classic color scheme that works particularly well in small spaces. The grid pillow, countertops, and plant add touches of green, but the otherwise monochromatic aesthetic allows the interior to remain nice and neat—and the exterior views to be the star of the show. I am so relieved to hear Erika loves the results of the years of hard work:

I love everything about the after. In fact, I wish when I lived on it it looked this good. It’s modern and fresh and feels spacious—and even better, it’s structurally sound and finally waterproof. I think some of my favorite features are the butcher-block countertop and the encasement we made for the refrigerator. I also LOVE the FLOR carpet tiles we installed, and how much better the small bathroom feels with the faux marble vinyl tiles.

The only thing I wish we spent the time to do was to install gliding drawers in the toe-kicks on the cabinets. It’s such a small thing, but every bit of storage is valuable real-estate in small space living, and I think that would have been a nice touch. I also have a love-hate with the countertops. I let my mom talk me into those, and almost immediately regretted it when I lived on the boat. The initial color scheme I chose was just too jarring and it didn’t complement each other as well as I thought it would. However, I’m delighted with how the green works with the light and natural wood-tones, the bright white, and with the black window frames—it came together nicely.

(Image credit: Erika Klees of Pink Lady)

This is so smart. This functions as a desk, or you could pull up the other stool for cozy dining, and the drawers obviously add storage. The pattern on the sofa is amazing, but not too much in a tiny space. The shiplap walls add nautical charm and a bit of texture. And again—all those windows!

Thinking of taking to the sea? (Aren’t we all?) Definitely read this first:

While I 100% advocate for living on a houseboat, it is definitely not for everyone. Maintenance is inevitable, but if you’ve acquired one as a project the biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s best to work on getting the exterior sound first, before moving to the interior—you’ll save yourself a headache and frustration and hopefully won’t have to do the same task multiple times.

In general, beware of the appeal of renovating a small space. Just because it’s a small space doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a quick project. As soon as you start adding tools and materials to that space, it will quickly feel small and cramped and difficult to work in.

Also, do your research and ask professionals for their advice. Too many times I should have just walked over to my neighbor—who works at the marina and lives on his boat—and just asked him for advice. We always ended up asking only after we had purchased the wrong thing, or installed something the wrong way, just to have wasted time and money when we didn’t have to.

And, as silly and obvious as it is, make a list and take it with you when you go to your hardware stores. We also wasted so much time making multiple trips in a single day to Home Depot because we forgot to write something down, or simply forgot our list. Keep your inventory organized for your sanity.

Lastly, consider what your threshold is, and recognize when you need to hire a professional. I am painfully stubborn with projects, which is why I let this one go on for so long-I wanted to prove to myself I could do it and finish it and not give up, and create something I’m proud of. I couldn’t have done it without the help and support of my boyfriend these last 3.5 years, but in hindsight, I do wish I could have talked myself into hiring some help that would have gotten things done faster.

Thank you, Erika Klees of Pink Lady!