Home & Garden

Budget design, small-space solutions anchor houseboat makeover

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A water-view home with a patch of grass just didn’t float Misty Tosh’s boat, but when the television producer came upon a 1980s three-story houseboat in Marina del Rey, she dove right in.

“It was a giant hunk of slapped-together junk — dark and dank, chopped up into tiny rooms with ladders between the floors,” said Tosh, who bought it two years ago. “People thought I was nuts, but I saw the potential.”

Sure, remodeling a houseboat has its own challenges, but Tosh’s recently completed renovation is buoyed by space-saving solutions and decorative touches that could easily jump from ship to shore, translating well for small apartments and larger houses alike.

Contractors offered generic plans and are-you-kidding-me bids, so Tosh became her own designer. She worked closely with Refinding Design, an Eagle Rock firm led by Steven Matz, a jack-of-all-trades who saved on materials by using reclaimed wood and scrap steel. He even dove under the house to install pontoons.

“You have to think about weight,” Tosh said. “The more you add, the more the house sinks.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Misty Tosh's houseboat makeover

Two newly constructed staircases have thick Douglas fir treads and steel railings, so Tosh lightened the load with built-in shelves and pop-up tabletops that weigh less — and have smaller footprints — than conventional furniture. With only 700 square feet on each of the two main floors, efficient space planning and multipurpose furnishings were essential.

“Everything had to be mega-functional,” Tosh said.

The lower level has an open-plan U-shaped kitchen with reclaimed wood cabinets, soapstone counters and a farm sink custom crafted by Tom Shadley of Shadley’s Soapstone in Covina. With the ceiling only 7 feet high and the need for windows great, upper cabinets were ruled out. Instead, the area under one staircase has barn doors that open to reveal a storage unit with drawers.

Next to Tosh’s laundry area, a bulletin board made of scrap steel and wood drops down to become a place to fold clothes or set up a buffet. Between the refrigerator and the staircase, a small countertop serves as a bar with a pass-through window for serving guests on the deck outside.

Remarkably, Tosh also made room for a breakfast counter (a wood slab that sits on a thrifty but attractive base made of plumbing pipes) as well as a dining table for six.

The living room has Tosh’s big furniture splurges: a Crate & Barrel sofa and two Restoration Hardware wing chairs. In the center of the floor, a hatch door from a World War II supply ship lifts up to reveal bottles suspended above tempered glass: a wine rack that comes with a view of passing fish.

On the second floor, Tosh, who lives with cinematographer Kuba Zelazek and a dog named Minka, created a small lounge for guests, with a TV and a bathroom that has a floor-to-ceiling storage rack that slides like a pocket door into the wall behind the shower. In the bedroom, tucked into a wall niche, a bookcase has a hinged drop-leaf console top and fold-down legs that latch to the floor, so the couple can have more table space or room to move, depending on their needs.

The top deck of the houseboat has an enclosed room with a built-in iPad holder from the PegandAwl shop on Etsy and a hinged table for work or dining; it can fold flat against the wall. Two narrow tabletops are built into the steel banister — more spots to set down a glass or display photos without space-gobbling table legs. The banister railing is made from lightweight rope, crisscrossed around nautical cleats.

Outside, furniture from Teak Warehouse in Redondo Beach keeps company with wire baskets inverted as side tables and ottomans inverted as planters — budget buys from HomeGoods and Target. The lawn is artificial turf — $175 for a 5-by-10-foot section at Anawalt Lumber. The sunshade is a painter’s drop cloth, secured to posts made with welded steel chain that reads like nautical sculpture.

“There were certain things we knew we could go janky on and they would still look good,” Tosh said.

GALLERY ARCHIVE: More Homes of the Times

Though she declined to reveal how much the project cost, Tosh said the industrial finishes, limited color scheme and salvaged materials (including flooring made from the shipping-pallet pine whitewashed with Behr porch paint) helped to keep expenses manageable.

As a veteran producer who has worked on “The Amazing Race,” “Oprah’s Big Give” and the upcoming “The Customer Is Always Right” for Winfrey’s OWN network, Tosh knew how to research materials and finishes and get the look she wanted affordably.

“If we had something made of scrap metal that didn’t look right, we tied a line to it and dropped it in the ocean for a while,” Tosh said.

She also shopped wisely. French windows and a Dutch door for the front entrance came from salvage yards. Metal side tables and curtains were from Cost Plus World Market, rugs were from West Elm, and lighting and kitchen drawer-pulls shaped like whale tails were from Rejuvenation. To make the simple cabinetry more distinctive, she bought other unusual handles at Liz’s Antique Hardware and used vintage iron railroad spikes to pierce the doors of her bedroom closet. She scoured Etsy and found Wine Country Craftsman sconces and Atelier 688 light fixtures made from hefty marine rope.

“We made a lot of trips to the Long Beach flea market,” said Tosh, who scored four swiveling iron stools for $200 and had them upholstered in outdoor fabric.

“On a houseboat, everything has to be able to stand up to sun, wind and salt water,” said Tosh, who also keeps a 36-foot double-mast ketch in the marina. “Our mantra was: When in doubt, wrap it in rope,” she said, pointing out a light fixture with a coiled rope base instead of a traditional mounting plate.

“I was going for seafaring elements with a Scandinavian, French farmhouse feel,” Tosh said of the décor scheme, which has a decidedly more urban and contemporary look than the typical beach house or boat. “Like a modern-day Viking made love to a Parisian chef.”

The Coast Guard makes an annual inspection of the premises to grant live-aboard status, which mandates navigation lights, flares and life jackets. The houseboat, which Tosh has nicknamed Flo (short for floating house), has plenty of storage. It’s also energy efficient. The stove is propane, and a vent-less alcohol fireplace helps to warm the place on chilly nights.

Nothing, not even twice-weekly pumping of the plumbing holding tank, can dim Tosh’s enthusiasm for the boat she calls home.

“We travel all over doing freaky, grueling television jobs,” she said. “And we wanted to come home to something like a vacation spa, where we can hide away all our gear and feel like we’re on vacation. And when the windows are open and the wind and sun plow through here, we can say: What the heck kind of holy paradise is this?”

Corrected: An earlier version of this article misstated the length of Tosh's second boat, a ketch, as 26 feet.

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