How to DIY a magnetic spice rack

Most of this series will be a look into storage options in different areas of the boat. Today’s will be a little different. It’s all about making a spice rack. Easy, practical- a great DIY project!! I’ll give you a materials list and an overview of how I put mine together. It’s a lovely way to organise your kitchen spices, plus an attractive kitchen feature. 


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I love the honeycomb jars, they tesselate well and make interesting patterns. However, any clean, food safe small jar with a metal lid will do. Plastic lids might work, I haven’t tried it. You want a jar of around 190ml, but you can use bigger/smaller jars to suit your needs.


Getting the strength right is key. I used neodymium magnets, they are stronger for their size than ferrite magnets and less brittle too. Around a 3-5kg pull strength is ample.|ps_1_1481

Backing Board

Any magnet (ferrous) material.  I used a piece of metal sheet I got from our Blacksmith neighbours. You can get steel or iron sheet online and cut to size, or find something to repurpose. How about an old iron skillet? It maybe possible to stick the jars directly to a fridge, cooker hood or other metal surface.

Be aware that not all stainless steels are magnetic!

Labelling Material

My partner has a vintage Dymo label maker from her grandparents which made our gorgeous labels. If you have a label maker then great, but it’s not essential. You can write paper labels and tape them on or use a marker that will write on glass. The latter may rub off with time.

Fixings / Adhesive

If you are mounting a backing board to the wall or a cupboard then you will need to fix it off.  A combination of grab adhesive and screws will be nice and strong. Most narrowboat walls are wooden so you can screw straight into them (Mind Cables!!). To drill metal you will want a 4mm HHS bit for a clearance hole and a 8-10mm HSS bit to countersink the hole. 


(suggested, but not all essential)

  • Drill and drill bits
  • Screwdriver
  • Adhesive applicator gun
  • Label maker


Once you have all your materials it couldn’t be simpler. Put a magnet into the lid of each jar. Use two if they are too weak.  They stick to the inside of the lid and the jars will now stick to your backing board/fridge/cooker hood. 

To mount a metal backing board I drilled holes and then countersunk them. You need HHS metal drill bits to drill a clearance hole and then countersink so the screw heads don’t stick out too far. I used a little grab adhesive on the back to be belt and braces, though a screw in each corner will likely be sufficient.  You can screw straight into the walls of most narrowboats as they are typically ply or MDF. Make sure to check for pipes and cables beneath. I would suggest not using screws longer than required.

Label up each of your jars with your chosen labelling method. Putting the names on the bases makes it easy to see what is in each jar and avoid any culinary surprises! You can make these as elaborate and ornate as you care to. 

Finally, decant your spices and arrange in a pleasing pattern. It is good to leave a few gaps so that you can get fingers in to grab them. 

I hope that you have found this guide helpful. Why not have a go at making one for your kitchen. If you do, then tag us #cluettcarpentry

How to use Bulkheads for Storage

A bulkhead is a nautical term to describe any vertical wall that isn’t the hull/cabin top. These may be structural, or merely a way to compartmentalise internal space.  As boats become more open plan, we tend to have less walls dividing the space but they are always a significant square footage of surface area. You can maximise the storage capability of your boat by making use of the bulkheads.

In this blog I will go through some good ways to use the space. A lot of this is things you can buy or make at home. You don’t need to be an expert to make the most of bulkhead walls.  So, if lack of storage is driving you up the wall, then read on!

Space: Bulkheads

Size: Widely varied. Generally half or full height (900mm or 1800mm) tall. Widths from 400mm to 3000mm

Type of storage: Shallow storage. Good for pre-made items as it’s typically vertical.  Shelving, hanging and racking. Nothing that sticks out too far

Suitable for: Books and trinkets, but also great for hanging kitchen items and such. Coats, bags and boots.  It is also useful for ‘active’ use, like a draining rack. It’s a dry internal area, so anything that will fit

Materials: Almost anything, especially if it is off the ground.  Damp shouldn’t be an issue so pretty much anything goes

Difficulty rating: Very easy. The flat vertical surface lends itself to almost anything you would do in a home so “off-shelf” items will readily fit, as well as being prime for upcycling and DIY

After the cat, I think one of our favourite things on the boat is the draining rack. My partner found it on eBay and it revolutionised our washing-up.  It’s small. Only a couple of square feet. It can hold an amazing amount of crockery and cutlery though.  For a fairly cheap internet purchase it has made the space in the kitchen feel so much bigger. It’s wall mounted and has a drip tray underneath so we don’t lose any worktop space. With three tiers it can hold loads. A really handy addition. 

On the other side of the kitchen we have more bulkhead storage. This is simple. The idea is the same as our curtain rails. Copper pipe and Munsen clips. A touch more advanced on the DIY front, but still an easy beginner job. Hanging items is great for pans, spatulas, sieves etc.  This takes a lot of clutter off the side and can be more flexible than shelving, with large items hanging vertically.  If you hang some baskets off them you could put pretty much anything here. Elsewhere in the boat we have used the same idea to hang our kindling basket, hats and gloves basket, you could even have a cat basket for your feline friend. 

Walls are great for hanging pre-made items to use as storage as bulkheads are mostly plumb. It is easiest when they are vertical walls unlike the sides of boats which can be almost any angle.  You can get lots of interesting pieces, very cheaply, and with a few screws you’ve got extra shelves.  An example of this on our boat is that we use a cute little hexagon shelving unit from my wife’s old flat to store bathroom items, we have plenty of space to stash toilet rolls and a bottle of room freshener spray. The latter is important when you live in a small shared space.  Anything like this can be fitted to the wall for instant storage.

Upcycled items are cheap, fashionable and can add character to a boat. While the inside is our ‘medicine cabinet’ as it were, the top is space to hide away more bits and bobs.  Spaces like this this help keep sides clear. A clear side makes a small home feel more spacious. Clutter can be oppressive. We aren’t always the best at keeping things tidy, but having a home for things helps.

If you have the space for some custom shelving then you can really go to town. Wide beams especially have big open bulkheads.  The sky is the limit here. Any material, any design. You can have book shelves, display shelves, even a full home entertainment wall.  Open shelving is great, but you could also have cupboards if you have the space. We have two cupboards in the front of our boat. It does take some of our lounge space, but without them we wouldn’t have any hanging space. 

In a wide beam then a bulkhead of full height cabinets across the boats can make a real statement, especially in a dark colour. Like a feature wall, but more useful.  Using interesting materials can make for some gorgeous pieces. I love industrial and steam punk looks, as well as drawing on the natural beauty of wood and metal.  Scaffold board, as made famous by East London coffee shops (excuse the tongue in cheek joke) looks great stained and varnished. It’s a lot cheap than slices of hardwood live edge timber. With some well chosen brackets it looks great. We have also used veneered ply to good effect, finished with a hardwood lip.

There are loads of ways to DIY your bulkhead storage. I think it might be the most approachable off all the spaces in our series. It certainly has a wide spectrum of uses. Why not upcycle some shelving, or plan out an intricate Welsh dresser style steam punk creation from reclaimed timber and oversized copper piping! Make sure you make the most of this prime boat real estate and if you want something really beautiful and practical then why not get in touch, let us design something just for you. 

Under the gunwale storage ideas

Under the gunwale storage ideas

Narrowboat Storage Series

Boats are full of nooks and crannies. Dead spaces. We try to use all the space we can when living in boats. The more the merrier. Every little space can be used. The gunwale, pronounced gunnel, is the top edge of the hull. Beneath this is typically a recess and internally it is a prime place to build storage on narrowboats, Dutch barges and house boats.

In this blog I want to show you a few ways that we have made use of this space. Both shelves and cupboards, you can fit a variety of things in underneath. Plus having a little depth means you can build storage in without interfering with the thoroughfare.

Space: Under Gunwale

Size: Typically, around 100mm deep and 900mm high on a narrowboat, 300-400mm deep and 800mm high on a Dutch barge

Type of storage: Cupboards, shelves or even a hanging space

Suitable for: Storing anything. Clean and dry, so clothes, books, shoes, trinkets. Really just determined by the size of the space

Materials: Normally already clad out in a ply, adding birch ply shelves with doors if required

Difficulty rating: Quite straightforward on a narrowboat where the space is reasonably regular. Much more challenging on the swept curves of a Dutch barge

under gunwale storage

One of my favourite uses of this space is the shelving in the bedroom on my boat at home. It’s a simple birch ply structure, stained and varnished. The different sized openings make it perfect for a whole host of items. Shoes, books, trinkets. It’s only about a hands breadth deep, so it won’t take deep folders or hardbacks. Still, it’s ample for a pair of trainers, paperbacks and lots of other things.  My wife has a love of storage boxes and has found lots of wicker boxes that fit the holes. We have one each and fill them with all the odds and ends from around the room.  The cat loves them. If only so he can scratch the wicker to pieces.

A Dutch barge has a much deeper recess beneath the gunwale. That’s too good to waste! With a space like this you can have full depth storage cupboards. The shape of the space makes it fiddly to build furniture to suit. Dutch barge hulls move in more dimensions than seems possible, which creates beautiful lines that are a pain to work with. It’s a great space.  One boat we did had enough space that we had room for a clothes rail tucked in under there.  What would be a hard to use alcove and wasted space at the edge of a room can be a cupboard for plates, glassware, linen, clothes, files, anything. The tricky thing is making something that is sympathetic to the lines of the hull. Keeping the line plumb down the wall to the floor can make for a seamless storage that melts into the background. 

Where there isn’t us much depth there is still space for cupboards. Like the bathroom. Our boat has cupboards beneath the gunwale in the bathroom. They’re small, but functional.  Like the bedroom shelving it’s a shallow space. This is plenty of room for all the tinctures and ointments of a bathroom. Toiletries, perfumes, oils and lotions, as well as space for medicines.  The doors are simple slab doors with soft close hinges.  This keeps dust and dirt off everything and leaves the space looking tidy. 

Another bathroom we did had a piece of cladding missing beneath the gunwale. We had removed the old shower and put in something more modern, but this left a hole. True, it could have just been cladded with a board. Covered up. But putting in a shelving unit tidied it up and added storage. Another bonus was it allowed us to cover up pipework that was sitting proud of the wall lower down. 

Deep or shallow, shelves and cupboards can fit either and make use of a dead space that would otherwise be left unutilised. It can be a little difficult to make something to fit the space well, but it can be achieved by an amateur with decent DIY skills. If you want something tailor made to suit you then why not get in touch with us. 

5 Storage Drawer Ideas for Narrowboats

5 Storage Drawer Ideas for Narrowboats

Narrowboat Storage Series

As a cabinet maker we joke that all we do is build boxes. Drawers are just a box in a box, but they can help make the most of limited storage in a boat. What you in the thickness of the drawer and runners, you can in utility as easy access makes it a breeze to use the full depth of hard-to-reach spaces. Plus, it makes organisation satisfying and pretty. If I were building my dream kitchen I would have 80% drawers, cupboards just wouldn’t cut it.  They’re great for under-bed storage, beneath dinettes and anywhere you can fit them in around the home. 

Space: Drawers

Size: From around 200-300mm wide and 400mm deep, to giant drawers over a metre wide, breakfast bars a metre deep and up to 600-700mm tall

Type of storage: Very varied, though typically not over about 1-1.2 metres in the largest dimensions and often much smaller.  Generally shallow, though not always

Suitable for: Anything that isn’t too long and large.  Everything for the kitchen, from crockery to cutlery to pantry items. Clothes, shoes, linen. Toys, books, DVDs

Materials: Varied, though Birch ply, clear lacquer and a soft-close undermount runner for preference

Difficulty rating: Medium to hard.  Not for amateur DIYers, but very effective done properly

1) Breakfast Bar

My favourite drawer, though it might be a stretch to call it that, is a breakfast bar we did. It’s 900mm long and marble. The body is birch ply and the runners are heavy duty locking runners, designed for fire trucks and similar. They can take an even load of 250kg! We were able to fit such a deep bar as it is a Dutch Barge and there was a lot of space under the gunwale, behind the kitchen. It gives a big additional kitchen surface and an elegant table for breakfasting with a loved one.

2) Coffee Station

Here we have my coffee station. My partner arranged this and I love it. It is a good example of how a drawer can help organise and beautify. Everything is together; one drawer for mugs, the next for coffee, filters and other supplies. It is very ergonomic and feels great to use.

3) Pull out bin

Drawers are nothing if not versatile. On the other side of the kitchen we have a pull out bin. It is not glamorous. It is very useful though. With two sections to keep general waste and recycling apart it is clean and green. It’s nice to be able to hide the rubbish away and this gives you plenty of space when you are between refuse points, keeping you going as long as possible.

Photograph of pull out bin in a narrowboat
Photograph of plinth drawers in a narrowboat kitchen
Photograph of a unfinished pull out breakfast bar
Photograph of Coffee station with pull out drawers

4) Plinth drawers

A relatively new type of drawer, plinth drawers have been growing in popularity. We fit these in pretty much every kitchen we do now. The plinth (the area beneath the units) is dead space and is normally unused. A plinth drawer gives you a space you never knew you had. It is ideal for odds and sods. It also makes an adorable pull out for pet food and water bowls. They can be fitted with most kitchen units and add a good amount of additional storage.

5) Chopping board

Another fun kitchen addition is a pull-out chopping board. It provides extra working space in a tight galley kitchen. It feels good to use and can help you keep things clean and clear while you cook. I’ve seen some with a hole to put a bin beneath for easy clearing of peelings and scraps, something to try on a future project.

All things considered, drawers are a really great way to access deep spaces, keep things organised and make the best use of the space you have. They can be integrated into most pieces of furniture and modern drawers runners are reliable, look great (undermount are effectively invisible) work brilliantly and will last and last. All sorts of spaces, shapes and sizes can be made and with heavy duty ratings on some runners the uses are almost endless. If you want some help getting the most out of the space in your home, then give us a call and let us design and build a gorgeous piece of furniture for you.

A Modern Narrowboat

                This project was a commission for a client who needed a London base for when life and work brought them to the capital. They wanted a comfortable and modern feel, relaxing and low maintenance. It helps that it is on a mooring, so electrics and plumbing are simplified by having utilities and facilities close at hand

White wall hung vanity unit with LED mirror and travertine splashback

                The boat had sunk under the stewardship of the previous owner and while the hull and engine were still sound, there was water damage to the floor and fit out so the whole thing needed starting from scratch.  We did a sizeable amount of remedial work to get to a point of having a blank canvas. This included, but was not limited to, removing the flooring from half the boat, drying and sorting the bilges, removing several bulkheads and removing the black water tank.  If you want tips on removing a black water tank, then you can read more in my Dan’s DIY tips section ‘It’s a S**t job’

                The brief was to make a contemporary and easy to care for space, as much like a modern flat as possible. This was to be a home from home while in London, not a CC’er or a holiday boat. The chosen finishes are all very modern, the colour pallet neutral and soothing. 

Light grey galley style kitchen with oak butchers block worktop and stainless steel sink in a narrowboat

                We fitted a Benchmarx kitchen, I’ll try do tips post on kitchen fitting sometime soon. This was given oak butchers block worktops, from worktop express. The oak tops are excellent value for money, though you do need to take a little care to look after wooden tops, but on the plus side they can be refinished where a laminate cannot. 

Quadrant shower on a narrowboat with travertine mosiac tiles and shortened glass (1700) glass enclosure

                The bathroom is tiled in a Travertine mosaic, with an ‘off shelf’ vanity and a quadrant shower cubicle from Wesley Marine Windows Ltd.  Wesley Marine are one of the few producers of ‘short’ shower units.  They do a range of them in 1600-1800 which lets you fit in a proper feeling shower enclosure within the restricted height of a narrowboat. You could have a shower enclosure made bespoke, but this would cost a lot more. 

                In the bathroom a bench style Thetford cassette toilet was chosen. It is very easy to use with its wheel along cassettes. This mooring has an elsan point on site, so a cassette toilet is a good choice. Read more about toilets in our toilet blog post! Essential boater reading matter. 

Bespoke matt white cupboard with drawers bebeath, an oak top with brushed steel socket set in to it and a dark grey door and frame to the side. Narrowboat bedroom

                For the bedroom we made a fully bespoke suite, with drawers beneath the bed for storage and a more drawers at the end with a hanging space above.  This little area also serves as a dresser with an offcut of worktop making up a dressing table, with a power socket set into it for easy use of a hair dryer or other items. The boat itself was chosen by the client to be wired up largely as a 240V boat, running off the shoreline, though it does also have 12V sockets and lights so it can be used away from the home mooring. 

Narrowboat salon, showing fold up table wth stools and sofa.  Light grey beneath the gunwale and qhit above. Multi fuel stove in the corner next to storage steps

                The colour scheme is a gentle grey and white, very popular at the moment and I think it is calming as well as elegant. Everything was painted by us, in an acrylic water-based paint. This is a good durable paint. It can be wiped clean of light stains and marks and has a certain degree of resistance to water and humidity.  A satin finish water-based paint will not be as durable as a high gloss, but it feels a bit more modern and is easy to work with and apply.

                In conclusion then, this is a delightful little boat that should hopefully serve the owner well for many years to come. It shows a narrowboat can be comfortable and modern, I hope this is a relaxing and pleasant space for the client and they enjoy it whenever they stay there. 

Country Kitchen, Narrowboat edition

Narrowboat bilge half filled with pea shinle. White wall in top left corner with a shovel leaning against it

This was an almost complete re-fit that we did for a narrowboat in East London. We’ll largely keep to the pretty bits here, but there was some serious foundation work to do. The bilges had been ballasted with pea shingle, most of which was still in the bilge, and it all had to be removed. Once the floor was up and it was out the bilges had to be cleaned, treated, painted, re-ballasted and the new subfloor laid. See my Dan’s DIY Tips for more on cleaning and painting bilges

Engineered oak floor in narrowboat salon with exterior ply clad walls wither side, trimmed in pine mouldings

We also had the walls down to deal with sub-standard insulation and lining, so by the time all this was finished the innards of the boat were basically brand new! New ballast and subfloor, new insulation and new lining and trims, a lovely blank canvas.

To this empty shell, we added a lovely oak engineered floor throughout, to match the existing flooring in the bedroom. This had previously been re-fitted the year before by another contractor and we had built a wardrobe.

Narrowboat galley style kitchen.  White shaker cabinets with oak butchers block worktop and shelves. Glass fronted cabinet on wall above. Multi fuel stove in the fore-ground

The crowning glory of the boat is probably the kitchen, as it is with many boats and homs that have a nice kitchen. This one is a Howdens Tewkesbury kitchen that we have customised in places to fit the space.  An off shelf kitchen can work very well in a boat, I am hoping to add some thoughts and tips on Kitchens in our blog posts. The worktops are oak butcher’s block which we simply added a bevel to the edge of the tops. The took a corner off the end of the long side for ergonomic reasons and the offcuts provided from the other side some neat additional shelving which we gave a matching detail.

Narrowboat kitchen showing ceramic sink in butchers block top with window behind and blue glazed tiles

The electrics were completely rewired by Katy Bartlett of Down to Earth Sparks. The workings of the electrics are hidden away in the corner behind a custom cupboard built with a combination of solid oak and oak veneer to match in with the tops. Katy regularly works alongside us on projects and did a beautiful job rewiring and upgrading the electrical system throughout

small wooden steps

The stern steps we replaced with a solid oak set of open tread steps. The original plan was to build to a form to allow acces to the washing machine, but ultimately it was decided to just make a them light weight and easy to remove so full access was easily gained without compromising on the struture of the steps.

There are myriad little details and alterations I could list out from the works. We also did some upgrades to the bathroom and the bedroom, the wardobe having gone in the previous year. We ripped out the bath and replaced the floor beneath. The bath went back in and we re-tiled the area and added some custom cabinetry and a screen to the bath tub. If you would like to know more about options and possibilities for kitchens and bathrooms then why not get in touch. Or also check out my blog(s) on home/boat improvements in Dan’s Random Ramblings


This is typical of a wheelhouse build, taking the project from design through to finish We have used this design, or a variation of it, on many wheelhouse projects, this blog goes through some details of how we do this.

The clients needed more space and wanted to turn the stern deck in to a useful, and beautiful, exterior space. It also had to be collapsible so that the boat would still be able to get through tunnels and under bridges when it left it’s mooring.  This meant all elements more than a foot or so above the boat cabin roof had to be removable with two people. We had weight limits and engineering challenges to consider

                After in depth discussion of specification and requirements we produced detailed drawings of the overall wheelhouse and the specific details. The way that the different parts would connect and how the piece would work as a whole. Working out how water would be channelled from the roof and how it would escape from inside, which would still be a exterior area at times

CAD drawing of a wheelhouse on a cross section of a red boat

                The roof was a challenge. It needed to be light enough that the two of them could remove it between them without assistance. It’s quite a big area and they also wanted it to be reasonably strong just in case somebody went clambering across (I can’t guarantee it’ll take the weight of a person but it’d stand a chance). We chose to split it into several pieces to make manageable weight, though even then at above head height the panels would be weighty.  It is constructed from Vekaplan, a lightweight closed cell plastic with smooth exterior, combined with a timber frame.  This sits on a skeleton timber frame with integral metal channelling to take water away

white curved ceiling with dark wood beams

                As to the overall construction material, the clients chose Sapele. It’s a West African hardwood which is relatively cheap, straight grained and very durable.  We needed about 2 cubic metres to build the whole wheelhouse.  It is a lovely timber and comes up a beautiful mahogany like colour once finished.  The fixtures and fittings are all solid brass so that they would be weatherproof even when the roof was down.  The brass goes nicely with the red of the timber too, so it’s aesthetically pleasing

pile of rough sawn timber, sapele

                They wanted as much light as possible, indeed we ultimately swapped out one of the lower panels for glass as well where it was originally timber that it wouldn’t block the sunrise on the back door. The upper panels are toughened glass and they let in lots of light. We made sure that there were several opening points so that on a hot day it didn’t become a furnace!

close up of the front of a wheelhouse showing a red timber with swirling grain

                To make it collapsible all the upper row are hinged on to the lower, fixed, panels.  This means once the roof panels are off and stacked on to the boat roof you can lower each of the panels.  They can also be removed entirely if required as the hinges are all lift off.  Speaking of storing the roof on the boat, the curve of the roof was based on the curve of the boat roof so as to produce a sympathetic line with the rest of the boat

corner of a roof wiith a curved timber detail protruding

                Sapele is a naturally durable timber, but to give it greater protection and to save it from discolouring over time it was given two coats of Osmo UV protect exterior hard-wax oil. This should protect it from water and sunlight, not to mention bringing out the beautiful colour and grain of the wood.  We could have varnished it and that might have been a more durable finish short term, but it is more difficult to touch up and repair/redo in the future. Oiled timber can simply be given a light rub down and a new oat applied. Varnish is a greater undertaking and so is oft neglected and can end up looking very shabby after time.

                The whole wheelhouse is mounted on a metal rail, which is two fold in purpose.  By lifting the timber off the floor it should have greater protection from rotting base up. It also gave us the capacity to put some easy drain points in should water get in to the area while it was open.  The lower wall of panels was then bolted through this rail in to the underside of the timbers so that it was rock solid

               We’ve done a few wheelhouses and parts of wheelhouses. A couple of the photos (the ceiling and the close up on the detail of the roof end support) are actually from another wheelhouse we built. This is because I didn’t have enough good photos of this one. The designs are similar and all is our work. However, of the wheelhouse work we have done this one is still hands down my favourite

Clapton Cupboards and Kitchen

This job is particularly dear to me as I carried out a large amount of the manual work on it personally. Sadly, I was also responsible for the photography of the finished products, so this does leave something to be desired. 

CAD drawing of cupboards in a flat

It started originally as a kitchen, and then the client added wardrobes for each of the bedrooms.  The theme runs throughout, paint with wood, new with old. The actual designs were created by the client as well, who is an architect by trade. This meant we had some of the best drawings that I have ever been given, a blessing when you are pricing and quantity surveying a job

wide shot of an old kitchen, looks rather tired

The kitchen was a remodelling of an old kitchen (right) left over in the flat from many years before. This had to go completely, except for the worktop and sink. The top, which is a beautiful old piece of wood, we took away to repair and re-finish. This came up beautifully (below right) when sanded and oiled, and we paired it with Iroko for the other wooden details in the kitchen. Iroko is interesting in that it can be very light in colour when machined, but will darken down to a gorgeous deep brown over time.

shining dark wood, iroko, worktop with a cermi butlers sink

The marble contrasts beautifully with the old timber and the two give a real heart to the room.  All of the doors and drawers are, as with the other cupboards, spray finished in AC lacquer (colour ‘first light’) and the carcasses are birch ply that were then finished with two coats of Osmo hardwax oil. 

marble and dark wood worktops with a as hob in the middle of the marble. Hard wood shelves to one side and an indutrial looking extractor above

Another notable feature in the kitchen is the industrial influenced cooker extraction hood (left), made by local fabricator Nel Holmgren. I also really like the ceramic knobs, which are actually wiring insulation knobs re-purposed as hardware for the doors and drawers

As we move through the rest of the flat there are a series of wardrobes and cupboards, each purpose built for  their rooms.  The one that stands out for me is the entrance hall (featured top), with the open shelving and the fluted glass side table it has a lot of character and fits its space really well. Here, as with many of the other rooms, the spray finished parts have been paired with solid oak elements, the end panels, trims and shelving.

oak and white painted bespoke bedroom cupboards with shelves on wall inbetween, over a bed with blue bedspread and blue pillow

The master bedroom is likewise, and here we have a continental feel to the room with a pair of wardrobes bracketing open shelving over the bed. Incidentally, the headboard opens at the top to give some extra storage space inside. Of the other two bedrooms one is very similar in design, but the other has no oak elements to it and instead has sprayed parts for the end panels and framing. This was the choice of the room’s occupant and I feel it looks just as lovely as the oak and paint in the other rooms. 

So you want to build a wet-room?

It’s been decided that we are going to start blogging, and in an effort to do my part I’ve sat down and started typing.  We get asked about wet-rooms all the time yet rarely end up doing them. Why? It’s pretty hard work (read expensive) to retro fit a wet room and I am not super keen to take on the liability and stress of it leaking unless the price is right. Machiavellian I know, but it’s not a job you can rush and take chances on, which means high labour costs. That leads to the question, what’s the fuss about?

                Wet-rooms, when done properly, are a great solution for a  boat bathroom.  Sod trying to find the right size shower tray and screen then squeeze them in to place. Or, worse still, pay through the nose for a bespoke setup.  Instead, put all you blood, sweat and tears in to building a fully water proof room then simply spray water everywhere with gay abandon. 

                I will try and go through a little of; What a wet-room is, how it’s made and what that entails, why they are a bit of a bugger but also great, and generally that sort of thing. 

brown and grey shiny stone mosaic with grey grout

                Let’s start with the first and last point.  A wet room is a room that you can get wet…. Hm, true but unhelpful.  A wet-room is a room that has been water-proofed, often to make an open plan shower, but essentially an area that can get soaking wet without any of that troublesome water getting in all the places that you don’t want it; bilges, electrics, walls etc. They are amazing as you can have a great big shower of any size and shape, use the whole room really.  They’re pretty stylish and slick. They just sound cool, and all your mates will want one. 

Why are they a pain? Well, beyond the fact that plumbing is always a pain on boats (household and marine plumbing systems rarely making convenient bed fellows) and you have all the usual problems of getting the required trap and plumbing under the floor in a near non-existent gap. Beyond that, you’ve got to create a room that is completely waterproof yet still have holes for things coming in and out and if you bugger it up you’ve a lot of work to do getting it right. If your tanking is no good then those beautiful antique crackle glaze tiles are all coming back off the wall, and they ain’t gonna be coming off in one piece

corner of tanked shower unit with hole for waste

                The water must get out, so you have to put a hole through your carefully constructed tank.  You’ve got to seal all the floor and a good chunk of the wall up so good luck getting to anything that was below or behind that!

                Assuming at this point a wet-room still seems a desirous and glorious addition to your boat, how does one go about it? The starting point is first fix plumbing. Get all your feeds and all the parts of the drain and pump assembly in place. Where this all is will depend on the set up, previous and desired. It’s a pain to move existing things and best avoided, but not always possible. 

whale gulper in a white bilge of a boat

The big bit to get right is how to fit the drain.  You’re cutting a whole in your waterproof floor! That’s trouble but can be worked around in a number of ways.  There are formers available, these are composite boards that fit in or on the floor and can be tiled. As they have a pre made hole with a trap especially designed to go with them these are a good bet.  They also have built in fall.  You can make your own from scratch; ply, firrings, tanking kit and frustration (I know, I chose this path for my own boat).  Or you could use an available tray but build the floor up to match. Bit of a cheat but as the ‘off shelf’ trays are so cheap they can be useful and using them to make a wet-room gets you round the fact they are always too damn shallow. 

The walls will want something decent on them.  Maybe you already have the walls in place maybe you have nothing there, maybe you need to move what is there. Almost certainly there’ll be things to box out, areas to square off and tweaks that are required.  If putting walls in a then wedi board is ideal but a good quality ply is also a reasonable bet.  Both cement board and Wedi board need a frame so you can’t beat ply for keeping it trim.  I’ll let you decide if WBP, Birch or Marine is your cup of tea, I honestly think if you’re doing your tanking properly any of those three will be fine.  If you are cladding existing walls then cement board was the go too, but it’s ruddy heavy. Wedi board, a relative newcomer to the market, is a great alternative. Loads lighter, similar price, cuts with a knife, it’s hard to think how we got by before it. The clouds of carcinogenic dust created by grinding through cement board make me shiver in memory. 

part tiled shower enclosure with blue tanking showing beneath

Right, floor in, walls in, floor up again as the trap wasn’t in, floor back in, trap tested, feeds in wall for shower, sink, pump in accessible point to pump out said trap, sink waste in, great.  At this point I might mention that you don’t have to use a trap and a whale gulper, but, you’ve come this far so why muck about with anything else.  To my mind a sump and pump system, particularly one that uses the bilge of the boat as the sump, just doesn’t make the grade.  That said, a small grey water tank with a gulper with a float is great if you want to go that far Can I endorse products on here? Yes, this isn’t the BBC, I can do what I ruddy well like. Whale gulper, Wedi board and now time for our Mapei tanking kit (edit: I’ve been trying out Topps Tiles tanking kit too and it’s not bad) , easily available from Toolstation or Screwfix for around fifty squids (or pounds, if you are at a branch that doesn’t accept sea food as currency). 

The Mapei tanking kit is pretty good.  Cheaper than some rivals (Bal) and fairly comprehensive. I feel it does fall down on being a bit mean on the jointing tape they provide. I wouldn’t mind so much but as it’s £20 for an extra roll it seems a bit like a stealth tax.  Anyhow, read the bucket, tape it up, gloop that liquid waterproof membrane all over the wall! Maybe this is a good point to tally up the time spent on this little project so far….

Job Easy Hard
Surveying and Design 2 4
Build/Move walls 8 24
1st Fix – Drain and Pump 2 6
1st Fix – Feeds, shower and sink 2 6
1st Fix – Sink Waste 1 3
Fit/Build Tray 4 12
Box out stuff 4 12
Clad Walls 4 8
Tank floor, tray and walls 4 8
Total 31 83

People are welcome to dispute these figures. As I have pulled them completely out of the air it’s hard to say if they are truly accurate. The way I produce numbers will be a subject for discussion in an upcoming blog on pricing and project managing.  I shall try and give some real world examples when we get there, but till then you are welcome to accept these figures or not.  Point is, you can see that even with a fair wind and a calm sea we’ve clocked up the best part of a week, If it’s been a right fiddle it could easily be more like two. 

grey brick pattern tiles with embossed patterns. white grout between

We’re ready to tile, hooray!  At this point I cross my fingers and hope I’m not going to be asked to fit metro tiles. My apologies to existing clients who have requested this, I have previously made my feelings clear so it can’t be a surprise and I am prepared to respect other people’s tastes and opinions being different to my own. For me though they are old hat, boring and dated. There are various brick tile alternatives, check out the Lampas tile range at Topp’s Tiles. They’re even on offer at the moment (no, I don’t get kick-backs).  If you are DIYing then silicone can be a good way to fit wall tiles on a boat. Takes a bit longer but does a good job, is forgiving and let’s you start and stop when you please. If you’re tiling like a boss then a cement based flexible rapid set adhesive (grey or white depending on grout line, makes your life easier) is your go to. Again, I use Topp’s Tiles own brand. I find it as good as Bal and it’s half the price.  Do clean your grout lines out before the adhesive goes off too hard, i.e. same day, and not with the silicone option! Take care not to damage the tanking as well. Don’t put the spacers in the actual corners of the tiles, this is truly schoolkid and should not be permitted. They stick in perpendicular to the wall and are removed after. You can thank me when you come to grout and you don’t have loads of stupid bits of plastic showing.

cracked glaze tiles in a mix of pastel hues, blues, yellows and whites, with no grout inbetween. Spacers sticking out, mid tiling

Another good reason to do them this way is it allows you to cheat your grout lines. It’s more important to have the lines running through well than to have a grout line that is always perfectly the same size. Not all surfaces, or come to it all tiles, are true and flat. You need to step back, check your lines and cheat them where required. I might do a ‘tips on tiling’ sometime soon. For now, when it comes to the outside wall, just remember Pythagoras!

Tiles on, get that grout in. Good, we’re really making some progress now.  I shan’t dally about too much longer and we shall assume at this point that everything has been done correctly and is working.  Second fix plumbing should be easy if the first fix was done correctly, if not be prepared to sweat and cry.  Stick in a vanity unit. We’d make you one but, to be honest, you can get them so cheap off the internet that unless you have very specific requirements then there is very little point shelling out for a bespoke item. There are always other things to spend money on in a boat.  You might still want a screen, a piece of custom glass is going to set you back a little, but peanuts compared to a full custom shower enclosure.  Really though, I think we are about there. Not so bad after all. Shall we have a quick tally of those last bits

Job Easy Hard
Tiling 32 56
Grout 4 8
Silicone 1 3
2nd Fix Shower 1 4
2nd Fix Vanity Unit 1 4
Fit Shower Screen 1 4
Total 40 79

Again, we seem to have a week on the easy path, two on the fiddly one.  Assuming there was no electrics and no decoration (lies, damnable lies!!!) then we’re gravy.  You could have a wet-room fitted in as little as 80 person hours, or perhaps as many as 160.  I won’t crunch numbers too much here as that’s another blog but you can see it’s not a quick job. You’ll also have shelled out a fair wedge on materials, though if you DIY and don’t count your own time (or frustrations) then this could be considered a cheapish job to do. 

We had one client who opted to do all their own plumbing on a bathroom we did for them. Never done any plumbing before, no experience of that or any other trades, went in blind. You know what, they did a decent job. Took a little while and they had to rethink their plans at points along the way, but goes to show that if you put sufficient time and care in you can achieve most things. 

Moral of all of this; Wet-rooms are awesome, they are expensive but they are definitely worth considering if you have the inclination to upgrade your bathroom.  Be warned though, don’t cut corners or you’ll have made some a very expensive problem for yourself. Enjoy!


Fore Sail/For Sale

Well, the less marine based puns the better, lord knows I don’t want to expose my shocking lack of knowledge of sailing. Carpentry, cabinetry, tiling, boat fitting in general. Of the many things I do know about I must admit that actual sailing, sadly, is not one of them.

This post is nothing to do with that so, moving swiftly on, today’s blog will be a little bit about readying boats for sale (not sail, if you go out in to open waters with a narrowboat then best of luck to you, but it is a seriously silly idea unless very well prepared).  I do hear people talk about flipping boats in the way they do houses, and you can probably make a few quid doing this. However, unless you are doing the labour yourself and can add value at a greater per hour rate than you’d earn doing your day job then I would be wary of looking at boat renovation as any kind of gold mine

That said, people will want to sell boats. Be it a project that has come to an end, moving on to a different boat or, heaven forbid, on to land, perhaps you’re going to move in with a partner and you’ve lost the coin toss and your boat is the one to go under the hammer. Whatever the reason, you may be looking at sprucing up your boat pre-sale to either add value or improve saleability. 

The most important thing is going to be the same as with any house or flat and that is declutter. We all know boats aren’t the mot spacious places to live so best to maximise what space you have. If it’s full of your junk, then it’s never going to look appealing. So, get us much out as you can, get it organised, get it clean and clear and you’ll be halfway there. 

The cheapest fix and the easiest, for those with less advanced DIY capabilities, is a good coat of paint. While I wouldn’t suggest trying to cover a boats problems with a layer of emulsion (for a start it’s a boat, let’s push it out and go acrylic ay?) simply repainting the interior can go a long way to brighten and revitalise a space.  The veneer throughout look can seem very dated and the yellow varnish and stained walls will often look great with a decent bit of redecoration. If the veneer and trims still look good then a wood and paint mix, e.g. panels painted and trims left or an above below gunwale split, can give a much more modern look but retain an aquatic favour

If you’re going to do further improvements, then I would suggest leaving the painting till last. You don’t want to ruin your good work with a load of other work going on. For my money then paint/varnish is the final thing, the icing on the cake. 

Look at how you’re using your space. People love some clever storage. What about some chunky floating shelves or a new cupboard to use a dead space? When I first moved on to a boat I was amazed at how my van load of possessions quickly disappeared in to the nooks and crannies of a boat. Again, if you’ve got cupboards and shelves a plenty, why not repaint tired old doors, keep it simple, or, add some colour. White and white is the rule for houses but I think that a bit of character sells a boat.  People aren’t looking for that same beige life experience that they want with a half million one bed flat in Hackney (75% now sold, buy buy buy!!)

For those of a more daring disposition then the real gems of a boat are often the bathroom and kitchen. Done well they really make a boat, if they are damp, mouldy and smelly then there is nothing surer to send a canny purchaser running for the hills.  It is a bigger endeavour to redo a whole bathroom or kitchen but there are some easier fixes if you don’t want to rip everything out and start again.  Replacing the kitchen doors, worktop and sink and you have a new kitchen. New tiles and a new vanity unit in the bathroom and it can look like a whole new room.

I do feel that if you are getting somebody in to do the work then you are unlikely to add more value to the boat than you are spending, it is just the same in houses. Good quality work is not cheap and while it will increase the value of the boat you shouldn’t expect to make a great net gain.  That said, what you can get is greatly improved saleability.  With the market in boat sales having taken a slump over the last year (anecdotal only, don’t expect me to back this view with evidence) then having something to make your boat stand out can help get it off the shelf.  The world and her wife are all in the boating game these days and the number of boats for sale in London and round the country seems to be increasing near exponentially. 

When I bought my boat I fell in love with the head room, the feel, the value and the ‘well put togetherness’ of it.  I looked at hundreds of boats online and tens in person before finding the one for me.  I don’t know if I’ll ever finish it, let alone sell it (edit: since writing I’ve made good progress, possibly helped by sharing her with a partner these days.) Should I sell I know I’ll never recoup the value of all the hours I have put in. I shouldn’t say, but at the end of the day I think a lot of us would rather sell to somebody who we think is going to love our boat the way we did, over the person who is going to pay the most.  Still, we do what we can to try and get value for what we are offering and boating is becoming more and a more a commercialized area. 

Final thought, pick your battles and make it stand out. Do what you can yourself, that which you can’t get an expert to do it well. Quality shows and people love boats in a way that I feel houses rarely achieve. We all hear the horror stories of people buying lemons but most people selling boats are decent and most people buying them are looking to love and own that boat for many years to come. A well looked after boat with a few stand-out features is always going to have value.

Happy boating!