The life aquatic
Seeking a cost-effective luxury home, one former landlubber found the perfect solution in a custom-designed houseboat.
When Stuart Walker says he misses little about living on land, it's easy to believe him. After all, the slick, contemporary three-storey home he built for himself, wife Kylie Waterstrom and their three young children has 1,600 sq ft of living space, expansive outdoor areas and a Jacuzzi. And being a live-aboard boat, it is also right on the water.
Constructing the vessel, Walker says, afforded him a cost-effective luxury home. With a budget of about HK$3.6 million, Walker set about designing and outfitting a vessel that provided a high degree of comfort and style inside, looked good on the outside and allowed him to take his family for jaunts around Sai Kung, where it is moored. 'We wanted to live on a boat that was like an apartment,' he says of their 18-metre vessel, named Sacred Site. 'But we also wanted to take it to the beach.'
To this end, Walker worked with an existing hull but designed the shape from the waterline up. 'I like trawler-style boats with front windows that lean forward,' he says. 'These look a bit more like boats than junks.'
With the help of interior designer Cimone Vikor-Lam of CVL Design (tel: 9121 1700), he drafted plan after plan to ensure maximum use of space. This was particularly important for the lower level, which accommodates a scenic master bedroom with en suite bathroom, a room for each child, a second bathroom, an office and a spare room-cum-play area. In this flexible space, at the nose of the boat, bean bags can be removed to allow guests to use a fold-down Murphy bed. Ample built-in storage keeps toys and television paraphernalia neatly tucked away.
Walker, who was new to boat designing when he worked on his own, now builds custom-designed live-aboards for others who recognise their charm. Layouts are flexible, he explains, so the bottom deck can accommodate suites that would be the envy of all.
'We had to squeeze in three kids' rooms,' he says. 'Without them you could have a big Jacuzzi, an open bathroom and a fantastic master bedroom that takes up half the bottom floor.'
The middle floor could also be reconfigured to suit lifestyle and taste. On Walker's boat, the living and dining areas face different directions, with a sideboard in between. During fine weather, up to 12 people can be accommodated around the dining table, which looks out onto a small deck. 'We did another boat for a client in which the sofa is at the back looking out at the sea,' says Walker, referring to his company, Far East Marine (tel: 9327 3640; www.fareastmarine.com).
At the front of the vessel, on the same level, is a roomy kitchen outfitted with Miele and Smeg appliances. As in other rooms, most objects are stored away safely, although items such as bowls and lamps can be left out provided they have non-slip mats on their bases. Little wonder there are no pot plants to be seen. 'They can make a big mess,' says Walker.
An open-air lounge and entertainment area graces the top level, which can be protected from the elements with clear plastic panels. These are also a child-friendly measure, as is the netting around the boat's bow. 'When we don't want to watch the kids, we push up the high bolts on all the doors, so they can run around but they can't get outside,' says Walker. 'If we lived in a high-rise apartment there would be a balcony to worry about. At least if you fall off a boat you land in the water.'
Returning to his original idea of inhabiting a boat that resembled a high-end apartment, Walker says, 'A lot of things you use in a flat you can use on a live-aboard boat. Materials-wise you can have wooden floors or carpet, loose or built-in furniture. But you wouldn't use too many tiles. You want something with a bit of give.'
He continues: 'I've not been on many boats that made me think, 'I could live on this easily because it has everything.' And to win a female over you have to have something that really appeals as opposed to something that would be great to take out for a day.'
1 Home for Stuart Walker and his family, including Electra the dog, is a live-aboard boat he designed to provide the comfort of a luxury apartment.
2 The dining area at the rear of the boat accommodates a 12-person, crown-cut, teak-veneer table with brushed stainless-steel frame and legs, made for HK$13,500 by Pong Kee Sofa Engineering (flat 2K, Century Industrial Centre, Fo Tan, tel: 2697 1757). The chairs, covered in stone-coloured Duralee fabric, were also made by Pong Kee, for HK$1,900 each. The pendant lamp cost HK$1,699 from Modern Lighting (193 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2877 8666). The teak-veneer, marble-top sideboard, which separates the dining and living areas, was built by Wing Ming Shipyard (19 Praya Road, Aberdeen, tel: 2552 7183) and Jianglong Shipbuilding (Pingsha Town, Zhuhai Yacht Industry Area, Zhuhai City, Guangdong, tel: 86 769 8883 1137). Its price was incorporated into the total cost of building the boat.
3 A second living area graces the top deck, which features the solid teak flooring used elsewhere in the boat. The teak cost HK$500 a square foot for materials and labour.
4 A spacious kitchen, at the front of the boat, features plywood fittings covered with a fibreglass/gelcoat sheet spray painted with a matt-finish white paint from Dupont. Shanxi Black matt-finish marble was used for the countertop. Appliances, including the Nardi electric oven (HK$7,300), Ariston LP gas cooker (HK$3,600), Smeg microwave (HK$7,150) and Miele dishwasher (HK$21,500) were bought through Patsy House Electrical (shop 15, Sai Kung Building, Fuk Man Road, Sai Kung, tel: 2792 0010). The American Standard tap cost HK$1,580 from U'Land Sanitary Ware (233 Lockhart Road, tel: 2507 2107).
5 The teak veneer bed and glass-top bedside tables were built by Wing Ming and Jianglong shipyards. The bed base conceals a tank that holds 900 litres of non-potable water. The bedside lamps cost HK$150 each from B&Q in Dongguan (www.bnq.com.cn). The Roman blinds above the bed and for the side windows were made for HK$3,700 by Ka Ying Curtain Craft and Fashion Altering (28 Man Nin Street, Sai Kung, tel: 2791 4796). A picture window behind the bed looks through the bathroom and out to sea. The bedding (HK$3,900) came from Cocoon (shop 12, 11/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2530 9884).
6 An Apollo four-person Jacuzzi, which cost HK$29,000 from B&Q in Dongguan (delivery to Hong Kong included), sits on the top deck beyond barbecue and other outdoor-entertainment facilities.
7 A corridor on the bottom deck connects the spare room-cum-play area with the master suite. The Supreme KM1414 Khaki carpet, which cost HK$60 a square foot, came from Ka Ying Curtain Craft.
8 The black-and-white master bathroom is a light-filled space with windows looking out to sea and into the bedroom. As in the kitchen, the countertop is made from Shanxi Black matt-finish marble. The sinks are from B&Q in Dongguan and the American Standard taps (HK$1,150 each) and shower set (HK$1,580 for the mixer and HK$780 for the showerhead) were purchased at U'Land Sanitary Ware.
tried & tested
To make the most of the sea view in the bathroom and bedroom, Stuart Walker installed sliding mirror panels where a vanity would normally hang. When privacy is needed, the mirrors are slid shut and held in place with locking pins so they stay closed while the boat is moving. A glass partition between the bathroom and bedroom allows light to flood through the opening into the sleeping quarters, which also benefit from a stunning view of the water. The sliding mirror panels, an idea Walker borrowed from a friend - commercial designer Corinne (tel: 9772 4724; email@example.com) - cost HK$7,000 to build.
styling Gloria Wong