Text Nadine Bateman / Styling Candace Campos / Pictures Markus Steffen
Living on a houseboat is an experience their children will never forget. That’s one reason architect Nina Schulte-Mattler, from Germany, and her pilot husband, Scottishborn Andrew Henderson, have opted for the life aquatic. It certainly wasn’t because they were looking to make a solid financial investment.
The couple and their children – two boys and a girl – have lived on their 80-foot-long cruiser in Discovery Bay marina for four years. Named Vital Spark, it was custom built in a Zhuhai shipyard at a cost of HK$6 million, with another HK$2 million going on the berthing debenture.
“Even after you have bought the boat and paid for the berth, there’s more outlay,” says Schulte-Mattler.
“It works out to about HK$20,000 a month to rent the berth, upkeep for the boat and to have it taken to the shipyard in Ap Lei Chau to be cleaned every 18 months.
“The other drawback is that banks won’t give you a mortgage, so you have to go to a specialist broker and their interest rate is much higher.”
Schulte-Mattler admits the houseboat was her idea and that her husband took a bit of persuading.
“I had wanted to do this for a long time,” she says.
“For me it was a lifestyle decision; my husband … was a bit more cautious. I said, ‘Let’s just do it for a few years, enjoy it and see what happens.’” There were practical reasons for the decision, too: the couple, who were expecting their third child, were living in a small, 26th-floor flat in Discovery Bay.
“There is more space here than if we’d spent the equivalent on a property [on land],” Schulte- Mattler says.
The boat, which is 22 feet wide, affords 3,300 sq ft of indoor space and 600 sq ft outdoors across three decks. The middle deck, at water level, accommodates the living area and the master bedroom with en-suite bathroom. The lower deck consists of the children’s bedrooms and play areas, which double as guest rooms, as well as the engine room and helper’s bedroom. The top deck is devoted to a kitchen/diner and outdoor entertaining area.
Henderson says the name, Vital Spark, was borrowed from a fictional steamer featured in the works of Scottish author Neil Munro. It was an ironic choice because the tales were of a dilapidated, rusty cargo vessel, which couldn’t be more of a contrast to the warm, inviting living space that has been created on this luxury cabin cruiser.
To create a “homogeneous space”, Schulte-Mattler kept the number of materials used to a minimum: she chose teak floors throughout and built-in furniture made from a combination of teak and spray-painted plywood, plus dark grey granite.
One feature she insisted on was a big top deck.
“Usually the top deck is narrower than the lower decks. Having a kitchen up top was important to me because having previously lived in a duplex with the kitchen on the lower floor, I never made it up to the roof with my coffee, especially when the kids were little. Now I sit up here and it’s the best view and the brightest spot.”
Schulte-Mattler says theirs is a tranquil way of life, yet it’s also extremely sociable.
“We know all the neighbours and it’s easy for the children to make friends here. They really love it. While other homes may fade from memory, they will never forget having lived on a boat.”
Living area The sofa was bought years ago from Sofamark (2/F, Shun Tak Centre, 168 Connaught Road, Central, tel: 2959 2920). The trunk was purchased years ago from G.O.D (various locations; www.god.com.hk ). The writing bureau is about 130 years old and was inherited from Nina Schulte-Mattler’s grandmother. The office chair is available for HK$3,975 at Marc James Design (Discovery Bay North Plaza, Discovery Bay, tel: 2765 5700). The Tolomeo desk lamp by Artemide is 10 years old and came from Germany; it’s available in Hong Kong for HK$4,100 from Aluminium (various locations; www.aluminiumfurniture.com ). The cowskin carpet was purchased years ago through a friend in Istanbul, Turkey; it’s available for US$130 per square metre from Galeri Apollo, Istanbul (www.galeriapollo.com ). The teak and rattan plantation chair was bought second hand. The KooKoo BirdHouse clock was a gift and can be purchased from www.kookoo.eu  for €120 (HK$1,200). The vases on the shelf were bought years ago at Tequila Kola (various locations; www.tequilakola.com ) and Lane Crawford (various locations; www.lanecrawford.com ). The table and chairs on the deck were bought years ago from Artura Ficus (18/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 3105 3904).
Kitchen All the fittings were made by the shipbuilder, which is no longer in business, including the kitchen island, which has a black granite surface with teak drawers underneath. On the deck outside is a Cosmos barbecue purchased by the shipbuilder for HK$3,000. On the deck is a table that was included in the boat price but its stainless-steel height-adjustable legs cost an extra HK$5,000. The cushions are available from Ikea in various sizes and patterns (from HK$50 to HK$150 each; various locations; www.ikea.com.hk ).
Boat Similar models to Vital Spark are available from Sun Hing Shing Shipyard (49 Ap Lei Chau Praya Road, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2870 0313). The boat was built and fitted out in Zhuhai and the exterior was varnished in Shau Kei Wan, which is also where the kitchen appliances were installed. Every 18 months the boat is taken to a shipyard in Ap Lei Chau to have the hull cleaned.
Dining room The teakwood dining table was built by the shipbuilder. The chairs were bought years ago from Francfranc (various locations; www.francfranc.com.hk ). Above the table is a Paul Neuhaus light that was bought years ago.
Boys’ bedroom The beds, cupboards and drawers are all part of the boat’s fittings. Sun Hing Shing Shipyard offers similar fittings for about HK$160,000. The rug was bought from Ikea years ago. The blinds, by La Maison (134 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2821 9768), cost about HK$2,000 each.
Master bathroom The sink, shower cubicle walls and toilet area were built using dark grey granite, which was included in the boat fittings. The Bellini shower mixer cost HK$7,660 through the shipbuilder. The rug cost HK$130 at Ikea.
Master bedroom The wall features dark grey granite and the shelf, bed, headboard and bedside tables are teak; all are part of the fittings included in the price of the boat. The Axis (Chrome) bedside lamps are available at Homeless (28 Gough Street, Central, tel: 2581 1880) for HK$1,400 each. The three sumo wrestler figurines were sourced in Guangzhou a couple of years ago.
Chute on site The full-height engine room on the lower deck houses the water tanks and other essential components, including a sink, washing machine and tumble dryer. When Nina Schulte-Mattler realised it was located directly below the master bedroom, the idea of the laundry hatch was born and incorporated into the drawers. Says Schulte-Mattler: "This way, we can dump our dirty laundry in the chute, leaving the bedroom free from clutter."