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Changing tides

Changing tides

Posted February 5, 2015   |   1703 views   |   Family & Home   |   Comments (0) Self-build novices Penelope Walford and Jeremy Gully spent two years building their houseboat on the Isle of Wight and the end result has inspired a lifestyle change for the couple.

When she was growing up, the Isle of Wight was a popular holiday destination for Penny Walford and her family. One particular trip, however, stands out in her memory. 'I was about 15 when I met my husband Jeremy here,' she says. He lived on the island and when I had to return home to Hertfordshire, our teenage fling gently fizzled out.' Some 35 years on, though, after a chance Google search by Penny's sister brought up Jeremy's property company on the island, the couple were reunited and embarked on a new chapter in their lives.

'We had both been in long-term relationships and had grown-up children. This, then, was to be a new beginning. When I decided to move to the island to be with Jeremy, it actually felt like coming home,' Penny says. The move also reignited her artistic passion, which had lain dormant since leaving college. Soon she was making up for lost time. The combination of being with Jeremy, who is very creative, and being surrounded by beautiful coastal landscape, made me want to paint again. We then built a beach but that I could use as my studio and I held my first Open Studio event there.' In fact, the couple built four new beach huts in a deal they struck with the landowner.

It was the couple's first building project together and it gave them bigger ideas. They both knew they wanted to live by the sea, and Penny particularly hankered after dreamy, uninterrupted sea views. When they realised they couldn't afford a house with the views they were after, a houseboat seemed the answer. They just had to build it first.
Since new houseboat plots are like gold dust to find, it's far less complicated to build a new structure on a site that already exists. When Penny and Jeremy discovered such a plot for sale on the idyllic Bernbridge Harbour, they jumped at the chance of owning it. The existing houseboat, quaintly known as Little Broom, was a leaky, smelly ex-Second World War personnel landing craft. The two were to get to know it well. 'We shared its damp interiors with mice for two years, during which time we built our own houseboat,' Penny says. 'It had its charms though (I actually loved it), but in the end we couldn't wait to move into our dream home on the water.

Little Broom had definitely had its day.'Now they had the plot, the couple began gathering ideas for the design, with Jeremy concentrating on the external aesthetics, while Penny got busy planning the internal flow to take advantage of those all-important views.

As a houseboat is not rooted in land, it avoids some of the usual planning and building regulations, so it's a self-builder's dream,' she reveals. We had much more free reign with the design than you would do if you were building a house, Once we'd found the right pontoon to fit the plot, which happened to be a sturdy ex-naval one, we built a scale model so we could approach an architectural technician to check our ideas were practicable.'

Amazingly, self-build novice Jeremy was to go on to build most of the houseboat himself, including the beautifully curved plywood and fibreglass roof. This he constructed upside down on the floor of the boatshed across the harbour, before having it craned on to the houseboat body, which was ready and waiting atop the pontoon, It was a magical moment for the two when the new houseboat was then towed into position, although at that stage it was still just an empty shell, with no interior walls or floors. 'Jeremy's workshop at the bottom of the houseboat was the first part to be fitted out,' Penny recalls, and from there the rest of it really took shape.'
A vital design consideration of the houseboat was to create uninterrupted views at the front, with privacy from neighbouring houseboats either side. An open-plan living space seemed the obvious solution, with bi-fold doors at one end, opening on to a deck. Within this room a run of simple Ikea kitchen units frames a blue glass window, which casts different glows depending on the light. A rustic dining table, made by Jeremy, seems to invite you to draw up a chair to sit and enjoy the views. Penny is also particularly proud of the pantry the couple designed together; it conceals all her tins and jars and can be wheeled out when needed.

Below deck there are two bedrooms and two bathrooms that are accessed via an 'up and over' staircase, plus an office, a utility room and Jeremy's workshop. The views from our bed are our favourite feature of the houseboat. It sets the mood for the whole day,' says Penny. 'Jeremy also loves the fact his "toys" are, virtually, at the end of his bed!'

With the natural rhythms of the tide gently rocking the boat, it's no wonder the couple feel very connected to the real world. 'Working and living on the boat has inevitably taken my work down the sea theme and I'm best known for my large, contemporary canvases of Solent Forts, which,' admits Penny, 'have become quite an obsession.' She also loves to forage on the beach and create collages with her finds. 'I take interest in beach rubbish and what other people might just disregard as bits of wood or broken shells. I like to reveal the beauty in things you don't see,' she says.

Along with the location, the local community has also provided Penny with inspiration. The weekly art club in the village has more than 80 members. 'The wealth of interesting scenes and contrasting beach-scapes provides so much to paint and craft, you just can't help but be creative,' she laughs.

When it came to putting the final touches to the houseboat, the couple saw this as an opportunity to visit car-boot sales to seek interesting objects. 'I particularly love collecting old tea towels and tablecloths and turning them into cushion covers,' Penny says. Naming the houseboat was also a significant moment. In doing so, they were inspired by Jeremy's passion for fishing. We love to eat his catch with locally foraged samphire, which thrives in the harbour mud, so Samphire seemed the perfect name.'

The two love sharing their new home and giving visitors tours. For the past two years Penny has held Open Studios here, so people can came and view her beautiful seascapes and collages. For this creative couple, though, the ever-changing views through their windows have to be the ultimate piece of art. For more information on Penny's work, visit

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