Houseboat tour - Gareth Butterworth

There's something ever so intriguing about house boats isn't there? How do people end up living on one? What are they like inside? Is there really enough space? Photographer Emma Engkvist and stylist Clare Piper show us around ‘Viola’ - a house boat moored in central London, while Sophie Warren-Smith talks to one of it's residents, graphic designer, Gareth Butterworth who lives there with his partner as part of a house share.

London house boat tour - living room

In 2014, Gareth was living in a shared house in Manor Park, London, when his oldest friend, Joe, bought a boat in Holland and asked him to move in - naturally Gareth jumped at the chance! He loved the idea of a home that was a project as well as a bit of an adventure - plus it would be in zone 1 - a massive bonus when living in London. A few weeks later they were crossing the channel from Rotterdam, heading to London in a fabulous house boat called ‘Viola’. She is 34 metres long, and six metres wide - in other words - massive. In a previous life, Viola carried cargos of building materials or grains around Northern Europe, but by the time Joe bought her, she had been fully converted: insulation and electrics had been added, plus plenty of amenities and home comforts, from wooden floorboards to modern kitchen equipment.

London House boat tour - kitchen
London house boat tour - reclaimed kitchen shelving

The boat has two main sections, a back cabin which traditionally housed the skipper, and the main section, formerly the cargo hold. This space now includes a kitchen, living room and two bedrooms. The entrance is through a wheelhouse, which has 360 degree windows and the vessel’s steering wheel. When Gareth and Joe and the rest of their crew arrived in London, they moored up at the historic Tower Bridge Moorings, where Viola still resides.

wood-burning stove in London house boat
London house boat tour - dining area
London house boat tour - living room

There are five people living on Viola, but there’s plenty of room for everyone - the boat is as spacious as any three bedroom house. In the summer, that space is doubled when the deck becomes an additional ‘room’. There are two bathrooms onboard - when the guys first moved in, there was just the one, so Joe added a second in the summer of 2015. It makes mornings run much more smoothly! The living room is everyone’s favourite space: it’s large and open, and has six skylights, so is light and bright by day, and the wood-burning stove keeps the room cosy throughout the winter. A long table in the living room, which easily seats 12, gets a lot of use. 'The main living area gives us plenty of space to hang out as well as work from home or relax and watch movies.' explains Gareth. ‘We have hot water, central heating and three open fires, so it’s very cosy in the winter months.’ Hidden storage is everywhere - under benches and bulkheads, in the engine room and the boat’s utility closet. That said, after four plus years onboard, the guys have completely run out of space on their bookshelves, and are in serious need of reducing their coffee mug collection!

London house boat tour - bedroom
London house boat tour - bedroom
London house boat tour - bedroom decor

The previous owner had everything fixed up to a high standard, so much of the interior design has been left as it was. Most things on the boat are made to last,’ says Gareth. ‘So any purchases are for function rather than whether they are on trend or not. In terms of furnishings we have got a few bits like the trunk coffee table and some skylights from a marine salvage yard. The shelves and a desk have been made from reclaimed wood but other than that we look on Freecycle and eBay for unique finds.’ Gareth personalises his space with lots of art, some purchased, some made by him and his friends.

London house boat tour

‘It’s nice to live on the river and within walking distance of central London. In the summer the moorings really comes to life and I enjoy being able to chat to the neighbours. There is always a barbecue or party to go to or someone who needs help fixing something up,' says Gareth, ‘I would absolutely consider buying a house boat in future – there’s not a great deal to complain about, we have the odd toilet related explosion and oily engine room moments, but you just have to be willing to roll your sleeves up and get stuck in when something goes wrong.’


Concrete Desk Lamp , Cult Furniture, £69;  Blue dot cushion , £12.50, Wyevale Garden Centres

Concrete Desk Lamp, Cult Furniture, £69; Blue dot cushion, £12.50, Wyevale Garden Centres

Industrial bar stool , £170, PIB Home;  Wool throw in sea blue , £49.99, Black by Design

Industrial bar stool, £170, PIB Home; Wool throw in sea blue, £49.99, Black by Design

50's chair with kantha fabric , £589, Ian Snow;  String of pearls plant , £19, Forest on Trouva

50's chair with kantha fabric, £589, Ian Snow; String of pearls plant, £19, Forest on Trouva

Photography: Emma Engkvist  / Styling: Clare Piper / Words: Sophie Warren-Smith