The Houseboat is upside down, it's curved and split in two. It is as interesting in its structure as it is in its interior design. It is a great study in material mixes and space design. It’s an odd fish of a house, says the architect. In 2017 it was awarded the Stephen Lawrence prize.
Commissioned by architect and developer Roger Zogolovitch, the project offers a contemporary vision of living in the context of its spectacular site. The design borrows from the image of upturned old boat hulls sitting darkly-painted against the weather-beaten sea walls.
The brief asked for a "combination of the eccentric and the utilitarian" with elevations echoing the split levels of the house and a particular focus on the texture of the internal spaces. A call for craftsmanship.
The new build was designed by Mole architects to be 'a companion' to the intriguing main building, Boat House. The site of the Houseboat offers wonderful views over the heathland and to the bay beyond. Nestled within the pines, and with a long narrow approach, the site suggests a verticality, a reaching upwards. The house is designed as two hulls, upturned for shelter and sat upon a solid base. One side sits up higher, following the staggered section, but also negotiating the change of scale from the residential street to the high pine trees to the south. The form of the house, with its double-curve on plan, is designed to allow the volume within this context, and to shy away from the established street pattern and recede into the arc of the trees. It sits at the end of the suburban road, but connects strongly to wild heathland beyond.
The Houseboat is tar-black, sitting on a weathered sea wall. The solid base contains the bedrooms, tightly packed as in the hold of a ship. The master bedroom sits on the entrance level, with further rooms a half-level down. The hallway looks up to the light, and to the three-storey arch that holds up the house. Ascending from below the Plimsoll line, the living and dining areas are lofty and open, with a feeling of being ‘on deck’.
Portal frames in Douglas fir support curved walls, so that the rooms widen as they rise up, and then narrow in to the western view. Inside it’s all taut curves and timber joinery, a mixture of rawness and finish. The truncated ends form tall elevations, closed at the front and open in a dramatic screen to the rear, with the weather for the fourth wall. The house is an upturned boat, or the belly of a whale.
The hall is a wide space enclosed by two curved and carved panelled walls. The panelling is scalloped, reminiscent of traditional linen-fold panelling of 17th century homes. A commissioned mosaic of the fish and molluscs found in Poole harbour is laid into the solid walnut floor. The hallway on the ground and lower ground provides access to bedrooms and service rooms. These are the only spaces fitted with doors.
The void is guarded with steel rope handrails weaving up and down, finished with a Douglas fir rail to touch. The light coming into the house is celebrated by vintage glass tiles which filter and project it in coloured patches across the face of the concrete beyond. On the first floor a walnut-covered, stepped bridge leads over the void up to the living room.
The interior is reminiscent of dinghy lining: polished birch-faced ply with gaps that expose the black neoprene lining to the walls. This lining reinforces the effect and softens the acoustics in the space.
The west screen opens the view to the harbour, the heath and the sky. Elegant timber mullions frame the view in 60cm intervals, encouraging the mind to re-assemble the totality of the sky and landscape beyond.
It is an architecture that is made with many hands and eyes. It is an architecture of collaboration. The architect, the carpenter, the metalworker, the concrete caster, the timber frame maker and all who worked on it enjoyed and participated in its richness to make it a collective: it is crafted simply but honestly, connecting with the boatbuilding tradition and the upturned hulls growing old gracefully, whilst remaining cherished.
The Houseboat was awarded the Stephen Lawrence prize 2017.
Photography: Rory Gardiner