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6 Small-Space Ideas to Steal from a Japanese-Inspired Houseboat in Amsterdam

When Dutch architect Julius Taminiau and his girlfriend finally decided they needed more space than what their Amsterdam apartment offered for life with their two kids, the pair stumbled upon an affordable houseboat for sale on the opposite side of the city. They applied for a bank loan to build a new house (meaning they couldn’t reuse any of the existing boat), and Taminiau designed a 1,700-square-foot floating home inspired by the consistent sizing of Japanese tatami mats.

Tatami mats are used as flooring in traditional Japanese houses, explained the architect, and their dimensions dictate the layout of rooms. When Taminiau realized that plywood panels have the same proportions as the mats, he used both to define a grid-like layout throughout his house. “This relation in dimensions makes the spaces feel balanced and harmonious,” he says, “and therefore beautiful, in my opinion.”

The architect found several other solutions for maximizing livability for a family of four in a tight space. Let’s take a tour.

Photography courtesy of Julius Taminiau.

1. Assign rooms with more than one purpose.

A large room on the first floor of the house (which sits partly below water level) serves as the architect’s office during the week and as a guest room on weekends. It even has a countertop and sink, useful for hosting parties.

The front door opens onto a landing that splits into stairs leading to the lower and main levels. In the multipurpose office room, the large door cut into the plywood wall leads to a guest bathroom, while the smaller door leads to under-stair storage space. The window to the right of the front door sits at dock level; “I really love this window,” says the architect, “since the cats from the neighbors often stop here for a look inside.”
Above: The front door opens onto a landing that splits into stairs leading to the lower and main levels. In the multipurpose office room, the large door cut into the plywood wall leads to a guest bathroom, while the smaller door leads to under-stair storage space. The window to the right of the front door sits at dock level; “I really love this window,” says the architect, “since the cats from the neighbors often stop here for a look inside.”

2. Create lofted areas to add utility without adding bulk.

A suspended walkway above the office leads to a lofted platform that functions as a conference room when the architect’s clients visit but can be used as yet another sleeping space when needed. The loft takes up only as much space as is required, leaving double-height walls in the office/entryway and generous light pouring in through the windows.

The mostly custom interior furnishings are made of birch plywood, treated with Osmo whitewash. The floors are engineered oak with the same stain.
Above: The mostly custom interior furnishings are made of birch plywood, treated with Osmo whitewash. The floors are engineered oak with the same stain.

3. Design furniture that closes when not in use.

On the second floor, the architect designed a kitchen island made of concrete that accommodates three stools that can be pushed completely inside the island when not in use. It allows the family to use the island as an informal dining and workspace while also keeping clutter at bay. “We wanted a clean and minimal look inside,” says Taminiau, “to have a more relaxed and serene feeling for the spaces.”

A view of the island with the stools tucked in. The other side of the kitchen island has a full bank of storage drawers, as does the long cabinet against the far wall.
Above: A view of the island with the stools tucked in. The other side of the kitchen island has a full bank of storage drawers, as does the long cabinet against the far wall.

4. Maximize materials on a grid.

The kitchen island stools are made of standard-sized plywood sheets, so the architect reduced expense (and material waste) by not having to cut them down to size. Similarly, his tatami-and-plywood grid concept maximized construction materials by utilizing standard dimensions.

Because of the grid design, “everything is and feels related,” says the architect. “The window dimensions relate to the floor plan which relates to the exterior panels, et cetera.”
Above: Because of the grid design, “everything is and feels related,” says the architect. “The window dimensions relate to the floor plan which relates to the exterior panels, et cetera.”

5. A condensed color palette makes the space feel bigger.

By choosing all white walls and all whitewashed wood, the architect encourages the visual flow of one room to the next.

The few furnishings that were not custom designs are a mix of vintage items and Ikea.
Above: The few furnishings that were not custom designs are a mix of vintage items and Ikea.

6. Banish hallways.

Taminiau minimized hallways and stairwells in his design to avoid chopping up the rooms. The kitchen, dining room, and living room all share one open plan, and an open stair between the living and dining gently divides the space without separating it completely.

A staircase between the living and dining rooms leads to the roof deck, where solar panels, a small dining table, and outdoor lounge chairs are located.
Above: A staircase between the living and dining rooms leads to the roof deck, where solar panels, a small dining table, and outdoor lounge chairs are located.

7. Hide the stuff you don’t want to see.

Around the corner from the kitchen and dining room is a small room used for catchall storage. “The idea of this space is to have a place where you can put the less-nice-looking items out of sight,” says the architect. “We wanted a clean look inside.”

Instead of a television, the view from the living room sofa looks out onto the floating community.
Above: Instead of a television, the view from the living room sofa looks out onto the floating community.

8. Use the space under stairs for storage.

With the exception of the one open staircase shown above, whenever stairs were required, the architect designed storage space beneath them.

The oak wood stairs leading from the front door to the main (second) level.
Above: The oak wood stairs leading from the front door to the main (second) level.
The exterior is clad in engineered wood panels that are specifically made for marine environments.
Above: The exterior is clad in engineered wood panels that are specifically made for marine environments.
The houseboat is in a floating neighborhood near Amsterdam’s Olympic Stadium.
Above: The houseboat is in a floating neighborhood near Amsterdam’s Olympic Stadium.
On the bottom floor is the master bedroom with ensuite shower, sink, and laundry room, plus two small kids’ rooms and the house’s one full bathroom.
Above: On the bottom floor is the master bedroom with ensuite shower, sink, and laundry room, plus two small kids’ rooms and the house’s one full bathroom.
The top floor has the kitchen, dining room, and living room, with stairs to the roof deck. The double-height office space (with lofted conference area) is shown on the right of both plans.
Above: The top floor has the kitchen, dining room, and living room, with stairs to the roof deck. The double-height office space (with lofted conference area) is shown on the right of both plans.

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