Rehab Diary: The Ultimate Houseboat in NYC


Three years ago Gabe Cohen and Jolie Signorile caught wind that a beat-up houseboat was for sale. Desperate for a weekend ticket out of the city, the two, co-founders of Brooklyn design company Fredericks & Mae, recruited six friends and pooled their cash. Two months later the group stood on the roof of their new purchase as a hired tug pulled it from Saugerties, New York, down the Hudson to Rockaway Beach, Queens, where it’s now permanently docked.

Built as a party boat (with wine fridge, Jacuzzi, and washer/drawer) for a Goldman Sachs exec, it had later been stripped of its frills and used as a crash pad for the winter crew of the Clearwater, the historic Hudson River sloop. Gabe, Jolie, and gang, many of whom met as students at Oberlin College, came to the project prepped for teamwork. They ripped out the mildewed carpets, painted every surface, and furnished the boat with Craigslist finds and Fredericks & Mae’s own games and accessories (that’s one of their windsocks catching the breeze on the roof). It’s been more of an adventure than any of them could have predicted, but also more fun. And it’s only a subway ride away.

Photography by Douglas Lyle Thompson for Remodelista, unless noted.

Above: The houseboat, a Sundance House Barge built in 1986 on Long Island, is moored on a dock in the Rockaways, in Queens, a few blocks from the beach–and the A train. Hurricane Sandy hit just after the group’s first summer on the houseboat, and though much of the area was ravaged, the boat rose with the tides and required only patching (but didn’t have electricity for eight months). 

Above: A curtained sliding glass door leads to the entry hung with a fishing trap. That’s one of Frederick & Mae’s new Linen Towels on the chair. (See our post on the Summer’s Best Beach Towels for a better look and more examples.)

Above: The entry’s built-in sofa. 

Above: All eight owners of the boat pitched in to paint, reupholster cushions, and decorate the walls–and the work continues. During last winter’s deep freeze, the pipes burst. “It’s called boat for ‘bust out another thousand,'” says Jolie. 

Above: A built-in daybed (with firewood storage) and woodstove in the living room.

Above: The room has a much-used hammock with a view. The round straw rug came from West Elm via Craigslist. The low chair is a canoe seat with new caning.


Above: Jolie and Gabe play backgammon on a board that they designed and built. Weekends on the boat are spent lounging, grilling fish (given to them by the sanitation workers who own the boat next door), surfing, and making cucumber-mint gin and tonics. Cleanup and maintenance somehow happen without designated roles–”this place is so important to all of us that it just gets done,” says Gabe.

Above: The room opens onto the kitchen sectioned off by a bar. The rope chairs are from Urban Outfitters.

Intrigued? Go to Steal This Look: The Affordable Summer Clubhouse for sourcing details.

Above: The boat came with a burnt orange sink, so the group kitted out the kitchen with orange and white tableware.

Above: Sophia and Honora, two of the houseboaters, painted the wooden bar in a pattern inspired by the old Rockaway boardwalk (since destroyed by Hurricane Sandy).

Above: Limiting the kitchen’s palette keeps the open shelves looking tidy.

 Above: Another built-in sofa–this one is on the starboard side of the living room. 

Above: Every boat needs a whale; this one came from Gabe’s grandmother’s house and was likely once used a serving board. (For a similar wooden whale, see our post on Sir/Madam’s Nostalgic Tableware.)

Above: Stairs beyond the kitchen lead to the two-tiered roof where big parties take place (maximum capacity, they’ve discovered: 120 people).


Above: Gabe and Jolie on the top of the boat.

Above: There are four bunk rooms–each sleeps two–and the group has a no-nesting rule: “We all just take turns staying in each room and we keep it all neutral. Psychically, it’s so much nicer that way,” says Jolie. The bedcover is one of Fredericks & Mae’s Linen Towels.

Above: The Captain’s Room, on the roof, is the largest–”but,” points out Gabe, “it also can be the loudest–seagulls drop shells on the roof.”

Above: The additional three bunks are below deck. This one has a ceiling light made from a beeswax-dipped glass jug with the bottom cut off.

Above: A nautical poster tacked to the wall.

Above: Fredericks & Mae Darts, Beach Tennis Paddles, and Bocce Balls–Gabe and Jolie like to say that they specialize in “objects for the home, garden, and sky.” Take a look at more of their designs in Good Sport: Summer Games by Fredericks & Mae.

Above: A Hudson’s Bay Blanket and rattan thrift-store light in a wood-paneled room. (Go to our 12 Easy Pieces if you’re looking for a Mosquito Net of your own.) 

Above: A corner of the room is decorated with straw hand fans and Fredericks & Mae Darts (the dart bodies are made by US manufacturer Apex; Gabe hand finishes them with colored thread and fletching).

Above: Morgan Evans, one of the houseboaters, drew this “visualization” during the purchase process to “help the group understand what we were getting into,” says Gabe. 

Above: A tug called the Patty Nolan moved the houseboat (and new owners) down the Hudson River, a journey that took two 13-hour days. Will Van Dorp of the blog Tugster took this portrait as the boat entered New York Harbor.

Above: The houseboat’s marina in the Rockaways is surrounded by urban life. The boat doesn’t have a working bathroom or shower, but the marina is equipped with surprisingly nice versions of both.

Above: A Fredericks & Mae Windsock flies from a fishing rod.

For more by Fredericks & Mae, see Back to the Future and A Modern Take on Worry Beads.

Interested in life on the water? Go to Houseboats to see A Mother and Daughter Afloat in Paris and Gardenista’s DIY Cobalt Blue Planters (Houseboat Optional).

N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on June 25, 2014, as part of our Life Aquatic issue.

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