Creating the barge was more than just a means of dodging a long commute, though; it was a chance for Thornley to flex his design muscles and experiment with small-space living. ‘I wanted to see whether it was possible to create a beautiful home in the UK for less than £150,000,’ he says.
Thornley’s barge proves it is. Constructed by a boat builder in Liverpool, it took eight months to finish and was completed in April 2015. Quality materials and stylish furniture, much of it vintage, mean this floating home has all the style and comfort of a conventional bricks-and-mortar house, despite its petite dimensions. ‘Any space can be beautiful if it’s designed well,’ says Thornley. ‘The barge is filled with light. It has double glazing and underfloor heating and there’s an Italian bathroom in here, too, for an extra touch of luxe.’
Who lives here Lee Thornley, founder of design firm Bert & May, which sells reclaimed and new tiles, reclaimed wood and vintage furniture
Property A newly built barge measuring approx 14.5m x 3.5m
Size 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom
Location Regent’s Canal, Bethnal Green, London
‘Unlike a traditional canal boat, the barge has been stripped back to create space, rather than being crammed full,’ says Thornley. He is not a fan of TV, so has not included a screen in the living area.
The original sloping design made it tricky to adapt, and Thornley and his team had to engineer a whole new roof. ‘We forgot we’d have to go under bridges,’ he laughs. ‘Once we’d fixed the railings on we realised it was too high. We took them down and fitted knee joints in them, so they fold down now.’
Furniture sits beautifully within the space, rather than being built into its structure. ‘If you build everything in, it almost seems as if you’re only interested in squeezing maximum efficiency from the space, rather than maximum beauty,’ says Thornley. ‘This is a perfect home for a single person or professional couple, for someone who wants a beautiful, simple life.’