Cruising the waterways in style with no sign of Rosie and Jim
Developer Andy Stakes has diversified into boat building and the result is a blend of traditional and modern design. Sharon Dale reports.
COMBINING a love of old buildings with a passion for contemporary design helped to make Andy Stakes a successful property developer.
Now he’s using his signature style to make a splash in the world of inland waterways.
Andy, a keen sailor, has diversified into building narrowboats whose traditional “Rosie and Jim” exterior hides a slick, modern interior.
The £120,000 vessels are more floating apartments than conventional liveaboards, where decorative bargeware has been banished in favour of a minimalist aesthete enlivened by framed albums by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and The Beatles.
The new look attracted lot of attention at a recent boat show.
“This all started when the property market became difficult and I started looking for something else to do. I’d been on a few canal boat holidays and thought I could improve the fit out. A lot of the narrowboats still look the same inside as they did 25 years ago and I thought there was a market for people like me who prefer contemporary interiors.
“They can be used as second homes or full-time homes and I use the same approach as I do when developing houses,” says Andy, whose business, Ashwood Narrowboats, is based at Apperley Bridge marina on the canal between Leeds and Bradford.
His starting point is a steel hull made by Tyler Wilson in Sheffield. Andy designs the fit out using the same tradespeople he uses on land-based projects. Almost everything is bespoke with cladding and cabinetry made from bleached oak by local furnituremakers Grove Wood Joinery and upholstery by Ashbourne in Shipley.
There are, however, a few major differences between bricks and mortar and boats. Weight distribution is a key consideration.
“It’s amazing how much difference this makes. You have to get the balance right on both sides or the boat will tilt. A lot of boats have free-standing furniture that they can move around but mine is all fixed to help the boat stay level. It doesn’t take much to make it lurch,” says Andy.
“I had to take this into account when I put granite worktops in the kitchen. I had to put paving slabs under the flooring at the other side to create balance. That isn’t uncommon. A lot of people don’t realise that a boat floats like a cork. It has to be weighed down with ballast to get it to sink slightly into the water,” says Andy, who also ditched the conventional open plan layout to put doors on the dining/second bedroom for privacy.
The bench seating in this area can be converted into two single beds or one double and the dining table is stored away under the seats. The main bedroom has a foldaway bed and double mattress stored in the wall of cupboards, while a settee lifts to reveal space for the duvet and pillows.
The designer radiators are warmed by a diesel heating system but there is no diesel or wood burning stove, which Andy feels are a fire risk.
The same hi-tech Sonos sound and Roca lighting systems he has in his home have proved compatible with the boats and can be controlled remotely via a handset or mobile phone.
Niggles he’s had with hire boats, like catching yourself on door handles and sharp corners, have been designed out.
All the corners are rounded off and the cupboards all push open. While most boats have one window hatch, he has two – one either side so you can always open one out onto the open water when you are moored.
The flooring is porcelain tiles rather than timber or carpet. It looks great, repels damp and is easy to clean.
“I started this process by listing the things I didn’t like about most narrowboats and trying to do away with them,” he says.
The first two boats are Jessica Boo and Molly Moo, named after his pet Newfoundland dogs, and they act as show homes available to hire by prospective buyers. Andy also offers RYA Inland Helmsman courses to teach novices how to navigate and tackle locks and bridges.
“You would be amazed at how many people decide to buy a boat even though they have never been on one. It’s madness but you can see why they get carried away with the romance of it.
“They are wonderful but the reality is you really need to know what you are doing and you have to accept that they are labour intensive.”
If you’re thinking of buying a canal boat as a second or main home, The Liveaboard Guide by Yorkshire-based canal dweller Tony Jones is an excellent book. It reveals the highs and lows of living on the water.
It also includes everything you need to know from finding a mooring and how to tackle the red tape to running costs.
His rule number one is that you shouldn’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.
“There are many mucky jobs on a boat and it is a labour-intensive existence, from emptying toilet waste to weeding the prop,” he says.
The Liveaboard Guide is published by Adlard Coles Nautical, £14.99.
Ashwood Narrowboats and RYA Inland Helmsman courses, tel: 07969 901383, www.ashwoodnarrowboats. co.uk
ALL MOD CONS: Although the boats look traditional on the outside, they are fitted out in a modern style. The granite worktops in the kitchen required the boat to be ballasted with paving slabs to keep it level in the water, top; There are doors for privacy in the dining room which can be used as a second bedroom, above left; The main bed folds up into the cupboard, above right..