Family Tides: The Ups and Downs of Houseboat Life

Bruce Thomas' Sausalito houseboat

BRUCE THOMAS LOGGED 30 years in a suburban home in Darien, Connecticut, followed by a decade on a 30-acre ranch in Pilot Point, Texas. Recently, he’d settled into a new life in Boulder, Colorado. So moving again was the last thing on his mind when he arrived in San Francisco to visit his daughter and son-in-law. His kids, however, had their own agenda: “They said, ‘Why are you living all alone in Boulder? You should move here to spend more time with us,’ ” he recalls. “And I was like, yeah right: the Bay Area is way too expensive.”

But that night, he decided to go on Zillow and see what he could afford. As expected, a move to San Francisco made little financial sense. So he shifted his search to Sausalito, a town he had fond memories of from a childhood vacation. “And, well, all I can say is Zillow is a dangerous tool,” he says with a smile. A few keystrokes later he stumbled on a listing for a floating home. “All I knew of floating homes was what I’d seen in the movie Sleepless in Seattle.”

The next day, he decided to drive over to Marin, just to see if the Hollywood version bore any resemblance to the real one. It did. And 48 hours later, he’d executed a contract on a two-story floating home.

Before moving in, Thomas had the main floor living space extensively remodeled. “The house had all these tight rooms,” he says, “so we had to take it down to the studs in order to open it up.” Although the place is small (around 1,200 square feet), the high ceilings, plenty of light, a new open-concept design and properly scaled furniture make it feel airy. Details on Bruce Thomas' floating Marin home

The decor is maritime with a touch of whimsy. He chose sail cleats rather than knobs or pulls for the drawers and lower cabinets; for accent lighting, jute-covered electrical cords with exposed Edison bulbs are looped around structural beams.

Other details are meant to encourage extended visits by his grandchildren, “my greatest joys.” The contractor meticulously constructed a suspended train track that circles the interior space. “There’s even a tunnel that takes it through the powder room. I think it might be off-putting to some, but the kids love it,” Thomas says. A floating dock provides additional outdoor space: “I put in a ladder so the kids could climb down to it from my front deck.”

For furniture, he decided to start from scratch: “Everything I had was way too big.” Some of the new pieces have dual uses — his kitchen island, for instance, made from repurposed bowling-alley wood. “If I’m cooking, I can prep on it. But if I’m having company, it has two sides that pop up, making it large enough to comfortably seat four people.”

The transition to floating home life has been seamless, he adds: “I love looking out the window and watching the tides rise and fall.” Is this his forever home? Probably not. But for now he’s savoring it, with no particular timetable for when to turn the page on this chapter in his life.

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