What Living On A Boat Is REALLY Like

Photographed by Julia Robbs.
Could you imagine waking up each morning to the sun blanketed hills of the S.F. Bay? Sounds pretty idyllic, right? Well, for designer and model Kyleigh Kuhn, her idea of spending her days drifting on the water became a reality when she nabbed a houseboat on Craigslist and flipped it into her ultimate dream home.

After moving back home from NYC, the Marin-county native purchased her houseboat, Whim, and spent the last year getting her hands dirty, transforming the space into the ultimate maritime escape. With vaulted ceilings, windows that soak the space with light, a loft bed, and a patio made for coffee-in-hand moments, this unique home is a perfect little piece of life aquatic paradise. Get ready for some pretty inspiring #onaboat moments ahead.
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What inspired you to move on the water?
"After moving back from over four years in New York, all we wanted was nature. We were even looking at building a yurt in Big Sur. But instead of dropping too far off the grid, we gravitated to a houseboat. I really liked the idea of owning the space I lived in, so I could have freedom to redesign it. A houseboat allowed us to own a waterfront property without the insane cost. And we got to pour all of our heart into the space without the feeling that we got when we rented — that it isn't worth the effort since it isn't fully our own."
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
How did you find the boat?
"I found Whim on Craigslist! I came across a listing to rent a houseboat while on an apartment search. I loved the idea of living on the water, rather than the tiny, uninspiring apartments I was finding within my budget. I multiplied the rent they were asking times 12, and realized it would be cheaper for me to just buy a boat and fix it up, rather than pay a year of rent. Well, the renovation expenses have far exceeded that calculation, but it will pay itself off relatively soon."
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
We love the name of the boat — Whim. Did you name it that?
"Believe it or not, the boat was already named Whim! I really bought it on a whim. I adore the name. It speaks to the essence of the project, to banish trepidation and follow your gut."
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What were some of the first major renovations you did?
"The first step was to sand, patch, and repaint the hull. We stored it on dry dock for a month or so while we restored any weak points to be sure she was well-suited to float. I learned how to fiberglass during this process. We also gutted the entire interior — walls, siding, and all to start fresh on the interior build out. The cost of dry docking was steep, so we often worked from sunrise to sunset to hurry to get her into the water."
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What were some of the most challenging parts of renovating it yourself?
"Fighting through the moments of doubt was challenging. Sometimes I would sit in the middle of the space, with insulation hanging down from the ceiling, electrical wires tangled around me, and a knot in my stomach from the mounting expenses. But instead of feeling overwhelmed, I just kept chipping away. I scribbled countless to-do lists and just kept pushing to check things off. In the middle of the renovation I flew out to New York for some modeling gigs and to attend fashion week. It was such an insane change of pace to put on makeup and care what I wore again. I dug out the dirt from under my finger nails on the flight. It reminded me of when I flew back from Afghanistan a day early to attend the Met Ball. I'm often balancing between two diametrically opposed worlds, finding grace between rugged and refined."
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
A stack of vintage, water themed Playboy magazines bedeck the coffee table — which was handed down by Kuhn's grandmother.
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
You have some really awesome storage, space-saving features on the boat. Tell us about that.
"We built drawers and cubbyholes under our stairs for extra storage space! I adorned them with some great knobs I snagged at Anthropologie. We also elevated our bed, providing an extra 'tea lounge' nook beneath and additional storage under the entryway. I crafted some shelves from driftwood I found at Cronkhite Beach. We're planning on hanging some more shelves in the kitchen, too!"
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What was the most challenging renovation?
"Since it's a boat, there's no obvious level point, so when we built the bathroom walls while we were floating in the dock, we kept coming up with weird angles. We decided just just embrace the wabi-sabi effect. The bathroom is still a tad skewed, but that just adds to the handmade charm. "
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What were you most surprised to learn throughout the entire process?
"I learned the value of hard work. We really put our blood, sweat, and tears into Whim and it was so worth it. Every time we step aboard we both feel such pride and accomplishment that we did it all on our own. We can feel all the care we poured into her. Had we just hired someone to do everything, we wouldn't have learned carpentry, plumbing, electrical, tiling, fiberglassing, and so on. It would have become just about the finished product, rather than the journey."
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
Underneath the loft bedroom is a small zone for chilling out — and also a great place for guests to spend the night.
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
Tell us more about the inspiration behind the decor.
"I believe in surrounding myself with meaningful pieces that evoke joy and love. I have my great grandma's photo of her dog, Heidi, hanging with my mom's jewelry adorning the frame. (My mom was actually named after Grandma Helen's dog!) We hung our friend Meg Haywood-Sullivan's print of fog swept mountains to cozy up our nook, too. I keep a copy of my projectYearbook Afghanistan around to remind me of our amazing students at our Roots of Peace schools. Their brave little spirits give me a lot of encouragement. I have a little photo of me sitting on marine explorer, Jacque Cousteau's lap when I was a kid to remind me to stay curious. My favorite parts of the house though are the rough edges Ryan and I forgot to sand, or the tilted desk we built, it's all part of what makes her our own."
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
Would you look at that light? The view from the bed opens up to the adorable little kitchenette.
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
More of Kuhn's meaningful knickknacks in the space.
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
How would you describe Whim in three words?
"Brave, magical, us."
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
Dinner for two?
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
You recently opened up a workspace in S.F. called The Clementina, at the same time you were doing this, how did you balance both projects?
"It was nuts. We would often divide and conquer, but tools would be split between both projects, driving us crazy. I really thrive on juggling many projects, so there was beauty in the madness for me. But now I'm so happy to put my tools away for a bit and focus more on bringing people together and plan inspiring events. "
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
You seem to be very handy. Are interior projects something you’ve always been into?
"My dad, Gary, used to always work on our house on the weekends. I missed him so much when he was at work that I was eager to spend time with him, even if it meant repainting the walls or caulking the bathtubs. My mom was always extremely supportive of my creativity, letting me redecorate my room with wild paint colors or use my window as a giant canvas. I once painted a yellow brick road on the formica floor leading to my room and instead of getting mad, she sang "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" with me. They definitely gave me the support and confidence to believe in myself enough to take on something crazy enough as rebuilding a boat with no prior experience."
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What is your favorite feature of the boat?
"The view. It's so magical looking out to the cascading Sausalito ridge with it's cute Victorian homes nestled about. Sometimes seals swim right next to our boat! Our next move is to get a kayak to explore all the little inlets around the Bay."
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What are you hoping to do to the boat in the next few years?
"We're planning on building a fort on the top deck — maybe a teepee or safari tent! Or some kind of weird structure inspired by Jay Nelson. I really believe in taking your time with decoration and letting the space evolve naturally. No doubt the place will be overgrown with succulents and special finds in the next few years."
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What’s your favorite part of living on the Bay?
"I absolutely need nature to thrive, and the Bay offers such an intense and dynamic natural environment. I love falling asleep looking out to the house lights scattered on the Sausalito ridge, hearing the waves lap on the side of the boat, rising and falling in the tides. I love being able to paddleboard in Sausalito Bay, to hike through the redwoods on Mount Tam, or shoot up to Ryan's hometown in Tahoe to ski on any given day."

"I tried to connect with nature in New York, taking camping trips upstate, collecting driftwood and shells from the Rockaways and potting tons of plants. But nothing could match that space in my heart from growing up in such a natural wonderland. It also means the world for me to be near my family. I have three brothers — Brooks, Tucker, and Christian — and we're all very close. Brooks and his wife just had a kid, and I couldn't bear missing out on being a part of his childhood. And I have to say there's something to continuing my heritage as a sixth generation resident of the Bay. I'm so proud of that!"
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What are you currently working on now — renovation wise?
"Ryan and I just launched a creative warehouse called The Clementina in SoMA, San Francisco. It's a co-workspace by day and an events venue by night. We restored a 1600-square-foot former car repair shop into a gorgeous midcentury style space. I love the idea of providing a place for people to collaborate, celebrate life, and convene with passion. We're currently building our roster of creatives to join the co-workspace, so email to apply! We're after kind, passionate, creative, people! I plan on reinventing our foyer as an installation gallery, so stay tuned for some beauty being summoned."
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
A gorgeous vignette.
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
What advice do you have for others who want to DIY their own space?
"I learned that encouragement is the single most important skill when taking on a new project. You have to be a voice of encouragement for yourself instead of a critic. Instead of getting frustrated, remind yourself that you're learning, and tell yourself that where there's a will, there's a way. This is even more true if you're working with a partner! Ryan and I used to badger each other about how we thought the other should be doing things, and realized that we were so much more successful, efficient, and less stressed if we just encouraged rather than critiqued each other."
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Photographed by Julia Robbs.
All hands on deck.