When Karen Bosma first moved her boat to the Borneokade, northeast of Amsterdam’s bustling city center, in 1999, the neighborhood was barely more than a cluster of commercial docks and underused warehouses.
“It was for poor people — a lot of artists lived on boats,” she said, sitting in her neat, cozy living room just below the waterline.
In the quarter century since, Bosma, a 62-year-old social worker, and her husband have raised two sons on the Distel, a 1912 82-foot freighter, which — stripped of its engine, fuel tanks and cargo hold — is one of Amsterdam’s iconic houseboats, with a seagoing hull, wheelhouse and curtained windows.
Three boats down lies the B18, an elegant 131-foot, 2 1/2-story floating mansion (with more than 3,000 square feet of interior space) that shows just how perfectly the soul of a luxury yacht combines with open-space living and elegant living quarters.
“It has to be a ship on the outside and a house on the inside,” said Gijs Haverkate, 53, who created the vessel and lives on it with his family.
In the Dutch capital, houseboats have gone upmarket. The new owners are wealthy and discerning, interested in new designs, upgraded comfort and sustainability.
Haverkate, a designer by trade, hopes his boat will inspire others to build on the water. He runs UrbanShips, a company that builds customized houseboats designed to look like ships.
After years of serving as a relatively cheap place to live in an expensive city, Amsterdam’s houseboats — or rather the spaces they float — have become popular and expensive, with prices increasing 30% to 40% over the past five years alone, according to Jon Kok, one of the city’s best known houseboat real estate agents.
The whale’s share of the price increase comes from the value of the berth, not the ship.
A typical Amsterdam canal berth might be worth close to a half-million dollars, depending on its location and how big a ship it will allow; some of the older, unrenovated ships in those berths might be worth only $20,000 (building a new ship, of course, is much more expensive).
But in this gentrification debate, the cost of new berths is less important than the architecture of the ship — and whether they ever served as actual commercial ships.
Once populated by converted working boats, the canal now holds an increasing number of floating houses designed to look like oceangoing vessels but with hardly any of the working features of a real boat.