Peek Inside a Renovated 1971 Houseboat That Is a Perfect Tiny Home for Two

Molli Wentworth and her dog make the most of small living on a boat.

Big Little Spaces Molli Wentworth

The Spruce / Photo Illustration by Amy Sheehan / Photo by Molli Wentworth

Molli Wentworth didn’t plan on living tiny. But a fateful bus ride from New York to Boston led her to pick up her life, and move across the country to the San Francisco Bay area and into a houseboat. Having never lived on a houseboat before, this was understandably a big change for her, but she’s handled it incredibly well, and her space is nothing short of adorable.

The Spruce caught up with Wentworth for the low-down on her amazing floating home and what it’s like really living on the water.

Meet the Expert

Molli Wentworth resides in a houseboat with her dog Oatmeal in the San Francisco Bay area. She's lived in the space for six years, and calls it her party yacht turned tiny home. For work, she's an executive assistant and does marketing and communications.

The Origin: One Fateful Bus Ride

Wentworth’s houseboat is a 400-square-foot, 45-foot-long 1971 Carri-Craft that she shares with her dog Oatmeal—Oatie for short. She likes to refer to it as a “party yacht turned tiny home.” And the origin story of how she came to live in it is nothing short of incredible.

Six years ago, she boarded a bus going from New York to Boston. Preferring to sit at the front of the bus, she sat next to a stranger carrying about 20 bags, she told Tiny Home Tours. The two struck up a conversation on the six-hour bus ride, and the woman, whose name was Jnani, told Wentworth that she had a houseboat in California and she was welcome to stay there if she ever wanted to visit. A couple days later, Jnani reached out to Wentworth offering her a job to do social media for her yoga company in exchange for a free stay on the boat.

“You know what's funny? I never actually decided to live on a houseboat. The stranger that I sat next to on the Fung Wah bus, from Chinatown, New York, to Chinatown, Boston, decided for me,” she said. “It's a long story, but I like to think that the world had a plan, and Jnani—who's now in the great beyond—helped me find it.” 

That same week, Wentworth quit her job in New York City, built out a bed in her car, and drove across the country to her new life on the bay.

molli wentworth's living room and bedroom

@molliandoatmeal / Instagram

Tiny Life Changes: Unlimited Sunsets and Redefined Luxury

The biggest change she’s experienced since moving into a houseboat is the true independence it takes to live on her own, while being exposed to the elements, she said. 

“Salt water can do a lot of damage if you aren't careful. Living on a houseboat has caused me to become hyper-aware of my surroundings, learning how to fix things I never knew existed, and honestly, learning to truly appreciate the little luxuries in life,” she said. And these are luxuries that most of us take for granted, such as clean water, wifi, and plumbing.

But even more luxurious than running water is Wentworth’s view from her boat. In fact, her favorite thing about boat life is something everyone can enjoy: unlimited sunsets on the water.

“Having a water view 24/7 is a luxury that I truly enjoy,” she said. “Also, a plus is being able to afford my own place in one of the most expensive areas in the country."

molli wentworth big little spaces

Photo by @whentonext / Instagram

Small Space Challenges: Boat Life

But it’s not all sunsets and waterfront views, as one can imagine. Wentworth’s least favorite thing about living in a houseboat is the tiny bathroom

“I miss taking baths,” she said. 

The lack of laundry, clean water, WiFi and strong power are also drawbacks. “Trying to run your water kettle and space heater at the same time? Forget it,” she said. 

With all this in mind, she doesn’t recommend boat life to just anyone.

“If you can't survive camping for a week, don't even think about life on a houseboat,” she said. “When my dad first came to visit he remarked, ‘Oh fun, this is just like camping,' and it is... every single day.”

outdoor area and seating area

@molliandoatmeal / Instagram

She also points out that some people might not realize how much space you get between neighboring boats: houseboats tend to be pretty close to their neighbors while docked. 

“Sometimes, it even feels like you're sharing a wall with them,” she said. “The relationship with your neighbors, harbormaster, and possibly the people showing up just to use the boat-yard showers, really makes a difference.”

The Companion: A Ruff Life

When it comes to having her dog Oatie onboard, Wentworth hasn’t had any issues keeping him happy and healthy. 

“Having a pet on a boat is easy,” she said. "He has better balance than I do, so no problems really!” 

She takes him for walks along the dock. And although there’s no yard, there’s a grassy spot nearby where he can relieve himself. 

molli and oatmeal at tables

@molliandoatmeal / Instagram

The Space: Renovations and Endless Expenses

For the last six years, Wentworth’s tackled quite a few renovations to her houseboat. 

“When I moved onto the boat it was straight out of the '70s,” she said. “I'm talking about shag carpet installed underneath the built-ins, fake brick backsplash in the kitchen, and hideous, clunky brass fixtures and lighting everywhere. It was also super dark, and all of those things had to change!”

She’s replaced the walls, repainted the interior, updated the cabinetry, removed and resealed the windows, redid the plumbing and rewired the electrical. Some of her upcoming projects include hauling the boat out of the water and repainting and fixing parts on the exterior that have been worn away by salt water and sun. 

“Boat living is constant work,” she said. “I mean, home ownership is in general, but boats are definitely a money pit.”

before and after molli wentworth spaces
Before and after views of Wentworth's living room

@molliandoatmeal / Instagram

For income, Wentworth is currently working two jobs to support herself and Oatie: Her full-time role is supporting multiple executives as their “kickass executive assistant.” Her second, part-time gig, is handling the marketing and communications for a letterpress print shop. 

“But with all that said, it’s still the cheapest rent in the Bay Area,” she said. “Marin County has one of the highest rents in the country… My rent is just my slip fee and liveaboard fee." (A slip fee is what you pay to keep your boat at the dock, and a liveaboard fee is what you pay to be allowed to live on your boat at the dock; both are paid to the marina responsible for maintaining the dock.)

The Long-Term Plan: An End to Boat Life

As amazing as the last six years have been, Wentworth does see an end to boat life.

“After six years without a yard, laundry, bathtub, power that can withstand [running] a heater and a hot water kettle at the same time, and constant upkeeps, I’m getting a little worn out,” she said. “The sayings [about boats] are true in my opinion: 'Boat: bust out another thousand,' and 'The second best day of your life is buying a boat; the first is when you sell it.'"

Still, she doesn’t think she could go back to living in a traditional suburban home after this. For her, it’s too much fun customizing things exactly how she wants it. Plus, she’d miss the water.

“Ideally I’d trade in the boat and get a little land fixer-upper that I can turn into my next dreamy spot,” she said.