Awesome Tiny House Design Ideas Inspired By Sailboats
Andrew and I had the privilege of attending the Annapolis Boat Show this past weekend. It was a quick trip, but in just two fun filled days, we boarded dozens of jaw-dropping sailboats, met sailors and wannabes from all over the world, and marveled at all the top notch ingenuity we saw. The event is so gargantuan that it’s titled the world’s largest in-water sailboat show. If you live anywhere on the eastern seaboard and have a pulse, you’ll likely get a ton out of getting to know the tiny house movement’s sea faring and space-frugal cousins.
The mood at the Annapolis Boat Show is festive; come with an empty stomach, a camera to take shots of your favorite design features, and some extra jingle in your pocket for the crab cakes and Pusser’s Restaurant’s legendary “Painkiller” adult beverage. If gin is your poison, follow the the chorus from sailors singing aboard Hendrick’s float. And most importantly of all, wear your tiny house merchandise to the event. I felt like the belle of the ball as I strutted up and down the marina and one person after another stopped me to say how much they just loooove tiny houses.
In truth, sailboat and tiny house designs really do go together like strawberries and whipped cream so we were eager to look at all the latest and greatest space-saving designs available on the market today. In this article we’ll go over some awesome tiny house design ideas inspired by sailboats.
*A note about length on sailboats: published length represents the length overall (LOA) from the very tip to the very end. The “beam” delineates the vessel’s width from the two widest edges across a boat’s mid riff. A direct comparison between tiny house length and width to an LOA and beam is inaccurate because a sailboat interior isn’t utilized from tip to end. Also, since sailboats are oval shaped, they taper at both ends, compressing living space. We would guess that the livable space afforded in a 40’ sailboat is the equivalent of a 30’ or so rectangular tiny house.
A bathroom on a boat is called a “head”, and even one on a 40’ sailboat makes a typical tiny house bathroom look palatial. But don’t be fooled for a moment, a space just 3’ x 6’ is all that’s needed to meet the daily bathing needs of even the messiest sailor. The key to success is uber compact design, shallow cabinet depth, itty bitty toilets, wet baths, and a modicum of self discipline; you’ll need to leave behind your full line of Estée Lauder cosmetics, eyelash curler, and collection of cologne bottles you inherited from your beloved grandfather.
Standard toilets on sailboats are marine units which require a modest sum of water for the flushing process. Their aesthetic is quite a bit nicer than that found in RVs and some actually come in ceramic, preventing that cumulative odor that plastic can’t resist. In perusing the showroom floors at the show, Andrew and I literally chuckled because some toilet models looked smaller than what you’ll find in a preschool bathroom. Once they’re installed on their platform though, they provide quite a comfortable throne from where to reread your high school copy of Moby Dick.
A composting/holding toilet is an option on a boat but this is sadly the one application where we can’t recommend the Separett. It simply isn’t designed for smaller sailboats. Enter the “AirHead” (the original Nature’s Head): the preferred composting/holding toilet for boaters from around the world. We met the inventor/company owner Geoffrey and though we’ve heard of these units for years, we were happy to see one in person. We were impressed!! It is much, much easier to empty than the Nature’s Head and has no issues with insect colonization (which the Nature’s Head is notorious for). We give the AirHead two enthusiastic thumbs-up and recommend it for the tiny house community, whether on land or asea.
Showering on sailboats has become more comfortable and even those living aboard full time don’t need to dread their daily cleansing. On boats under 40’, the shower head typically nests
inside the faucet handle. By pulling the head from the faucet base, a long flexible water line emerges allowing one to nest the shower on its wall mounting hook. Measures are adopted in wet baths to keep items dry: toilet paper covers, sliding cabinet doors, cubbies for towels, etc. A floor drain prevents the pooling of water. Head room in these smaller heads is limited as is elbow room. If you simply can’t contain your hair washing ritual from being overly enthusiastic, look for sailboats over 40’ in length.
One of the other features ubiquitous in smaller sailboats are fold down countertops atop a toilet. We suppose this creates just a little more counter space when needed? But wouldn’t it get old if you have to flip it each time you use the toilet? Not sure what the benefit is so if you know, please reply in the comments below! In sum though, we saw incredible opportunities for tiny house bathrooms to shrink in size without a compromise in comfort.
Short video tour showing scale of a smaller Jeanneau sailboat bathroom
A boat kitchen is called a “galley” and is nearly always open to the “saloon” (living room area). Sailboat kitchens are wicked small but smart. It’s not until you get into 60’+ sailboats that galleys begin to resemble those of a 28’+ tiny house. We haven’t lived longterm aboard a sailboat (yet!) so don’t know how well they perform, BUT sailors have been living in them for ages and as of yet, no one has died of starvation because of an overly small kitchen.
These petite cooking areas have inspired an industry of gadgets and gizmos for maritime residents: collapsing tupperware, retracting microwaves, nesting cookware, and much more. Sailboat kitchen cabinets are shallow which we found to be quite sensible; standard lower kitchen cabinets in residences often become traps for stray tupperware, yogurt top lids, and popsicle sticks.
The amazing retractable microwave shelf on the Elan GT5!
It will come as no surprise that the sailing community likes their cocktails; where there is a shortage of space for more than a few condiments, there is an abundance of places for wine and liquor bottles. We saw everything from integrated wine bottle racks, to drawers outfitted for side by side storage of bottles, all the way to hidden racks nested inside table centers.
My favorite galley was on the Gemini Legacy 35’ catamaran. A catamaran has two hulls connected by a center platform. On most cats shorter than 40’, the heads, berths, and galleys are found in the hulls while the saloon is located on the center platform. The width in the hulls is usually pretty narrow inviting some truly creative space saving strategies. This particular galley on the Legacy was narrow but quite long, creating a lovely dual sided working area with an abundance of storage and counter space. The galley is too narrow for two people to pass each other but hey, this is one way to keep too many cooks out of the kitchen. She was truly a thing of beauty!
A bedroom on a sailboat is called a “berth” and sometimes a “cabin” (look at all the nautical terms you’ve learned already!). We toured several cozy and deliciously inviting berths at the show. Because aft (rear) cabins are often placed partially underneath the cockpit/deck, the ceilings are typically low which creates a lovely sleeping space. We had to resist the urge to sneak into of these cocoons to rest our tired legs. Storage abounds in boat berths and can be found underneath the bed, at the sides, and atop: every square inch of open space is adapted for high functioning storage.
One common feature on 40’ or under boats is a “v-berth”: a bedroom in the extreme forward end of the hull. As boat length shortens, so does the width, creating a pointier v-berth. Andrew and I lay down on a 35’ sailboat v-berth mattress and man, no amount of tiny house living could have prepared us for how cramped we felt. How on earth do couples sleep in there?? It’s not exactly like we’re huge people for crying out loud. So to this we say, learn from the sailing movement in all other design aspects but do stick to your standard sized mattresses in tiny houses. On to happier observations…
One tip we wanted to share is that several companies provide custom sized mattresses at reasonable cost. You can even get custom fitted sheets for nearly every possible size and shape. We wish we had known about this before we hacked away at large pieces of foam for the kids’ oddly sized beds.
Living rooms/areas in boats are known as “saloons” and wow there’s a ton we can learn from our nautical cousins. Every single saloon we visited, even on boats as small as 30’, was comfortable, practical, and offered storage. Folding tables opened and closed and slid up and down the leg(s) converting into sleeping areas or day lounge spots.
We visited a 35’ boat with a nifty sliding feature which allows the seats and table to be rearranged into three separate configurations, depending on mood and need. We even saw a boat with stools that slide and embed into the table legs, taking up virtually no floor space when not in use.
Little bit of eye candy for your viewing pleasure:
Numerous nautical companies provide custom cushion services. With some ingenuity and YouTube tutorials, even the most novice builder can take some of these ideas and create a functional, comfortable, and affordable saloon for their tiny house.
If you couldn’t tell yet, we are pretty giddy about the whole boat show experience. Just getting to be there felt like an incredible opportunity. The number of sailboats available for public touring was mind boggling (over 200!!) and we didn’t even come close to seeing 1/4 of them. The choreography to get all those mega sailboats into their slips must have been a spectacle. We did discover that the Monday after the show is the changing of the guards at which time the sailboats vacate the marina and are replaced by power boats, hailing the start of the Annapolis Powerboat Show. This transition of power is apparently so magnificent that the marina restaurant, Pusser’s, stages an all day party where hundreds of people watch the scene from the roof top deck. Next time we go we will be sure to stay for that.
In closing, if you want to take your tiny house design to a whole new level, you now know where to go window shopping. We don’t think the sailboat movement will mind us learning what we can from them. In fact, from what we could tell, the boating community may just have a crush on us tiny housers (we know we have one on them!!) We hope you enjoyed these awesome tiny house design ideas inspired by sailboats and also that we’ll see you at a sailboat event sometime in the future!
Thanks for reading! If you have experience living on boats (sail or power), we’d love to hear from you!