Artist Damien Hirst and his Californian wife Maia Norman wanted a city bolt-hole. Maia found a floating houseboat in Chelsea – a sort of pied-sur-mer – and set about restoring it.

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Painted in soft duck-egg blue, the Signe Maria’s wood-clad exterior has the appearance of a traditional beach hut

Running up a £65,000 bill at London’s Metropolitan Hotel meant that it was high time artist Damien Hirst and his wife Maia Norman bought a base in the capital. But instead of the edgy enclave of Hoxton, they chose to restore the Signe Maria, a dilapidated houseboat moored on the Thames at Chelsea – it was the perfect choice for Maia, who hails from Pacific-lapped California. ‘It’s the closest thing in London to the beach,’ she pronounced.

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California-born Maia leapt at the chance to live on the Thames at Chelsea, seeing it as the closest thing to the beach in London

The £160,000 houseboat renovation quickly became Maia’s baby. She didn’t like the grungey interior, so it was stripped back to the steel framework. Add the cost of the dry-dock, essential during the restoration and refitting, and the budget rapidly escalated, but Maia remained undeterred.

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The West Coast-style tongue-and-groove walls of the main living space conceal insulation that protects the interior from damp and draughts

When it came to the interior, she was clear that didn’t want ‘anything too clean and brand-new looking’ and articulated her ideal look as ‘Ralph Lauren beach hut with patina’, which has translated in real terms to tongue-and-groove walls and squashy banquettes.

Though the furniture looks built-in, much of it can be reconfigured for different purposes. Outside, the laid-back nautical look continues, with cladding in duck-egg blue. The draughts and damp of houseboat living were eradicated by insulated walls and underfloor heating.

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Neutral backgrounds are matched with touches of bright colour, such as the Mexican jaguar heads that decorate the dining area

But what this couple love best is the stillness of this comfortingly compact ‘pied-sur-mer’. Which, despite its London setting, has proved far more peaceful than the busy social whirl of their country home.

Photography: James Balston

Kevins Column

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