TV House Damien Hirst Houseboat Renovation1

Damien Hirst’s Chelsea houseboat renovation

Artist Damien Hirst and his Californian wife Maia Norman restored a houseboat as a city bolt-hole

By Intern | 10 January 2017

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.

TV House Damien Hirst Houseboat Renovation1

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

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.

TV House Damien Hirst Houseboat Renovation1

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. Photo: James Balston

The £160,000 houseboat renovation quickly became Maia’s baby. She didn’t like the grungy 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 tongue-and-groove walls of the main living space conceal insulation that protects the interior from damp and draughts. Photo: James Balston

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. Photo: James Balston

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.