my cool houseboat by jane field lewis bookbarge

Extreme Small Space Living And Working: Sarah Henshaw’s Book Barge

Working from home is a familiar arrangement for many of us. But what if that home is a 60ft narrow boat and working from home is actually running a bookshop within?

my cool houseboat by jane field lewis bookbarge

The journalist and shopkeeper Sarah Henshaw has done just this, creating an uncompromising, stylish and thoughtfully considered hub, where her belongings are distilled to the essentials and books, literary paraphernalia and more all fit neatly and joyfully within the snug boat interior.

As well as allowing us to feature her in the book ‘my cool houseboat’, she kindly gave us a little extra insight about how she created this enviable zen-like lifestyle and beautiful bookshop.

my cool houseboat by jane field lewis bookbarge


“From a business perspective, a boat made sense from the start. With no retail experience, I was keen to keep the space small and stock levels manageable. Having a quirky premises also appealed from a USP angle.

When I first opened, in 2009, I was fully aware that many more bookshops were closing down than just beginning, so having a shop space that offered a novel ‘experience’ rather than just a commercial transaction would help, I figured.

Moving onto it came later. I spent about six months ‘camping’ aboard in 2011 as I cruised the waterways network with the shop. It was only at the start of 2014, however, once a toilet and kitchen had been retro-fitted, that I became a ‘proper’ liveaboard boater.

Moving aboard necessitated putting at least two-thirds of my possessions in storage. I did this reluctantly, fully expecting to be visiting the lock-up at least weekly to replenish my wardrobe or dig out an extra baking tray when cooking for friends. In fact, I haven’t been back once. I enjoy fewer housework chores and a smaller area to search when I lose my keys. What I don’t enjoy is the rigmarole of cruising over to a water point every two weeks when the taps run dry..


my cool houseboat by jane field lewis bookbarge

I share the 60′ space with my boyfriend, a pet rabbit called Napoleon and, during opening hours, a veritable crowd of book-buying strangers and plain old gongoozlers. Keeping the dirty laundry basket out of the reach of small children is a lesson I’ve learned the hard way, having more than once suffered the indignity of seeing my smalls strewn across the floor in full view of customers when an unsupervised tot has opened the wrong cupboard. Equally important is keeping sharp rabbit teeth away from expensive, antiquarian books – a constant (and losing) battle.

my cool houseboat by jane field lewis bookbarge

All these considerations call for clever design quirks. I’m lucky in this respect that my boyfriend’s a carpenter. Most of our furniture is multi-functional and/or purpose-made, from the dining table that doubles as a bookcase (plus concealed herb and spice drawer), to the sofa that folds into a double bed and also accommodates the kindling store for our wood burner!

This on going juggling act is off-set by the lifestyle benefits that small space living – and working – afloat affords. It demands that you refine the way you move through this world, removing anything unnecessary until you’re left with a tiny, tailored space for just the things, people and purposes you love. It’s my life in (little more than) a nutshell.”

You can read more about Sarah’s lovely floating bookshop here. Maybe it’s stopping somewhere near you?

Here’s a great idea. The London bookshops app – where to find Independent bookshops

Dreaming of a houseboat of your own? – have a coffee and drift off on your own journey – look at what’s for sale

Inspired and uplifting people are what life is all about don’t you think? is a favourite blog that does just that.

my cool houseboat by jane field lewis bookbarge