Some 12 years ago, Trinity House Light Vessel No. 12 – a lightship built in the early 1950s and moored at a British Royal Navy Yard for ages after being decommissioned in the 80s – was sold to Jeff de Wolf, a Dutch media entrepreneur. The cherry-red ship is now moored in Amsterdam Noord, and is a permanent home to de Wolf and his family, thanks to a restoration and renovation led by Julian Wolse of OTH Architecten. Such a display of residential creativity is testament to the fact that, even in a crowded city like Amsterdam, it’s possible to have a space that is (and feels like) one’s own.

Houseboats rose to popularity in the Dutch capital a decade after Lightship 12 was built, as a reaction to increased demand in the real estate market. It’s an upward spike the city is witnessing again: Noord is where Amsterdammers are migrating to to escape the claustrophobia of the city, and is thus the place where residences are becoming most experimental. In the promotional images for Schoonschip, a neighbourhood of sustainable houseboats on Johan van Hasselt canal, you can spot the de Wolf home, a vibrant splotch on the murky green water.

There aren’t many opportunities to live so ultimately free within the centre of Amsterdam

Nevertheless, de Wolf maintains that the decision to invest 12 years of his life – and of budget – into the boat wasn’t about the cutthroat competition of the housing market. Instead, it was the desire to live in a special home amidst that: ‘There aren’t many opportunities to live so ultimately free within the centre ring of Amsterdam, and on such a unique object,’ said de Wolf. ‘We fell in love with the industrial form of this vessel. [It was] such a rich blank canvas to start with.’

Julian Wolse spent much time with his team studying the boat before the hands-on work began. Client and architect alike asked themselves how to bring light and open spaces within the ship, while retaining the industrial identity and history inside and out. OTH, who worked on the much-celebrated, historic Kraanspoor building, had the answers. The steel walls were sandblasted and recoated, and technical installations were renewed. There’s a spacious living area, a fully-equipped kitchen, a walk-in shower – and closet, among everything else a family could need. And more: there are two dedicated rooms for bed-and-breakfasters – one in a glass volume, added in the belly of the ship as a separate unit.

The only sacrifice de Wolf mentions? The fact that they experience Amsterdam’s infamous weather conditions much more intensely.