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A Kitchen Afloat

Each week I visit my little local library in Old Greenwich, Connecticut. Named for a British loyalist and our town’s first private schoolmaster, the library was founded in 1904 by his descendants. There are two bookshelves for fiction and non-fiction with new selections of books hand-picked by the librarians.

While I was browsing the stacks, a book named A Home Afloat by Gary Cookson (Allard and Coles 2008) caught my eye. To my surprise, I realized that one of Johnny Grey’s kitchens graced the cover! I flipped to the chapter on barges and read about ‘Libertijn of Alphen’, a former sailing cargo vessel built in 1910 in the Netherlands. An engine and wheelhouse were added in 1920 and then sometime in the 1970’s, she was shortened and converted for living aboard.

Johnny’s clients had wanted to buy a retirement home in France but couldn’t decide where they wanted to live. So they built a luxury floating home instead, and kept their options open to move around. “We have gone from boring live-to-work computer industry types to vagabond gypsies, travelling the European waterways with reckless abandon”, they said.

The ship has a large split-level open plan. The clients wanted the space to be modern and functional with bright colors and natural woods, instead of traditional ship styling. The interior was carefully designed to reflect the art deco feeling of the 1920s.

Both the husband and wife love to cook, so the galley features a commercial six-burner gas cooktop, large gas oven, two refrigerators, freezer, icemaker, dishwasher, and warming drawer. With a full complement of appliances just like a landlocked kitchen, the boat needed designs for economy in storage and practical activity. The same principles of sociability apply, with the cook facing into the cabin. Tighter planning makes distances shorter and every available nook and cranny is utilized. Tapered cabinetry fit between windows and the curving hull. The Island features Johnny’s signature circular drum base cabinet. Cruising on the open seas demands panels that slide, door latches and drawer pin locks, while curved-fronted cabinets support the human body in motion.

The couple has made several trips up and down the Thames, participating in the Thames Traditional Boat Rally. They had crossed the Channel, entering France’s canal system at Calais, and have toured Belgium, the Champagne and Burgundy regions, and down to the Mediterranean through Holland and Germany. At the end of each day after exploring new places, they come home to their own kitchen. Because they always return to their comfortable home, they never grow weary of travel or feel homesick. You can read more about ‘Libertijn of Alphen’ and see the plan layout in Johnny Grey’s book Kitchen Culture. Check your local library, or ask your bookseller for a copy.

– Chuck Wheelock


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