Waterconstruct is a 2-person houseboat construction firm based in Holbæk, Denmark. It was founded 10 years ago by partners Casper Berg and Kasper Kaas. We caught up with Casper and Kasper during a break in their work to talk about the original idea, houseboats in general and living on the water.
Building houseboats isn’t a normal business! How did this adventure start, Kasper?
From the beginning, it was a dream of mine to build only one houseboat, as I’d always wanted to live on the water. But after contacting the city council, I must admit that my dream seemed to be a long way off! However, I’m not a quitter and wasn’t prepared to give up on my dream, so I pushed on in order to find some way to make my houseboat dream possible.
After reading pages of municipal development plans and ploughing through reams of legislation, it turned out that if I presented a project with 4 or more houseboats, my idea would have a better chance of being taken seriously at a council meeting!...
...The dream of building one houseboat turned into a project involving four houseboats. So that was it - that was how a new business adventure began! With the new business model, I had to train myself as a project manager, find investors and understand local legislation that wasn’t really designed for living on the water.
If I wanted to see my dream come true, I had to push on and establish a new set of rules and regulations for houseboats here in Holbæk. Oh boy… did I learn a lot in the process! Things I’d never have thought of when I first started sketching the layout of my dream home on the sea...
...When you spend so much time developing your idea, you start thinking about your values and the quality of your life that this dream would have an impact on. As I have two children, I had to take all this into consideration in order to make sure that my working life would remain in balance with my private life. And after some communication with my children’s mother, with whom I no longer live, it all started to work out.
When you have a goal, you have a good chance of achieving it, but the goal often changes over time when you meet new people and get new inspiration, in addition to which you may encounter barriers and obstacles that force you to make changes.
This is where my oldest and best friend Casper Berg comes in, who can see things in a new light! I’d been plugging this houseboat project for a while; Casper became more and more involved in the process, until eventually we joined forces.
Berg: Well, when Kasper called me to ask if I wanted to become an investor in this houseboat project, I had to take it more seriously. I’m a hands-on guy. I like it when deadlines are tight, and you have to push yourself. That’s when I work best.
So yes, we teamed up and had to find the resources to start the project. Everything is a resource - even our friendship is a resource. It’s really a question of how you use your resources in the best possible way…
Berg, what is your background for starting up this houseboat project with Kasper?
Well, nothing except my friendship with Kasper, and a healthy dose of curiosity… It’s always exciting to start up new projects; to do something new and see how far you can push the boundaries on your own. I’m a straightforward thinker and I try to focus on solutions in the process. I have a background in the army and I’m used to challenging tasks, but I always find the key to any problems – although this might require thinking out of the box. But that’s what this houseboat project needs... new solutions that work in existing environments.
Kasper, what is the reaction from people when you tell them that you’re a houseboat entrepreneur?
Their first reaction is…. how cool is that! And then they realise that they don’t really know why it’s cool...
Of course, it sounds hip to say that I build houses that float on the water, but really it isn’t that hard to build a house that floats. However, all the restrictions and conditions regarding a houseboat take time: to get permissions and to meet rules and regulations that apply to houses on the water. All these new aspects take up a lot of time. And working from the houseboat – which is also my showroom – makes me feel like I’m at work all the time.
Kasper, what does it give you to be a first mover in this project?
First of all, it’s given me a huge amount of pressure, because I’ve got people involved that are close to me; people that have invested their savings in this project. There was no plan B, so it just had to develop into a good project.
And of course, it’s also given me a great deal of self-confidence and the feeling of having achieved our goal, even though people were sceptical at first… Who wants to live in a run-down harbour next to a scrapyard full of waste and old cars? Indeed, this is what this area used to be like, but now when you see people standing with wide eyes in the recently finished park onshore admiring the houseboats, it really makes me happy because I made my dream come true.
What are your expectations with regard to this project?
We’re currently working on establishing neighbourhoods on the water in the 3 biggest cities in Denmark, in addition to which our dream is to sell houseboats abroad. There are endless possibilities for these kinds of living spaces. And if we can make it work in Denmark, then we can make houseboats everywhere. For example, I’d love to make modern “trailer parks” on the fjords in Norway surrounded by beautiful scenery all year round.
Berg: As you can hear, I’m the practical guy in this set-up. Such dreams are nice, but I feel we need to build the foundation first, to make everything work in order to supply the orders that’ll hopefully grow over the years and to turn it into a green company with a CO2-neutral product. I think the sky’s the limit, but we need to get the structure in place first before we can take in big orders. We’re developing the concept all the time as we go along.
Where will houseboat constructions be in 10 years’ time?
There’s been a slow development in harbour areas, as many of these areas have been used for production. These are now being developed in new ways. As many of the waterfront spaces have got new infrastructure, more cities are now open to taking spaces on the water into consideration for houseboats, etc. Our goal is to be present in 5 harbours in Denmark and to work with 2 international locations as well, with production of at least 50 dwellings in established waterfront neighbourhoods.
Where are you looking for inspiration?
Some of our role model communities are in the Netherlands, which has always had houseboats; it’s always been part of their DNA. One of the best examples of what’s possible can be found in Eiburg, just outside Amsterdam – here you have a whole community living on the sea. It’s also a question of how we humans interact when living on a houseboat: how does the infrastructure work; how does the practical aspect of a village on the sea work? In order to acquire information, we’ve had many field trips to Eiburg to get ideas and info for our visions here in Denmark. And good examples are a great help when we talk to local politicians in the different harbours when presenting our houseboat concept.
So, what are the greatest benefits of living on a houseboat?
If you look out at the horizon over the sea, you’ll feel a change of lifestyle; it’s more simple, as you only have the things in the house, whilst being this close to the water makes you more relaxed and less stressed.
You feel the motion of the sea; the surface and the horizon are in constant – yet relaxed – motion, which has a smoothing effect on your mind. This is why the house is designed as an open space with large windows surrounded by a terrace. You can enjoy nature and be part of it.
What would your advice be for someone who has a good idea in their head and wishes to start up?
Start working with your idea now! Do some research and decide to go all-in. Tell everyone about your idea and intentions; they’ll give you feedback and ask you questions that you’ll have to deal with anyway.
And remember that no-one has the same perspective on the version that you see! Your enthusiasm will sell the idea in the best way - and if you keep at it, you’ll convince someone and someday succeed.
Money isn’t so important; what you spend your time on is! And how you evolve your idea will give you a boost of joy and satisfaction. Look at us - we’re in the process of building a life from which we don’t need to take a holiday from.
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