Arana Restores an Iconic Floating Home in Alameda

By Julie Feinstein Adams

Featuring a very personalized color palette...

Most people know about the “Painted Ladies,” the famed San Francisco Victorians, and some may also know about the populous and sprawling houseboat and floating homes community in Sausalito, but few have heard of the tiny, eclectic Barnhill Marina in Alameda.

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Tucked away in a nook just beyond the entrance to the Webster Street Tube, this small harbor community is made up of a collection of floating homes, many of which are just as brightly colored as those famous Victorians, and some of which Arana has had the distinct honor of helping to restore and maintain as well as beautify, with paint.

As noted in a recent article in Alameda Magazine, “Barnhill Marina is a colorful community of 42 houses bobbing peacefully on the Oakland Estuary in Alameda across from Jack London Square. To be clear, these aren’t houseboats — these are floating dockside houses that have no motors and aren’t designed to go anywhere.”

Arana Floating Home Prep Day 2-1913

The reality of living on a houseboat is that there is no solid ground.

When painting this lovely home, our team, featuring Julio and Raymondo, had to very quickly adjust to balancing on ladders on floating docks and barges, which float alongside and independently of the home — that is also floating.

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The huge, heavy, flat-platform barge itself was a three-person operation to move into position — on the estuary-facing side of the house.

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Arana Floating Home Prep and Paint Day 3-1985

(Unfortunately for our photographer, the barge had already been moved back to its storage location when she returned to take “After” photos. The homeowner suggested borrowing a kayak. Julie ended up taking pictures, as best she could, teetering on the outer-edge walkway of the floating home itself, and getting a view of the home from the deck of a helpful neighbor.)

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Like so much of the Bay Area, the architecture of floating homes is varied, and the color schemes are bright and bold. The striking color palette for this project was selected with the guidance of our recommended color consultant, Cass Morris. Notably, the homeowner had a very strong opinion on the starting place for the process: her favorite colors are blue and orange — and she adores them together. She has a beloved bike in these colors — why not her house?

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Colorful homes and very personalized homes are a hallmark of this community, as described in Alameda Magazine: “Artists, working professionals, and retired people all cohabitate in (this) little oasis of zany-colored, kitschily-decorated mini-Victorians. Some are big kayakers, sailors, and paddle boarders — others just enjoy observing the water.”

While at Barnhill Marina, anything goes, and usually, the bolder, the better, this project’s colors were (like all projects that Cass consults on) chosen with an eye toward how the home will look in relation to its neighbors. The pops of orange against the blue echo the gray body with red trim of the home on one side, while also harmonizing with the orange body of the floating home on the next berth down, and echoing the warmth of the sunny yellow exterior of the home when facing the other direction.

Arana Floating Home Final-2023

And though kitsch can be the name of the game for many residents, with Cass’s help, this homeowner elected to simplify some of the nautical-themed features of her home and even some of the traditional Victorian gingerbread details by having us paint them one solid color rather than the previous multiple-colors — creating a sleeker, more modern look.

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This technique of color placement can change the character of the home’s presentation without making more substantive physical changes.

On our advice and using our contractor referral, the homeowner took the necessary steps to restore the home and increase its longevity by installing new siding on two exterior walls. This work is in addition to the regular restoration practices that we employ when doing a whole-house exterior paint job: Arana removed the peeling and failing paint, sanded all of the window frames and detailed wood elements, and spot-covered the nailheads with a rust-preventative red-oxide primer (these spots are visible in our “During” photos), and gave the home a full coat of primer.

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Arana Floating Home Final-2005

This primer stops future bleeding and streaking seeping up from underneath — a chronic problem in the salty marine air, and which would mar an otherwise-lovely decor.

Hands-down, this is one of the most fun projects we’ve done! And I think we can all agree that it is Cass Morris’s most uniquely bright and bold color selection project, to date.

Arana Floating Home Final-2009


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View more images of the Before & During stages of the painting process:

View more After images of this floating home in our portfolio:

About Barnhill Marina:

About Cass Morris:

Photos by Julie Feinstein Adams:

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