For thousands of years, man has migrated towards the banks of the world's waterways in search of settlement, drawn by the fertile land and ample drinking supplies – not to mention improved conditions for trade, and the possibility of relatively free movement between distant lands. But, as the earliest residents soon discovered, the shore-side life wasn't all plain sailing. Dirty or salty water conditions together with harsh weather – all part and parcel of life in an exposed location – made for some challenging conditions too. The ravaging effect of constant exposure to the elements, for one, posed a serious threat to that vital resource for waterside communities far and wide: their boats.
And so it was that the first boathouses were born, several centuries ago. It's not entirely surprising, perhaps, that the first of these hastily constructed shelters could be described as little more than functional – and in some cases, they were barely even that. Thrown together using scrap wood, the earliest structures were designed to be used only as long as they were needed, and in one spot, where they'd be patched up along the way, to be dismantled again and the materials re-used once they'd served their purpose. Oh, how times have changed.
In the intervening years, having captured the imaginations of some of the world's leading architects, as well as various equally visionary landowners, the humble boathouse has undergone a radical transformation. With the help of huge advances in construction technology and greater access to any number of materials, today, along various banks, swamps, shores and ports worldwide, these once little-loved sheds have metamorphosed into breathtaking residences which are, frankly, too good for simply housing a boat – as a new book, Boathouses by Adam Mornement, attests.
On his search for the world's most glorious waterside structures, the author came across the Muskoka Boathouse (pictured right) in Canada, two hours' drive north of Toronto. Located at the edge of a dense forest and a giant lake, it consists of one outdoor and two indoor slipways, as well as a bedroom, sitting room, two bathrooms, and an adjoining guest cabin with kitchenette. There are also several porches and terraces, and a moss garden planted with local species. The design simultaneously reflects the local aesthetic of pioneer log cabins and hand-crafted timber boats.
Not far from there, on an outcrop of pink-tinged granite – part of a three-acre island on Lake Huron, Ontario – Mornement found the Floating Boathouse (above). This two-storey home had been built on the site of a dilapidated structure. Today, the ground-floor comprises a wet dock open to the lake, a sauna and storage room, with a large living area, two bedrooms, kitchen and an office above.
Further afield, in the Austrian town of Fussach, boating enthusiasts reside in a series of houses along the banks of the canalway (left). The Arc (right) at Muuratsalo in Finland, meanwhile, might operate solely as a boat shelter, but it protects none other than the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto's boat, and the attention to detail – such as the way the silhouette of the trees falling against the wood mimics sunlight dancing on the surface of the lake – makes this glorified shed markedly less humble than its rain-battered forebearers.
'Boathouses' by Adam Mornement, £30, is published by Frances Lincoln Limited