Photography by Matthew Williams; Design by Brooklyn Home Company

“It turns out renovating a boat is nothing like renovating a house,” says Lyndsay Caleo Karol. She speaks from experience: As the founders of the Brooklyn Home Company, she and her husband, Fitzhugh, have remodeled more than 30 homes in Brooklyn and beyond. Then in 2015 they trekked to Stonington, Maine, to purchase a 1980s Lord Nelson Victory tugboat. “Sure, there is paint and sanding that happens, but all the systems work so differently. Everything needs to be stable for high seas,” she explains.

It wasn’t love at first sight. “It smelled so bad and was pretty moldy and corroded,” Karol says of the dry-docked relic she christened Lucy. But it had been named Queen of the Miami Boat Show in 1987; surely it could shine again with a bit of spit and polish. “Figuring out that puzzle was fun, and making the design seaworthy was the overall challenge,” notes Karol.

Today Lucy is docked at One 15 Brooklyn Marina in Brooklyn Bridge Park (when not carrying the Fitzhughs and their two kids down the East River to the Rockaways, up the Hudson, or out to Long Island and Nantucket in the summer). “She’s the Labrador of boats,” says Karol,  “both stable and very friendly.” 

Creating an (Almost) Blank Slate

Photography by Matthew Williams; Design by Brooklyn Home Company

There was so much old wiring to pull out, it filled three 30-gallon garbage bags. “It had been years and years of do-it-yourself fixes by previous owners,” says Karol. After redoing the electrical from scratch (and adding flushing toilets!), the couple turned to the fun part: refinishing the traditional teak and holly floors (which required a naval specialist’s help) and painting the interiors in Farrow & Ball’s Schoolhouse White. New outlets also meant lighting upgrades from Workstead throughout. “I wanted sconces in the bedrooms for reading at night,” explains Karol.

Honoring the Past

Photography by Matthew Williams; Design by Brooklyn Home Company

“We kept the existing layout but removed the original cupboards above the peninsula to create a more open space,” says Karol of the kitchen. Newcomers included a gimbal stove (specially made for boats) and a larger farmhouse sink. “Both kids actually still take baths in it,” she notes. The designer finished it off with a subtly nautical, unlacquered brass faucet from DeVol. The kitchen stools, found in an antiques store on Dixie Highway in southern Florida, are so heavy they didn’t need to be bolted down. 

Setting the Bar

Photography by Matthew Williams; Design by Brooklyn Home Company

The existing dining banquette had seen better days, so Karol had it reupholstered in tan American leather. “I could imagine our family coming in with sandy swimsuits and the hide weathering it over time,” she says. On the opposite wall, the couple added a fully stocked bar that could withstand the waves. “We had to commit to the types of alcohol we’d put in early on; the brass cutouts were custom-made for our favorite spirits,” explains Karol. A matching bar bumper from an English specialty shop holds the bottles and snacks in place, while a brass screen keeps glassware at bay in the upper cabinet. 

Squeezing in Storage

Photography by Matthew Williams; Design by Brooklyn Home Company

In the bedrooms, hidden cubbies under the beds and in the sidewalls hold everything from luggage to clothes to toiletries. “I put in as much storage as possible so the rooms feel like cozy nooks to rest and read. All belongings can be put away so things aren’t rolling away while we’re out to sea,” says Karol.

Photography by Matthew Williams; Design by Brooklyn Home Company

Tucked behind the captain’s seat, a table drops down to form an additional bed. “Boat designers come up with these wonderful multiuse functions all the time, so we borrowed our inspiration from them,” says Karol. 

Photography by Matthew Williams; Design by Brooklyn Home Company

She followed the same philosophy in the bathrooms. “I loved using classic materials, sweet little sinks, and tiny drawers for everything. Being able to add those luxuries made these fun areas to design,” she notes.

Kitting Out the Boat’s Backyard Equivalent

Photography by Matthew Williams; Design by Brooklyn Home Company

Out of all the areas, the deck received the most dramatic transformation. “The top of the boat was all storage, and I knew I wanted to make it into a larger outdoor space for entertaining,” says Karol. First, the entire teak surface, from the hull to the top deck, was refinished. Then came a swim ladder, an outdoor shower, and steel arms for hammocks. 

Every winter, the family takes off to the Bahamas and Florida. In the summer, they travel down to Charleston or down the coast of Maine where it all started. They even have sleepovers on Lucy, right in the Brooklyn marina. “Our kids learned to walk on Lucy,” says Karol. “It’s our family’s happy place on the water.”

Photography by Matthew Williams; Design by Brooklyn Home Company

Our Winter Renovation issue is here! Subscribe now to step inside Leanne Ford’s latest project—her own historic Pennsylvania home. Plus discover our new rules of reno.