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That Mama’s Crib: Julie Donaldson

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We’ve featured some really amazing abodes in Dubai but ‘Red Pepper’, a stunning boat that’s home to Julie Donaldson, her hubby and daughter Ruby has to be the most unique and awe-inspiring. A cosy, eclectic space with cute galley kitchen, 2 cabins and salon area, the boat is also regularly sailed and raced so everything inside her needs to be carefully planned (if it can’t nail to the wall it doesn’t come in!). Julie invited us in and shared her story of life in the water complete with playdates for Ruby, visiting ducks, cabin fever and sitting out on deck on balmy evenings.


How long have you lived on your boat – and why did you choose it?

We moved onto Red Pepper February 2014 and although this was never on my list of ‘things to do’, I must say, I absolutely love it! We decided to do it because we felt the money we were spending on accommodation, with no financial return, was crazy and unaffordable! Of course it was a big change and we all had mixed emotions about how it would work. We chose Red Pepper because it had lots of character and she would be paid off in 2 years, which was a realistic trial time frame for our new lifestyle. Love or hate we would have a boat at the end of it!

We have a 7 year old girl, Ruby, who loves the boating life, however, if she had been 17 years old the confined space may not have been quite so cool!


How is life on a boat? What are the advantages and the challenges?

It is obviously a smaller space than normal and every thing we need is already there, such as cabins to sleep, galley to cook, salon to eat and relax with each other or with friends. Of course when the weather is good we double our living space as we have the cockpit which is a lovely area to socialise and Ruby and her friends can hang out on the rest of the outside of the boat. I guess when the weather is hotter the true meaning of the expression ‘cabin fever’ really can kick in!

The main challenge is storage space but you easily adjust to that. I don’t buy lots of ingredients for cooking, as I don’t have the cupboard space. I normally shop for fresh food every day. For clothes space, you quickly realize that you only ever wear about 20% of the clothes you have anyway! We live in a warm climate so we don’t have all the heavy winter gear, boots and jackets that you would need back in the UK.

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How did you decorate the boat? Was it very planned out or impulsive?

Even though Red Pepper is an old boat we didn’t change too much of the interior for different reasons. Firstly, we wanted to move onto it as quickly as possible and the ‘oldie world’ feel of the wood in the interior grew on us and it is actually what gives it character, as opposed to a very shiny white board finish.

I love making a place a home and my taste is quite eclectic. There is only so much you can do to a boat to achieve this without ripping out the interior and starting from scratch to have it all exactly how you would want it to be. We also sail and race our home and so we need to be able to pack everything away in a short time – I have it down to about 5 minutes! Basically if I am out shopping I never look at furniture shops and unless it nails to the wall or has hooks on it, I don’t buy it!


How would you describe your interior design style and are you able to incorporate it into your boat interior?

I have always liked a mixture of homey country cottage, Boho Chic and eclectic funkiness. I have bits and pieces around the boat that express this part of me, but a lot of it has to be functional to the point of boring! I don’t feel it’s a great loss for me as the positives of this experience far out way the negatives.


What are your best places to pick up home furniture in Dubai?

Before moving onto the boat, I did most of my shopping for furniture from Dubbizle and picked up some lovely pieces, which I have in storage for when we have a home on land again.


What did you splurge and save on when decorating your boat?

When we first thought of getting the boat I ran away with myself a bit and started looking at how we could rip the interior out and make it into a modern sexy looking sail boat! Me, being the land lover and my husband the sailor, I was much more focused on how to make my personal mark and have a beautiful home. I quickly realised that that was not going to happen and so the changes we made were minimal. We made the salon more comfortable by getting softer cushions and made space for an area that we could have a table for meal times. It’s all very simple.


What’s your favourite area on the boat and why?

My favourite area is the cockpit; it’s very relaxed and social in the good weather. Ruby loves that inside the boat we are never more than a few feet away from each other at any given time. I have my own views on that one!!


If you had unlimited space (and budget) and could add anything to the boat (can be as crazy as you like) – what would it be?

Well I can’t engage in the thought of an extension! I would probably get a new galley (kitchen). Our boat has an unusually large area for the galley and it is quite a sweet area but a new kitchen top and cupboard doors would be great. Our cabin is a good size, but I literally throw my legs out of the cabin and I am in the galley! It would be nice to not have to climb over my hubby every time I need to get out of bed! To be honest, we have become so used to it and love this lifestyle, that rather than getting an apartment again we would just get a bigger boat!


How does your daughter find living aboard – it must make for exciting play dates?! Does she have her own space?

It is for this reason that I feel the experience has been truly amazing. Ruby’s confidence has grown enormously – she has developed a love of boats and sailing, which is wonderful and will open up so many opportunities for her. She knows all the boats and their owners, lives one minutes from the beach, can swim off the back of the boat anytime- it doesn’t get much better! She has lots of friends that pop down and visit; they play in and around the boat and love making rafts out of plastic bottles. The first question for some of her friends was, “Where is the TV”? Once they get over the initial shock that we don’t have one, they think it is really cool!

There is such a close connection to nature living here, which is great for all of us. Recently a duck laid her eggs under the steps up to our boat. She would waken us every morning with her very loud quacks when she came to sit on them!

Ruby has her own cabin, which is very quaint and she puts her own little touches to it. She doesn’t have loads of toys and she knows that when it comes to presents etc. it can’t be anything too large. I don’t think she feels resentful about this in any way or doesn’t seem to be, who knows, it may all come out in later years!


Do you have any tips for easy ways to update décor without breaking the bank?

I used to love revamping an area by simply finding a really great colour and painting the walls – change the smaller stuff like cushions, rugs and light shades to compliment the new colour. Getting a old tired chair re-upholstered in a bright or funky design can add new life to a corner of a room, or put big bright floral wallpaper on the wall going upstairs. Big vases with dried flowers in spaces that seem lacking (it’s good to invest in good quality ones) just adds a great blast of energy to that area.


Do you have any advice for other mamas interested in living aboard a boat?

You have to like your husband! The space, or lack of it, would probably be the main challenge for most people, but you adjust so quickly and other things become more important. If you get the opportunity to do something a bit alternative like living on a boat, do it, you won’t regret it. Even if you do, so what, you chalked up a new life experience and there’s nothing bad about that.



These gorgeous photos were shot by the amazing Stephanie Hamilton of Nektar Photography

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