Could a modern-day, New Zealand-made ark be a contender for solving the current housing crisis? Designer and inventor Coll Bell thinks it’s a possibility. He’s created a portable, self-contained house that can be floated on pontoons and can be taken fully off-grid. And due to the fact that it’s technically a boat (although this is currently under debate), it may not need council consent.

A few years ago, Coll was being driven nuts by the price and the amount of paperwork involved in getting a sleep-out consented. A boat-builder by trade, he conceived a cunning plan. If boats don’t need consent when they’re on your property, it would follow that if you were living in something that floated, or could float, then it shouldn’t need a council consent either. He went and got a pencil.

Fast-forward a few years, and Ark Designs have just gone into full production. Coll, as he does, has moved onto design other stuff, but has handed the reins of the ark business to his daughter Mel and son-in-law Anton Parker. There’s a certain serendipity to the fact that this couple are now involved with an ark, since they met when they were both crewing super-yachts in the Mediterranean.

It was a ridiculously rock’n’roll life they had back then. Anton has raced and managed yachts everywhere from Alaska to Antigua, from Italy to Japan. They worked as a team for much of that time, with Mel cooking and Anton sailing. They’ve worked for Roger Taylor from Queen and entertained Larry Page from Google.

They still occasionally get calls to come and hit the decks, but Mel and Anton’s life now is a far cry from the seafarin’ one. Based in the Whangaripo Valley between Matakana and Wellsford, they now have gorgeous, five month old baby Lilly. They’re on a small piece of land with an excellent vege garden, some sheep and chooks. And the new business is starting to bring in calls from all over the country; wherever people want some extra space that has character and integrity, and doesn’t come with screeds of expensive paperwork to deal with.

The Ark has impeccably nautical styling and terminology, right down to the head, the galley and very cute circular hatches. Round windows – what is it about them? The whole thing is lined in ply – stylistically speaking, it’s very now. The base rests on large pontoons, which can be used for either flotation or water storage. And it has to be said: these Arks do float beautifully.

There are two sizes, the standard or the mini, and plans are underway to create an even smaller treehouse or garden playhouse version, too. In fact, an interested party is heading to the States very soon to meet with Pete Nelson of the Treehouse Masters TV series to inspect special clamps they’ve developed to hold treehouses to their designated trees.

The standard Ark is 4.8m x 6m, the complete version of which can include a compact bathroom, a galley kitchen (with natural macrocarpa bench), living space and a mezzanine floor that fits a queen mattress, reached via a retractable loft ladder. It can be fully self-contained: a solar panel used for lighting and water pressure, gas for cooking and water heating and a nil-discharge worm-based toilet system too. All guttering and plumbing connecting the pontoon water tanks to the bathroom and kitchen is included. The Mini Ark is 3.3m x 3.3m – under ten square metres, which doesn’t need a consent at all, and is a perfect cabin for a single or couple.

You can opt for just the shell of either Ark only (with interior walls and mezzanine), and install all the interior extras yourself – irresistible bait for a DIY enthusiast. But Coll and Anton have created a perfectly concepted and designed small space, and Anton, a self-confessed detail obsessive, delights in putting it together to the highest possible standard.

To Coll’s great satisfaction, the Ark has confounded the council, who have been scratching their heads over how to classify it. In fact, the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment has been called in to make a judgement on whether the Ark is a house or a boat. Coll chuckles. “They seem to have big problems with all three, especially innovation.” If the Ministry judges the Ark to be a house requiring consent, progress is already being made to create a ‘multi-proof approval’ which will cover the Ark in any situation.

There are now Arks in New Plymouth, Tinopai, Helensville and even Pakuranga, with plans for more further afield in Blenheim and Wellington. Coll’s happily involved in carting the basic materials to the various sites in his little truck, meeting Anton there and helping with the build. He’s still hoping that the Ark will prove to be a boat, and has a twinkle in his eye when he says, “Anything which finds a way around Len Brown’s Revenue Making Activity is a good thing.” Revenue Making Activity? “Oh, some people call it a Resource Management Act.”