If Eric and I have a hard time finishing our projects, maybe it’s because I keep finding other things to do. Like when I read about the Seattle Floating Home Tour, I had to buy tickets. I’ve always been fascinated by living on the water—not just at the water’s edge, but ON IT. What are floating homes? You remember Sleepless in Seattle? Well, here’s the actual house where it was filmed.
About a century ago Seattle had thousands of “houseboats,” which were cheap shacks built on floats. The city tried to get rid of them, and it wasn’t until the owners organized in the 70s to save their communities that the houses gained respect. Now there are about 500, and believe me, they are shacks no longer. Gone are the days when, as Eric says, if you couldn’t afford an apartment, you rented a houseboat. The Sleepless in Seattle house recently sold for $2 million. (When Eric told me he lived aboard in his college days, I was so impressed, I knew he had to be the guy for me.)
Technically, houseboats have motors and can travel. These are floating homes, which are houses built on floating platforms. They’re not motorized, and they can be towed only if they’ve been unhooked from city utilities (yes, they’re all on the sewer system). But locals usually call them houseboats anyway, and everyone knows what we mean.
The houses are clustered in communities, circled in red on the map, on the east and west shores of Lake Union, and the west shore of Portage Bay near the University of Washington (click the map to enlarge).
We started our tour on the west side of the lake, at a century-old bungalow that crouched like a troll under the spectacular filigree of the Aurora Ave. Bridge.
Out of the eight homes we toured, this was my favorite. It felt like a miniature version of our house, but instead of a city lot, this one has the whole city for a backyard. I told the artist who lives here that Eric and I would be moving in. “Great!” she said, “I’ve got a guest room!” I didn’t have the heart to tell her she’d have to move out. This really should be MY living room. And MY kitchen (although it’s a little cramped).
And above all, MY studio! With a view like this, how could anyone fail to be creative? Eric and I would have to figure out a schedule because it’s a one-artist garret room.
The infrastructure on these old docks isn’t pretty, but it’s … interesting … part of the ambience.
We hopped on one of Seattle’s fleet of electric boats, hired for the tour, for a trip across the lake. (That’s how I took the waterside photo of the Sleepless house.) We hadn’t been on any kind of boat for a long time, so our two sunny crossings were a treat.
Lake Union is a jumpin’ place on a hot summer day. The water is thick with kayakers and paddleboarders, and boats making their way from Lake Washington through the Montlake Cut, Lake Union, and the Hiram Chittenden Locks to Puget Sound. Every few minutes a float plane headed to or from the San Juan Islands or Victoria, B.C., has to find room to take off or land. It’s a lively scene!
While the west shore seems private, quiet, and low key, we found the east shore of the lake has a different vibe. Here, the houses tend to be grander and the whole community feels unabashedly on display and part of the party on the lake. How’d you like to have this view? Yes, you’d have to put up with strangers paddling past your door, checkin’ out your style. If I lived with this much style, I wouldn’t mind.
Houses are crowded cheek by jowl down both sides of each dock. It’s definitely not a lifestyle for someone who doesn’t like being close—really close—to one’s neighbors. Just as on boats, every inch of space is used. Container gardens fill in for absent yards. Residents bedeck their decks with flowers and greenery.
Must be nice to tie your speedboat right up to your house!
Floating homes come in all shapes and styles, from 1970s hippie pads …
… to Venetian palazzos.
We went from the charming bungalow under the bridge to this sleek model.
And then to this remarkable home with an exoskeleton staircase and a large putting green on the roof. Not a bad interior staircase, either. Love the porthole windows!
Nice view from the upper deck!
Not all the homes are jaw-droppers. Some humble ones still float next to the mini-mansions. These are probably more like the one Eric lived in the 70s. But everyone enjoys life on the lake and having a boat or two in their front yard.
We were asked not to take photos in several of the homes. I can appreciate that … I think the owners were very brave to let the public come traipsing through their personal spaces. No rooms were off-limits. If you gave us a storage unit, a professional housekeeper, and a year, we might be able to get our house in shape to put it on public display.
We returned to the west side of the lake by late afternoon, just in time to see one last house. (The tour comprised 12 homes; we had time to see eight.) Our last visit was to another oldie, moored near the shore and facing a peaceful lagoon that years ago was filled with small rental sailboats, but now falls in the shadow of the mighty Aurora Bridge.
It’s been almost two weeks since we did the tour, but these floating homes are still floating in my daydreams … somewhere under the bridge.