Floating on Portage Bay
If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that Eric and I enjoy home design tours. We’ve done bungalow tours, modern home tours, and two years ago, a floating homes tour. Ever since then, I’ve eagerly looked forward to the next time we could come aboard Seattle’s iconic floating homes. I thought that because I’d already blogged about this tour, I’d skip writing about it this time … but it was such a lovely day and such an eclectic collection of homes, I can’t help myself.
The tour was sponsored by the Seattle Floating Homes Association. This year, we were asked not to take photos inside any of the homes, which I can understand. Still, I managed to sneak a couple, and I’ve borrowed a few from The Seattle Times. This post will be more of a look at the floating home community and lifestyle rather than interiors.
While 2014’s tour featured homes on Lake Union, this year’s tour focused on the Portage Bay community. Portage Bay is a small, partially manmade lake between large Lake Washington to the east and Lake Union to the west. It’s part of a water passage from fresh water Lake Washington, through the Montlake Cut, Portage Bay, Lake Union, the ship canal, and the Hiram S. Chittenden Locks to salt water Puget Sound. With all the boat traffic, the view is never boring. The University of Washington and the Seattle Yacht Club are just across the bay.
This is the view from many of the homes: the UW on the left, the Seattle Yacht Club on the right, with the Montlake Cut and bridge in the middle. Not bad.
You can rent these little battery-powered boats from The Electric Boat Company in Lake Union. They were all over the place! Why have we never done this?
The floating homes
The homes are incredibly eclectic. Anything goes as far as architecture. Apparently there are few covenants here limiting the imaginations of homeowners and designers. No boring rows of cookie-cutter, neutral-hued houses. That’s one reason floating home communities appeal to me. Everyone is free to express their own sense of style. (Although I did hear from a volunteer that her dock voted to outlaw vinyl siding.)
Each dock, which serves several homes, may operate as a co-op, or like a condo. For instance, homeowners might own the mud beneath their homes (but not the water, of course), while a homeowners association owns and maintains the dock and common areas.
Most homes come with boat moorage. What fun it would be to have a classic runabout like this tied up right outside your door!
Each home is numbered as a member of Seattle’s floating home community. This little red bungalow was full of Scandinavian art and décor.
Nearby was a small, new A-frame cabin. This house was nicely designed, but absolutely everything in it was gray or white, even the artwork. It felt cold inside. Oh, for some color!On the other hand, we toured a modern box that screamed with color—so much that I wouldn’t be able to stay inside for very long. I didn’t feel relaxed with the hard edges and all the color bombarding me … and I like color. I do love modern homes, but for the floating variety, I’m always drawn to the oldies.
I can see us living in this white bungalow with the red roof … and the matching white boat with red Bimini that the owner is inching into his slip.
I liked the casement windows in the house with the red umbrella. Many homeowners left their doors and windows open that day so that we looky-loos could peep into houses that weren’t on the tour.
Look at the interesting curve of this home’s ridgeline.
An impressive collection of Southwest and Native American art and artifacts crowded this Bohemian home. Wouldn’t you like to grab a book and a cup of tea and sink into that chair on a rainy day?
Our favorite home this tour was a cabin that looked small on the outside but lived big on the inside. I was impressed with the spacious kitchen and quirky details like vintage industrial sliding doors (the bedroom door’s glass window said “Employment Bureau”). And of course, the original pine beams.I looked up some floating real estate and was dismayed that the cheapest I could find for sale was over $500,000 (two years ago it was $399,000) … not our price point as we approach retirement. All the homes aren’t tour-worthy. We saw several that are begging for some TLC. With Seattle home prices soaring, it’s likely that even these fixers are out-of-range. Besides, I doubt any dock would allow as many pets as we have.
Some people have walk-in closets bigger than this barge, but a little imagination could make it into a cute getaway.
At the north end of Portage Bay, two bridges dominate the landscape: The massive Interstate 5 freeway, known as the Ship Canal Bridge, and the smaller, green University Bridge. As you approach the bridges, the volume ramps up considerably. Yet, this traffic noise doesn’t deter people from living near them. It’s just part of living at the lake.
The University Bridge performed for us several times. A long and short toot from a sailboat signals the bridge to open. The bridge operator toots back, the vehicle barriers come down, and the bridge gapes open to allow the sailboat to pass … many times per day. As part of the Floating Homes Tour, we even had the opportunity to visit the bridge tower.
Ivar’s Salmon House, the restaurant with the red umbrellas (just right of center) is where Eric took me for my birthday earlier this summer. Our table overlooked the ship canal—my favorite Seattle view.
Container gardening is the only way to go when you’re in a floating home. This resident has a magnificent bonsai garden.
Speaking of containers, this cheery purple house is surrounded by them.Larger homes have larger garden space. The first home we visited featured built-in planters and mature ornamental trees at its spacious end-of-dock location. Two impressive new homes shared this dock, with ample room between them—a different feeling than the crowded docks up the road … and a different price tag.
This lucky little guy does live there.
Common areas on shore are often made into community gardens. Here, a weeping willow and a hydrangea shelter a garden bench.
Or, maybe just an endless staircase. Imagine hauling your belongings in and out here. At least gravity would be in your favor coming home from the grocery store.
Thanks to the Seattle Floating Home Association homeowners for inviting us aboard, and for fueling my floating home fantasies for another two years. We’ll be back again in 2018!