The Littlest (And Chicest) Houseboat

Interior Designer Steven Hensel's Tiny, Tony Floating Getaway on South Lake Union
By: Shannon O'Leary | Posted August 24, 2012
Steven Hensel and Patrick Jennings’ 300-square-foot houseboat on the eastern shore of South Lake Union

Persistence and timing finally landed Steven Hensel his dream dwelling on a lake.

For years, the noted local interior designer and his partner of 23 years, Patrick Jennings, had been scouting Seattle’s shores for the perfect houseboat. “Whenever there was a flyer, or one for sale, we stopped,” says Hensel. “[But] you could spend a million dollars for something that needs to be completely gutted and re-done, and that wouldn’t work for us financially for a second home.”

Their boat truly came in when, during one of their lakeside drive-bys in 2009, they spotted a flyer for a nearly completed tiny new houseboat. Not only was it affordable, and located on a cozy co-op dock along South Lake Union’s eastern shore, but the metal-and-wood structure (technically, a floating home) already reflected the designer’s own modern style. Unfortunately, the former owner couldn’t complete the project due to financial difficulties, explains Hensel, “but we loved what had been done already…We just picked up with the level of quality he started with and finished it.”  

Hensel’s finish work focused on the decor. To play off of the existing light bamboo walnut floors, he chose a warm, buttery palette interspersed with touches of green. Furnishings, selected for scale as well as style, include breezy butterfly stools, mod pops of decorative lights and fluffy oval rugs. “It was my chance to indulge in the mid-century modern furnishings I love, which I don’t often get to do,” says the designer. And wherever possible, items must do double duty. Hensel designed the home’s sole table to be able to accommodate both dining and projects. Even artwork has to conform to function. A large painting on one ‘wall,’ which is really the bottom of a Murphy bed, is specially secured so that it can safely glide along with the bed’s motion.

Although the houseboat’s 300 square feet offer much less elbow room than the couple’s 2,500-square-foot main residence on Queen Anne (just a handy seven minutes away), they’ve taken to their compact quarters, and to the lake lifestyle, like ducks to water. “Fortunately, this is a very tight community,” says Hensel. “We get a lot of invitations and do a lot of boat hopping on the Fourth of July.” They also now captain their own cocktail cruises aboard an electric boat that they restored. Fitted with a table, it can easily seat a party of four. “We call it our den,” remarks Patrick Jennings. “It’s another room out there.”

Says Hensel, “It has far superceded our expectations of what lake life might be. Now we can’t imagine not having this part of our life.”


Couch: Daniel Donnelly; Chairs: Knoll; Butterfly Stools: Vitra; Glass floor lamp: Arteriors; Hanging pendant (above sink): Niche Modern; Bedding, pillows, sewing: SMH Studios, Seattle; 206.285.5758.  Rugs: Rubenstein’s, SoDo, Seattle Design Center, 5701 Sixth Ave. S, Suite 276; 206.957.0530; Console/dining table base: Mocket; Table resin top: 3 Form; Glass occasional table: Arteriors; Candlesticks: Z Gallerie Shower tile: Ann Sacks; Shower head: Hans Grohe Axor. Bath mirror with defogger/internal outlets: Robern. Cast glass window: Glassworks; Painting: Jared Rue, Under The Bascule; Appliances: LG and Sub Zero; Fireplace: Paloma from Heat N Glo; panel  fabrics: Sunbrella Hanging Flower Basket: Wells Medina Nursery, Bellevue, 8300 NE 24th St.; 425.454.1853. Kayaks: LL Bean; Boat: Canadian Electric Boat Company;