Seattle Living

This Floating Home on Lake Union is a Primo House Party Boat

A floating home on Lake Union provides everyday peace and a place to entertain.

By Nia Martin November 7, 2017


This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Susan Dunn owes her picturesque Eastlake home, in part, to her friends. An empty nester looking for a fresh beginning, Dunn was inspired by the idea of owning a floating home when visiting her friend Peggy, whose house is located on the next dock over from Dunn’s new residence. 

Inspiration became reality when another friend, Victoria, introduced Dunn to Tim Carlander, her brother’s childhood friend and a principal of Vandeventer and Carlander Architects. Having friends involved as she launched this new chapter of her life was reassuring. “There was that second level of trust,” she says. She also appreciated Vandeventer and Carlander’s extensive experience in designing floating homes, as well as the firm’s visual aesthetic, which she describes as clean, modern and Zen—her idea of contemporary Northwest design. 

When considering a location for her Northwest-inspired home, Dunn was drawn to the Eastlake floating home community, on Lake Union’s east side, which is within walking distance of restaurants, cafés and a park to walk her Goldendoodle, Bella. The location’s relationship to natural light was also important, with its west-facing orientation allowing views of dramatic sunsets, as opposed to the east-facing Portage Bay side, which enjoys views of sunrises, but grows darker earlier.

With a floating home, the most important question to answer is where to position the living space, says Carlander. “Do you want to have your living space at the float level, or do you want to have it up?” For Dunn, the answer was upstairs. Being above the water line grants her privacy from heavy boat traffic cruising by without compromising water views. The top story is an open plan, with the airy living, kitchen and dining spaces flowing together, bookended by west- and east-facing decks. A powder room is tucked neatly out of the way, beside the staircase landing. Downstairs are master bedroom and bath, office, guest room, storage closet and laundry space.

Building a floating home has special requirements. In this case, the concrete float base was built off-site and then craned into the water, moved to an adjacent construction site—held to shore by ropes tied around trees—where the bones and built-ins of Dunn’s steel-structured house were constructed. The structure was then pulled along Lake Union by tugboat to its final destination. Heavy appliances, such as the refrigerator, were lifted by crane into the home, before the structure was topped off with the roof. 

Living on her own meant that Dunn could have her dream home designed around her lifestyle. “Tim knew I wanted it to be especially mine,” she says. An east-facing deck on the backside of her home is bathed in morning light, making it the perfect spot for her coffee ritual. On sunny days, the west-facing deck is where she enjoys reading. Inside, a built-in TV screen in the master bathroom mirror makes it easy for her to enjoy morning television programs as she gets ready for the day and another screen in the living space allows her to watch shows from her kitchen as she cooks.

Creating a space that is inviting and big enough for parties with family and friends was also important to Dunn, something that the open kitchen and living areas, tall rift oak ceilings and folding nanoglass wall—between the living and lakeside deck space—accomplish. And with its prime vantage point for holiday festivities—a ladder leads from the east deck to a rooftop with panoramic views—Dunn’s home is a go-to gathering spot for Fourth of July fireworks at Gas Works Park, across the way, and illuminated Christmas ships that glide by in December. 

With Seattle’s dark winters, Dunn says, having a home on the water with so much natural light has made the season far more bearable and less drab. “It’s my sanctuary. It’s just a peaceful, wonderful place to be.” 


Vandeventer and Carlander Architects
Tim Carlander, principal architect

Swenson Say Fagét Structural Engineering
Paul Fagét, structural engineer

Touchstone Builders
Greg Totonelly, contractor

Holly McKinley Interior Design 
Holly McKinley, interior designer

Follow Us

A Light-Filled  Oasis

A Light-Filled Oasis

Mercer Island residence embraces natural beauty by drawing it inside

When Kent and Lisa Sacia decided to put a bow on their latest remodeling triumph, they turned to a trusted collaborator, Sander Groves Landscaping President Dan Groves. He was more than happy to take on the project, a reimagining of a 1972 Northwest contemporary by a noted Mercer Island architect. “I am in a position to…

Living: The Lightness of Seeing

Living: The Lightness of Seeing

Challenging ‘Lopez Lookout’ project places a premium on spectacular scenery

The regulators and nesting eagles weren’t the only ones peering on with interest. The third largest of the San Juan Islands at 30 square miles, Lopez is home to about 3,000 year-round residents known for friendly waves at about anything that moves. Islanders are also known for their intense interest in protecting their remarkable environment….

A History Museum at Home | Sponsored

A History Museum at Home | Sponsored

Creating your own mini galleries with art, photos, and objects you love

  Everywhere you turn in Brendan’s home is a piece of history with a compelling story. A small delicate piece of metal stamped with a man and lion sits inset against a vibrant red matboard. “This is a gladiator fight ticket from the Colosseum in Thracian during the slave uprising in Rome. The time of…

A Poetic Quality of Light

A Poetic Quality of Light

Portage Bay floating home embodies a feeling of spaciousness

Suzanne Stefan rides a housing bubble that bursts many times each day. Stefan, a cofounder of Seattle architecture firm Studio DIAA, combined light, sound, and materials to create a bright, 650-square-foot floating home on Portage Bay (the eastern arm of Lake Union) that reverentially reflects its idyllic surroundings. Bright, but not dazzling, as glare, contrast,…