Portage Bay Float Home

Architect: Studio DIAA

Owner: Raanan Schnitzer

Location: Seattle, Washington

Category: Up to $1.5 million in construction cost (category two)

While the Seattle area has enjoyed a long history of floating homes and houseboats, a type of living romanticized in movies and television, the reality of building on the water is much less glamorous. For this 650-square-foot home on the north end of the city's Lake Union, the owners embraced the challenge because such a home meshed with their aquatic hobbies of sailing, boat building, and scuba diving.

“A well-executed and compact program in a project type that is a very unique slice of our lived culture” - Jury comment

The project began as a renovation but quickly shifted during demolition when the owner and general contractor opted for a new structure due to the deterioration of the framing and log float foundation. The home received a new floor plate, walls, and roof, all of which were erected within the existing home's footprint.

Following the owner's wishes, the team took a modest approach to the renovation, focusing on the qualities of light and space over an abundance of area. That resulted in a single-story home that responds to the houses surrounding it by preserving views of the water. Neighbors have expressed their gratitude for the home's modesty, while its generous openings foster regular connections between the owners and their neighbors.

“A well-executed and compact program in a project type that is a very unique slice of our lived culture,” said the jury. “A once-in-a-lifetime project opportunity to reuse an existing footprint of a 100-year-old floating platform to create a beautifully crafted residence. A very well-done project overall.”

By working within the envelope of the existing home, the team was able to adhere to the restrictions placed on Seattle shoreline developments, resulting in a modern home that sits on an existing float comprising four- and five-foot-diameter old-growth logs assembled sometime in the early 1900s. Additionally, the craft-focused home gathers and reflects light through its many glass doors and skylights. It is wrapped by a five-foot-wide cedar deck accessible from every room, allowing the compact home to feel more spacious.

“A once-in-a-lifetime project opportunity to reuse an existing footprint of a 100-year-old floating platform to create a beautifully crafted residence. A very well-done project overall.” - Jury comment

Crafting a high-performing envelope while establishing a connection with the natural and built complex was also a critical design concern. The new home is clad in an open rainscreen adorned with blackened stained cedar siding, allowing it to blend into its surroundings. The deck encircling them will silver as it ages, amplifying the contrast between the dark exterior and light interior. The interplay of dark and light advances the home's feeling of lightness, a suitable quality for a home that floats on water.

Additional information

Architecture and  Interior Design: Studio DIAA    

Structural Engineer: Built Engineering    

General Contractor: Dovetail General Contractors

Jury

Bhaskar Srivastava, AIA, (Chair), dencityworks, Brooklyn, NY

Kevin Erickson, School of Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL

Jonah Stanford, AIA, NeedBased, Santa Fe, NM

Janeen Harrell, AIA, Janeen Harrel Architect, GREC Architects, Chicago, IL

Image credits

Portage Bay Float Home-03

Kevin Scott

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Kevin Scott

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Kevin Scott

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Kevin Scott

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Kevin Scott