Architect Dan Nelson Brings a Mod Floating House to South Lake Union
Building a new house can take on the aspects of an epic odyssey, from property and architect hunting and sweating over blueprint tweaks to battling weather and, sometimes, contractors. In Kris and Michael Villiott’s case, their adventure included their house literally taking a trip.
When contemplating downsizing from a 4,000-square-foot home in North Seattle, the self-professed water types had idly fantasized about adopting that quintessentially Seattle lifestyle: that of a houseboat dweller. (Or, as it turned out, a floating home dweller; unlike a houseboat, no part of their future abode would exist below the water line.) Their dream rapidly became real. A visit to a relative living along the eastern shores of South Lake Union led to the chance discovery that just down the street a rare unoccupied slip was up for sale. “It was an impulsive purchase,” admits Kris. Not so their choice of architect.
Although Dan Nelson of Designs Northwest Architects had never before built on water, the couple was swayed by word-of-mouth referrals, his experience designing stylish, smaller houses, including a 1,600-square-foot yacht-concept house for former TV chef Graham Kerr, and his one-on-one style. Unlike other architects they interviewed, says Kris, “He listened creatively,” all the while translating their conversation into a concept sketch that, with few changes, became their design plan.
A commercial contractor by trade, Michael’s first order of business as his home’s general contractor was finding the British Columbia-based company to create the float (composed of concrete, rebar and, surprisingly, Styrofoam). After completion, it was set off on a Tom Sawyer barge ride down to Seattle waters. (To christen its arrival at the Ballard Locks, the Villiotts gathered with friends at Ray’s Boathouse.) Michael then spent a year at the Northlake Shipyards working with his son and subcontractors to raise the rest of the house before it was tugged across Lake Union and slid into its slip. As for the complications of his first water-borne build? “You can’t use a plumb-bob or a level,” says Michael. “You basically have to assume that the [float’s] slab is straight and square off of the slab to put up the walls….The science was Pythagorean, and it worked,” he says with a smile. He confesses, “In the first couple of weeks, there were some queasy stomachs.”
What landed dockside isn’t the Craftsman-inspired design common for Seattle’s houseboats, although this was one considered option, but Nelson’s modern residential take on a marina warehouse inspired by the city’s working-waterfront origins. “The whole idea is of a wharf structure with an industrial aesthetic…I saw it as a sort of cargo crate,” explains the architect. To that end, as well as exposed beams inside and a dark steel spiral staircase outside, this warehouse-meets-urban loft comes clad in a rustic-looking composite material called Trespa riven with crate-evoking vertical wooden bands. (So effectively delivered was the wharf aesthetic that Michael bestowed upon their house the Steinbeckian nickname, The Floating Cannery.)
The layout of the 2,134-square-foot home is of necessity simple but appealingly open and impeccably outfitted by interior designer Susan Broll, who took full advantage of her clients’ art collection when weaving her rich mix of colors and textures. Upstairs is the master suite, boasting a star of a bathroom, guest bedroom, laundry facilities and a view-distracting sitting room. (Another distraction is the rooftop putting green.) The main floor hosts a kitchen featuring a toffee-toned glass-tiled backsplash wall, the dining room and a powder room decked out in glass tiles that sparkle like lights on night waters. As well as a state-of-the-art entertainment system, tech showmanship is on display via two motorized garage doors which, with a click, can erase living room walls to seemingly let in the lake, not to mention the curious gaze of the occasional kayaker.
This fishbowl element initially took the couple by surprise. Admits Kris, “We were used to being very, very private. So it took some getting used to.” A small price to pay for a floating paradise.
To take the full photo tour, click here
OPEN HOUSE STATS
Architectural Firm :: Designs Northwest Architects
Cost :: Approximately $380 per square foot for a 2,174-square-foot house
(including $98,000 for the float; total cost might include additional fees that
are not reflected)
Tour it :: Sunday, January 22
(see details and address below)
Our ongoing partnership with the American Institute of Architects Seattle Chapter (AIA Seattle) continues our commitment to bring the experience of Puget Sound–area residential design to our readers. Each issue, we showcase an architect-designed home, selected by AIA Seattle and Northwest Home, which will be open to the public for a Sunday-afternoon viewing. We invite you to tour this issue’s featured home, designed by Dan Nelson, AIA, of Designs Northwest Architects located on South Lake Union at 2369 Fairview Ave. E, on Sunday, January 22, between noon and 3 p.m. For more information on the tour and the Open House program, please visit aiaseattle.org; 206.448.4938.
FIND IT RESOURCES
Architect: Dan Nelson, AIA, Designs Northwest Architects, Stanwood; 360.629.3441; designsnw.com. General contractor: Michael Villiott. General subcontractor: MV Builds; 206.605.2033. Structural Engineer: Jarnot Engineering, Monroe; 360.863.1831. Interior design: Susan Broll, Susan Broll Interior Design, Georgetown, 5701 Sixth Ave. S, No. 215; 206.728.1222. Float contractor: IMFS, Delta, B.C.; 604.930.9903; floatingstructures.com. Entertainment system: Creston AV/lighting control, Tannoy speakers, Heston Audio Video Systems, Kirkland, 11155 120th Ave. NE; 425.822.6940; hestontech.com. Electrical: D.C. Peterson Electric; 425.742.6746. HVAC: Reed Wright; 206.283.1234. Plumbing: Pied Piper; 425.641.4388. Gas plumbing: Eagle Gas Mechanical; 425.776.9689. Bath fixtures: Tub/sinks (Wet Style), tub ceiling spout (Kohler), faucets (Dornbracht), Wallingford, Seattle Interiors, 3822 Stone Way N; 206.633.2900; seattleinteriors.com. Appliances: Albert Lee Appliances, Interbay, 1476 Elliott Ave. W; 206.282.2110; albertleeappliances.com. Fireplaces: Sutter Home & Hearth, Ballard, 920 Leary Way; 206.783.9115; sutterhearth.com. Cabinets/island/vanities: Jonathan Pauls, Georgetown, 60 S Lucile St.; 206.767.7971; jonathanpauls.com. Painting: Fresh Coat; 206.399.9823. Tile/stone install: Westside Tile & Masonry, Edmonds; 425.771.9046. Glass tile: Erin Adams Glass Mosaic (powder room), Profile Collection offset ridge (kitchen backsplash), Ann Sacks Tile & Stone, Downtown, 115 Stewart St.; 206.441.8917. Lighting: Boyd Lighting, Cascade Bubbles wall bracket (master bath); Holly Hunt’s Solis Betancourt (kitchen pendants); McEwen Lighting, Studio Glimmer wall fixture (powder room); Urban Archaeology (exterior); Vaughn Lighting (guest bath). Steel fabrication (staircases, roof rail, porthole windows): Wesweld, Stanwood; 360.631.0993. Door porthole: Second Wave, Fremont; 206.632.4371. Garage Doors: Anderson’s Door Co.; 206.362.0777; andersonsdoorco.com. Cladding: Trespa; 800.487.3772; trespa.com. Putting green: Dream Turf; 866.901.8873; dreamturf.com. Windows: Camano Glass; 360.387.0442. Prefinished hardwood floors: Mullican Chalmette Black Merbau, Greater Seattle Floors, Georgetown, 114 S Findlay St.; 206.763.7004; gsfloors.com. Closets: California Closets, Kent, 20460 84th Ave. S; 206.762.1313; californiaclosets.com. Hardware: Seattle Interiors. Furnishings: Entry runner/living room area rugs (Driscoll Robbins Woven Legends), kitchen counter barstools (Berman Rosetti with Edelman Ostrich leather), living room sofas (Ted Boerner in Glant Chenille), swivel chairs (Hancock & Moore, Donghia fabric), cocktail/lamp table (Ironies cast stone/resin with iron base), master bedroom (Barbara Barry, Baker), sitting room sectional (Hancock & Moore), swivel chairs (Christian Grevstad, Terris Draheim), guest bedroom (McGuire Collection), shades (Conrad). Artists (main floor): Sue Roberts, Fay Jones, Jack Gunter, Cliff Johns, Jude Art; (second floor): Jo Anderson, Linda Demetre, Cathy Schoengburg, Eric Boyer.