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Originally published Friday, May 3, 2013 at 12:02 PM

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Connie Mackenzie has boatloads of fun on both land and water

One tiny house overlooking Alki Beach in West Seattle, plus one tiny barge on Lake Union equals a boatload of happy times.

Pacific NW associate editor

HUNDREDS, YES HUNDREDS of folks around here have been eagerly waiting since the dark days for this, the first Sunday in May. The opening of boating season. And whether you are down at the docks in yachting whites or hauling your prized craft to the lake in board shorts, nobody is more excited about today than Connie Mackenzie.

Why, Connie Mackenzie is probably poised on the top deck of her tiny barge right now, arms bulleted skyward for her first dive of the season into Lake Union.

"My dad taught me to swim when I was 3," she says. "He was a high diver who dived off pilings and bridges in Seattle when he was a teenager. He was kind of famous for his handstand dive. And of the six of us kids, I was the one who was a water bug.

"I like water better than air."

The other thing Mackenzie likes is a project. And you can always tell a Connie Mackenzie production, whether it bobs about on Lake Union or clings for dear life to an Alki Beach hillside. Bright and bold, glorious and grand, fun and funny, head up and chin out.

"In this part of the country, where we have so much gray, why does everybody gravitate to gray and beige?" wonders Mackenzie, an interior and graphic designer. "I physically feel differently when I'm surrounded by color. I love, love, love, love color."

When Mackenzie found her little cottage (then 700 square feet), one end of it was rotting off. She hardly noticed.

"I paid $300,000 for it in 2004, and it looked like a dilapidated garage," she laughs. Her builder/designer sons (Davis Pratt of Port Townsend and Mark Pratt of Pratt Designs in LaGrande, Ore.) were assigned the task of giving it new life. "They made me cart away all the junk. Three dump-truck loads later I called them and said, 'OK, boys!' "

Now the house is red and purple and green, a big rusted mermaid tacked onto one side. Mackenzie's streetside garden, no bigger than two Smart cars (maybe), twines, roots, shoots and strains at the wrought-iron fence, itself a march of fleur de lis finials. The gate appears to wear a purple wig it is so laden with clematis. On the stoop is Mackenzie herself, waving like a passenger on the Queen Mary.

Inside is a tiny house of big ideas. Dark walls and bright colors. Hand-painted everything. Living-room chandelier hoisted by a rope pulley; the room itself gone French château. Mirrors, candles, sconces, gilt, stately old clock. The kitchen is country cafe; black-and-white-checked floor, red and green walls, three clocks over the sink (after all, more is more). Beds are boxed-in, snugged up shipshape, windows there gazing lazily across the water.

The back deck hangs midair. Geraniums, petunias, snap dragons, wind chimes, signs and decorative doodads.

Meanwhile, down at the docks, sits Mackenzie's other little charmer, in lime and cherry, the 200-square-foot Sugar Shack: a 1946 Army garbage hauler when she found it. But with brown leather trim. A full-size bathtub under the banquette. She paid $55,000 for the hauler, and fixed it for $8,000. Finished summer 2012, it's now full of the comforts of home.

"When I go to people's houses I start reshuffling the furniture and rehanging the art in my head," Mackenzie says. "But my own is different, because it evolves over time. And I need to experience all of it, so how do I do it doing just one thing?"

Rebecca Teagarden writes about design and architecture for Pacific NW magazine. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

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