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Originally published August 29, 2014 at 12:03 PM | Page modified September 6, 2014 at 11:02 AM

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This Lake Union home really, ah-hem, floats their boat

Architect Dan Nelson designed a contemporary-meets-wharf-warehouse box that stands up to the city-code 21-foot height limit. He opened the main living spaces at water level with two garage doors.

Pacific NW associate editor

2014 Floating Homes Tour

According to the Floating Homes Association, about 500 legal floating home moorages remain in Seattle, from a high of several thousand after World War II.

This year’s Floating Homes Tour, 12 to 5 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 7, features homes on the Westlake and Eastlake shores of Lake Union. Tickets, $30 plus handling fee, are available at Brown Paper Tickets, Admission for the self-guided tour includes electric-boat and bus-shuttle transportation across the lake. Advance purchase is recommended. Any remaining tickets will be sold at 11 a.m. on tour day at the staging area, 2370 Fairview Ave. E.

Ticket sales benefit the association, whose mission is to support the floating-home community and maintain the health of the marine environment. Learn more at

IT’S A STRAIGHT shot through the front door into the drink, Lake Union.

“We’re really water people,” says Kris Villiott, standing on the dock of the floating home she shares with her husband, Mike, part contemporary box and part warehouse-on-a-wharf kind of deal.

That’s good. Because their lawn is the lake.

“It’s a lot less private in summer,” says Kris. “But we’re used to waving at boaters.

The Villiotts’ dock holds eight newer homes that sit behind a locked gate. And, mostly, the only lookie-loos around these parts come by kayak. But if you are in possession of a ticket to the Seattle Floating Homes Association’s Floating Homes Tour on Sunday, Sept. 7, you’ll get to see exactly why the couple gave up their 4,000-square-foot home in North Seattle for life on the water.

“Look out, we’re taking some waves,” says Mike from the living room. Sure enough, the harbor lights over the kitchen island are rockin’. But it’s nothing serious. The Villiott home, two bedrooms, 2½ baths in under 2,000 square feet, sits on a float of Styrofoam surrounded by concrete. Mike, a retired contractor, knows this for a fact, because he and his son, Matt, spent a year building the house themselves across the way at the Northlake Shipyard.

Dan Nelson of Designs Northwest Architects designed the Villiotts’ floating home. They liked his work with smaller spaces.

Nelson’s box stands up to the city-code 21-foot height limit, as do the neighbors’ homes. The architect went for the look of a warehouse along the wharf; woody, boxy, industrial, rugged. He opened the main living spaces at water level with two garage doors to remove separation from living room and lake. The second floor is devoted to private spaces: master suite, den, guest room and laundry. One floor up, reached by the home’s signature external metal spiral staircase, is a 30-by-40-foot rooftop patio with a fair(way)-sized putting green.

Friend Susan Broll of Susan Broll Interior Design worked in warm colors, reds to orange, beiges to brown and dark metals to ground the place to earth and highlight the Villiotts’ art collection. Energetic zebrawood cabinetry was crafted by Jonathan Pauls in Georgetown.

Light glints off glass tiles in the bathrooms like sunshine on water. Combined with the large kitchen backsplash wall, there is so much tile work in the house that “we had to have the float raised to compensate,” says Mike.

The couple have lived on the lake since November 2008. It’s a change of lifestyle they made in an instant: “The boys were gone, and we both were working and doing a bad job of taking care of our house,” says Kris. “We went to some open houses. This was an impulse buy.”

And a right fine impulse it turned out to be.

“One of my favorite things is the community,” Kris says. “It’s really downtown living. We can walk to Capitol Hill, downtown, Serafina for dinner. I can walk to work near Seattle Center.” Meanwhile, the couple’s 27-foot Cobalt sits tucked next to the house, handy for motoring over to Ivar’s Salmon House.

When the weather finally warms, there’s the lake itself, suitable for swimming come July. And speaking of . . .

“July 4,” says Mike. “If you’re in a party mood, it’s great fun.”

Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.

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