GREAT BLUE HERONS alight — a lot — along this glistening stretch of Lake Union. Could be the impressive fishers simply have landed on the perfect, protected perch for that statue-standing thing they do — right up until they lightning-strike.
Could be they’re doing that inquisitive-bird “Are You My Mother?” thing, imprinting on the mesmerizing new floating home just across the water.
Couldn’t really blame them.
Rob Widmeyer and Kathy Lynch’s new floating home was inspired by these very neighbors of nature.
“Wildlife is a big thing here,” says Widmeyer. “We get blue herons around all the time. They’re just so big and gracious, and I like the coloration. So we were trying to figure out what color to make the outside of the house.”
Just as with the inspirational big birds, one shade of blue simply would not do.
“There are five colors,” says architect Daren Doss, of Chadbourne + Doss Architects, who worked with Lisa Chadbourne, builder Dyna and designer/colorist Eduardo Mendoza of The Enchanted Home. “This is where the metaphor of a Great Blue Heron kind of helped us — not only with the colors, but the way we detailed the siding. It’s a lot like feathers overlapping each other.”
Widmeyer and Lynch have overlapped with water and nature, from this same special slip, for decades. Their previous floating home here had just one level, a Quonset hut roof, a sunporch with old windows — and, like its dockmates, lots of history.
“The houseboats were started by loggers, and then, in the ’20s, they became summer homes,” says Lynch, who visited her aunt’s houseboat as a little girl and remembers chopping wood for heat in her first houseboat, one dock over.
Things are a little different now. Though the float is not at all bigger (1,100 square feet), the couple’s previous single-story house enclosed 750 to 800 square feet, says Widmeyer, while the new two-story one holds about 1,550.
And now, this is an all-season, all-access, totally custom floating home, with room for everything. “With a [floating home], it only has a certain footprint, and they did such an excellent job of laying out this house perfectly for us,” Lynch says. “We have plenty of storage, which is unheard of. We have an elevator. We have a laundry room instead of a closet. It’s wonderful.”
In the winter, Widmeyer and Lynch turn off the heat and switch on the horizontal bioethanol fireplace on the upper level, which warms the whole home. “It puts out heat but doesn’t cook the space. It’s really easy to use,” says Doss.
This new custom floating home is designed for aging in place, and the elevator already has come in handy. Right after moving in, Lynch says, “I fell up the stairs and broke two bones in my foot and was in a wheelchair all summer. I use it quite often.” Just months later, Widmeyer broke his foot.
“We didn’t really make the house ‘accessible,’ specifically, but it is,” he says. “There are no places you can’t get if you’re encumbered.”
And, while the master suite, guest room and even laundry room are lake-level lovely, you’ll definitely want to get upstairs.
Two 6-by-6-foot corner nooks bracket the living and dining areas and kitchen, all joined by a covered porch, where Jax the Klein Poodle puppy has a handy potty patch. One nook is an office; the other a library, with “the best view in the house,” Lynch says — over the lake, past a park and to the city, and everything (and everyone) in between.
“It’s an interesting design challenge, because of course there’s the view to capture, but there are also privacy concerns,” Doss says. “We had to contend with those two constraints, which are opposing, and to make matters even more interesting, the house was built over at the Dyna docks, so not on-site, so not only during design, but during construction, we had to visualize what these spaces would feel like once the [home] was towed into place. And because the existing houseboat was only one floor, we couldn’t get up to see exactly what it would be like.”
Widmeyer, a retired architect, says he’d venture up to the roof of the previous houseboat to “take a picture of the view, north and south, then go over to the construction site and take pictures and get them to be the same scaling. Not only couldn’t you see the view, but you couldn’t get a sense of how the light was going to come into the house, because it was turned around over there; it was all backward.”
Thanks to “multiple levels of privacy screens,” Doss says, along with creative solutions to multiple challenges, everything aligns now — privacy and views; water, heron and floating-home blues; nature and architecture.
“We didn’t really know what we were going to see, or the light,” Widmeyer says. “But I think it came out great. All the surprises have been good surprises.”