HOW IT STARTED: a crew of Haggard men, attentive and imaginative and resourceful, in a boat, on the water. How it’s going: a bit like that, actually — but upgraded by about 20,000 leagues.

Fifteen years ago, Bill Haggard and his three sons, Riley, Joe and Hank, were tooling down the Duwamish River in their aluminum 1950s Feather Craft, as they did, “just goofing around,” Bill says. From their riverfront property in Tukwila, the Haggards could cruise all the way to Elliott Bay in just over half an hour, give or take.

Limoncello, moored under the University Bridge, was one of Haggard Houseboats’ first projects, built in 2008 atop a salvaged concrete barge. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)
You’re going to want a houseboat today. See whether you should really jump on board.

Midway that fateful day, in what Bill recalls as a “kind of random” observation, they noticed something new (which happened to be something old) outside the Hurlen Construction marine company: three mammoth barges marooned on the shore.

“We were looking at them going, ‘Man. Look at that,’ ” Bill says. “They were built out of concrete. That means forever. They looked a little rough.”

The Haggards knew (know) boats. They also knew (know) potential.

“I went down the next day and talked to the manager, and they said they were retiring these floats, and if I wanted them, I just had to move them,” Bill says. “We agreed to that. They were maybe 30 or 40 years old, and they were going to crunch them up. It’s a good deal for them: We’re taking care of these to disappear. We kind of picked up $100,000 worth of floats for free.”

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The Haggards towed all three barges to moorage at the then-funky/now-defunct Riverview Marina on the Duwamish. It was there, from those forlorn old floats, that they built their first houseboats.

Monday, December 4, 2020     NWLiving spring design issue.  Bill Haggard at right and his son, Riley building their custom houseboat in a construction yard in Ballard.   215529

“I had done some work on some houseboats,” says Bill, who has decades of experience as a residential carpenter. “We had just restored an old cabin cruiser in South Park Marina, and there were a couple houseboats being built there. My aunt, who I was real close to, lived on a floating home on the lake. It’s kind of something we’d been around. Building a houseboat is real similar to working on houses. We were able to plug into it.”

It also was “right there,” Bill says — right place, right time, right skill set, right mindset — that he decided to launch a family business: Haggard Houseboats. Bill is “the visionary”/designated designer. (“Working in the trades all my life, you pick up a lot of stuff,” he says.) Co-founding partner Riley is “the executive,” handling the business side while also working hands-on on-site with his dad. Brothers Hank and Joe pitch in from time to time, too. 

“It just sort of happened,” Bill says. “Our first one, we sold for maybe $90,000. We were using Craigslist.”

THESE DAYS, THE Haggard crew rents a 40-by-50-foot space in a bustling light-industrial yard just west of the looming Ballard Bridge that’s safeguarded with barbed wire and populated by a boatload of small businesses (furniture makers; welders; Henry, “Seattle’s most prolific muralist”). It’s roomy enough and secure enough for all their materials — including the sturdy, buoyant bones of their 16th houseboat.

The Haggards’ 15 previous houseboats (nine were built from the ground up; the others were fixer-uppers) launched an international following and a singular, recognizable style: highly crafted, artistically designed, cleverly and thoughtfully compact, luxuriously wood- and window-filled Floating On Water Residences. (That’s the official designation from the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections, Riley says. “We use that term interchangeably with ‘houseboat’ because [ours] could become self-propelled and can move to places that ‘floating homes’ cannot.”)

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“We’re inspired by other great design: Chris-Crafts, old trailers, like Spartans and Airstreams,” Bill says. “I like that mid[century]-modern style of residential construction. We try to make them pretty intimate; we try to follow some traditions of house barges: having a barrel-style roof — the arched roof — and having a barge style: a big flat, rectangular bottom. We looked at a lot that are built in Amsterdam and Europe.”

It’s About Time, featured on TLC’s “My First Home,” has aluminum corner windows, ash hardwood floors, a curved ceiling with exposed fir beams and cedar plank walls. “That’s kind of the cool thing with houseboats: We get to do these really cool projects,” says Bill Haggard. “You couldn’t really do all-wood interiors if you were going to build a house, but with something smaller, you can. And all those windows. Those are fun projects.” (Courtesy SpecialAgentsRealty.com/Seattle-Houseboat.com)

Like their inspiration, the houseboats’ universal appeal also has crossed oceans (and airwaves). The Haggards and their work have appeared on a flotilla of TV home shows: “Beachfront Bargain Hunt,” “Tiny House Hunters,” “My First Home.” (They did not bite for an HGTV show that wanted them to build 13 houseboats in a year — “It doesn’t really work like that,” Riley says — or for the Discovery Channel, which wanted them to craft one for a crew member of “The Deadliest Catch.”)

Work on Houseboat No. 16 began in October, when its big flat, rectangular bottom (a custom-built steel barge hull) arrived on a truck from Indiana. “It was kind of nerve-wracking,” says Riley. “We’ve done this before, where we’ve bought barges from Oregon and brought it up, or Idaho, but this was a whole new world.”

By mid-January, that 4-foot-deep, 30,000-pound, well-traveled hull sat anchored atop 11 massive jackstands, with an adjacent access ladder to the ground. Bill and Riley climbed up and down, port to starboard, bow to stern, wrapping up the clear cedar siding, the port side’s crown and trim work, and all the windows. The Haggards always install corner windows to flood the main living area with light.

“With the windows, and with our [houseboats], we really try to enhance the surroundings, with our big living rooms and big kitchens, and the opportunity to go on the rooftop,” Bill says.

This artful houseboat will hold 1,000 square feet or so of beautifully usable space, including the livable hull and the sure-to-be-lively rooftop deck.

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It also will have a catchy name. They all do.

“We’ve been calling it ‘16,’ since it’s our 16th houseboat project,” says Riley. “We need to get on that.”

“We’ve done a couple houseboats with salvaged materials,” says Bill Haggard. “We knew a guy that was a demolition contractor, and he told us they were tearing down a small office building, and inside all the interior walls were made of teak.” And now, so is Haggard Houseboats’ Teak Barge, built in 2009. (Courtesy Haggard Houseboats)

SINCE CRAFTING LIMONCELLO in 2008 (from one of those original found barges) and Teak Barge in 2009 (named for its 4,000 linear feet of wood salvaged from a 1950s office building), the Haggards have increasingly embraced locally sourced Douglas fir (for trim and ceilings) and tongue-and-groove Western red cedar (for walls). “We like wood, and we like pretty wood,” Bill says. “The only negative is, [cedar] is kind of soft. If you hit it with a chair, it scratches. If you get past that, it doesn’t rot, you don’t have any problems in a wet climate and it’s just prettier than hell.”

You truly can pick out a Haggard houseboat from docks away. They are not huge. They are not showy. They do not cost a million dollars. But they are distinct, and they are designed.   

“Haggard houseboats [have] spectacular interiors,” says real estate broker and houseboat specialist Linda M. Bagley, who met Bill and Riley at South Park Marina years ago with her late husband, Kevin Bagley. The four developed a business relationship, a friendship, and a shared appreciation for the others’ work, and for Seattle’s houseboat community. (The Bagleys lived on Lake Union for 15 years aboard a dual-stern paddle-wheel houseboat.) “Bill and Riley’s wood finishes throughout are beautiful and always give the feeling of being in a mountain cabin, but floating in downtown Seattle,” she says.

Limoncello, moored under the University Bridge, was one of Haggard Houseboats’ first projects, built in 2008 atop a salvaged concrete barge. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

As the Haggards’ style developed, so, too, did another distinguishable trait: their houseboats’ names. Kevin gets all the credit for the timeless/timely theme: Nick of Time, built atop a former steel transport work barge, made it onto Lake Union just before a Seattle policy change; Out of Time, a transformed Kayot charter pontoon, came together before another policy modification; the gold-roofed It’s About Time had been in the works for a good year or so, Linda says. 

Kevin brainstormed 2018’s Big Time, too. That one is a little more straightforward. “It’s the biggest one we’ve ever built,” says Bill.

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After living in an apartment in Fremont, Chris Ballard and Frank Pursel moved aboard Big Time in 2018. It’s the largest Haggard houseboat yet. They didn’t really know their Fremont neighbors, but in their waterfront community, Chris says, “That first Fourth of July, everybody was coming in and going into our bedroom and into the closet and up to the roof, passing up all the stuff to watch the fireworks. It’s a lot of fun.” (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

AT 19 FEET wide and 36 feet long, Big Time has abundant room for a rare Haggard fireplace (a polished-agate beauty with an electric insert) — and for Frank Pursel and Chris Ballard, who moved into a brand-new Big Time from a spacious two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in “the epicenter of Fremont, above the PCC,” says Chris. “My daughter said, ‘The only thing cooler than living above the PCC in Fremont is a houseboat.’ ”

Big Time oozes cool. Moored at the end of a dock on Lake Union, it spoke to Frank, especially, and his “water person” roots.

“I was a Navy man,” Frank says. “I had been to sea for a bit as a younger guy. That’s never left me.”

Chris knew Frank “really, really, really” wanted to live on a houseboat but was afraid to hope. But, Chris says, “When we saw this, it was like, ‘Oh, yeah. This really works.’ ”

Not knowing, exactly, how life on a houseboat really would work, they were prepared for surprises and problems. Turns out their biggest surprise was a lack of problems.

“I was expecting it to be quite a bit more austere,” Frank says. “The water heater holds 30 gallons, and I thought we wouldn’t be able to take any showers, but there’s lots of hot water. We were afraid we wouldn’t be able to heat it, but that turned out to be pretty much not the case.” (The fireplace is the main chilly-weather heat source, supplemented by two other small electric heaters.) “[The Haggards] did a lot of great things to tailor the houseboat so it fits the needs of the people who are going to live there.”

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With a little research, experimentation and flexibility, the couple smoothly navigated other realities of houseboat living: limited electricity (“Sometimes I will trip a breaker,” Chris says); the black-water tank (which gets pumped out by professionals); the gray-water tank (which goes right into the lake, accompanied by fish-friendly products — “which is not uncommon,” Chris says); and, of course, considerable downsizing.

The Haggards set Frank and Chris on the proper course with space-saving appliances (that half-size hot-water heater; a stacked washer/dryer; an apartment-size propane stove, oven and refrigerator) and oodles of creative spaces.

That’s another signature Haggard move.

“We’ve built dinettes where you can open the top of the seat and have storage underneath,” Bill says. “In the bathrooms, we’ve done a lot of stuff where we’ve done 4-foot-long bathtubs, or shower enclosures only. Our closets are used for a lot of different reasons: access going down into the hulls, or a ladder in your closet to a roof deck. A lot of different things: built-in cabinets, drawers that roll under the bed and out. A lot.”

To gear up for downsizing, Chris says, she read to Frank from a Marie Kondo book during pre-Big Time bedtimes (perhaps relatedly, she’s a kindergarten teacher). They narrowed their essentials to the things that really matter: a cedar chest inside the entry that Chris’ grandfather made for his mom when he was in high school. A rocking chair from Chris’ mom for her first baby (Chris has two grown children: David and Kristen). Frank’s daughter, Emily, slept on a futon when she visited Fremont; that’s now the living-room couch (with filled storage drawers underneath and all of Frank and Chris’ shoes behind).

Everything and everyone fits without feeling filled to the gills, with room for Chris to dance, and for both to do yoga, in the great room, thanks to an extra-wide cabin and a soaring fir ceiling. The separate bedroom holds a queen-size bed that’s especially special to Frank. The bathroom holds an actual bathtub with a small sink and marine toilet.

The bedroom aboard Big Time has room for an actual bed and a walk-in closet (with access to the rooftop deck and the livable hull below, along with a stacked washer/dryer). The back door opens to a small deck and the lake. (Courtesy SpecialAgentsRealty.com/Seattle-Houseboat.com)

“We are living in only 500 square feet,” Frank says. That doesn’t count the below-deck hull (12 by 40 feet, with 4 feet of clearance), though, accessed through the walk-in closet in the bedroom — and on Big Time, this big space really counts. Frank and Chris use their hull to store backpacking and ski gear, sure — but also as a family room, complete with a spread-out sleeping bag for lounging and a big-time big-screen TV.

“I measured and said, ‘Yeah; we can get it in,’ ” Chris says. “You have to crawl — it’s a crawl space — but it’s huge.”

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We’re going to need a bigger boat for all these Haggard trademarks.

“In addition to the craftsmanship piece, we really try hard to be utilitarian,” Riley says. “Other people turn [the hulls] into a wine cellar. That’s where we hide a lot of utilities: holding tanks, electrical, plumbing, battery system. The barge hull has really helped free up the upstairs cabin area so you can maximize every inch.”

HOUSEBOAT NO. 16 has benefited from everything the Haggards have discovered over the years, ever since those aging barges beckoned like prescient sirens on the shore. Discoveries of design and craftsmanship. Discoveries of what’s worked, what could work better and what’s possible. (This spring, the pandemic delayed material shipments, along with everything else in the world, and the Haggards ended up installing windows in the doors themselves for the first time. “It turned out great, and is something we will do in the future,” Riley says.) Discoveries about how, what and where to maximize — and to minimize.

By early February, the framing and ceiling of Haggard Houseboats’ 16th project are finished,  along with plumbing and window installation. The walls await clear cedar siding. Bill, at left, is standing in what will become the bedroom, separated by a shear wall 20 feet from the entrance. The 4-foot-long bathtub (most household tubs are 5 feet long) is installed in the bathroom area behind him. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

Their newest bathroom, for instance, is smaller than others they’ve built. The bedroom is bigger. Houseboat design is all about smart spaces and, sometimes, clever trade-offs.

The bathtub “is a 4-footer,” Bill says, compared to a standard 5-foot-long household one. “It’s a real small bathroom. There’s a whole bunch of reasons we have it so small. We’ve put in some pretty good-size bathrooms, but we got complaints with our bedrooms that they were too small. You could only get out of the bed on one side, so that caused some problems. Instead of having that small bedroom, a booth bedroom, we’re going to have an almost full-size bedroom. Some of those other houseboats, it’s just like: ‘Here’s your bed.’ This’ll be for grown-ups.”

And, as with Big Time, so will the hull.

“It’s really big,” Riley says. “We’re going to build a platform so you have access to all your utilities, and a platform for storage. We’ll build a ladder for it and make it real comfortable. It’s kind of fun for us. I feel like in the last couple houseboats, we’ve done more down there.”

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Elsewhere, a built-in ladder will lead to the rooftop deck. A door from the bedroom will lead to the stern deck — and even more space. The main floor will total about 400 square feet, Bill says; the hull and decks bring that closer to 1,000.

There’ll be a dinette for two under generous double windows right across from the kitchen, where stainless-steel, apartment-size appliances by Blomberg Appliances sparkle next to hammered stainless-steel countertops. Corner windows. Banks of windows. Hand-cut and -shaped crown molding. Artistry. Experience. Design.

Or: unmistakably, a Haggard houseboat.

The Haggards use banks of windows, wide-open spaces and even thoughtful moorage to enhance waterfront views, as with this deck on Haggard Houseboats’ It’s About Time. “If you have a great view, we are going to park the houseboat toward that view,” Bill Haggard says.  (Courtesy SpecialAgentsRealty.com/Seattle-Houseboat.com)

HOW IT STARTED: one hulking barge, imported from Indiana, and two Haggard men, outfitted with tools and experience and vision. How it’s going: Houseboat No. 16 is now Real Quiet, a highly crafted and highly functional home.

The era of “Time” names has ended. (Last year, Riley says, they christened City Time as a lasting tribute to Kevin Bagley.) “We are huge horse-racing fans, and Real Quiet was a champion horse in the ’90s. He won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. He was owned by Mike Pegram, who’s from Mount Vernon. ‘Real Quiet’ is also fitting for the last year we’ve had, too.”

Real Quiet already has a place to call home — no routine accomplishment, unless you’re a Haggard of Haggard Houseboats. “Dad is kind of a master at finding slips,” Riley says. “It just always works out. It’s the years of relationships Dad and I as a team have created with marinas and houseboat people. They look out for you.”

Another consistent accomplishment: Real Quiet has been crafted solely by the Haggards, from its rooftop deck to its usable hull and every carefully designed detail in between, save that barge.

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“We’ve done every part of this: the roofing, the framing, the siding. We’re going to do the plumbing; we’re going to do the wiring. No subs,” says Riley. “Just us.”

Which is how everything started, back when the Haggards’ family business arose from salvaged barges.

Bill Haggard, at back, and his son Riley work a piece of interior cedar into place before nailing it. The two founders of Haggard Houseboats always work together; sometimes brothers Joe and Hank help out, as well. “Working as a family is interesting,” says Bill. “I think you’re a little more patient. You tend to be maybe more agreeable. It’s a little bit different, but it’s really been fantastic.” (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

“It’s been kind of a kick,” Bill says. “My three sons have shown a lot of interest and enjoy doing it. We’ve done a lot of good jobs together, and it’s worked out. It’s all us. And that’s the way we like it. I’m 66, and I hope to keep doing this. I’m thinking we’ll do this for another 5 to 10 years, hopefully. It kinda depends on my back.”