Imag­ine this view from your home

A new floath­ome to re­place one that burned down boasts sus­tain­able de­sign — and a wa­ter gar­den

Times Colonist - - Front Page - SANDY DENEAU DUN­HAM


SEAT­TLE — Like a good neigh­bour, Michelle Lanker and her hus­band, Bill Bloxom, take com­mu­nity con­sid­er­a­tions to heart.

They live in a dis­tinc­tively de­signed float­ing home on Lake Union, where their fel­low wa­ter-top dwellers form “a very tight-knit com­mu­nity,” she says. “A lot of these folks have been here for years.” Bloxom in­cluded. He once owned a turn-of-the-cen­tury float­ing home at this same jaw-drop­pingly scenic slip.

But while he was rent­ing it out, a lighted cig­a­rette dropped below the deck and ig­nited a dev­as­tat­ing fire, says Lanker.

The un­for­tu­nate neigh­bour­hood af­ter­math: “The burnt crisp of a house had to sit here,” she says. “The slip can’t be left open more than 30 days.”

The awe­some neigh­bour­hood af­ter­math: Like good neigh­bours, Lanker and Bloxom con­sider the whole lake — and re­ally, the whole planet — their com­mu­nity, so their new LEED Plat­inum­cer­ti­fied float­ing home is a con­tem­po­rary dock-party ad­di­tion of su­per­sus­tain­able, and su­per-cour­te­ous, de­sign.

Some of its en­vi­ron­men­tal el­e­ments and ap­proaches might sound familiar: max­i­mum in­su­la­tion/min­i­mum air leak­age. Min­i­mum main­te­nance/max­i­mum dura­bil­ity. Sal­vaged, re­cy­cled, rapidly re­new­able ma­te­ri­als.

Low-E triple glaz­ing. LED light fix­tures. En­ergy Star ap­pli­ances. Wa­ter­ef­fi­cient fix­tures.

Ad­mirable and in­spir­ing, for sure, but even bet­ter, Lanker says: “We wanted to push the lim­its to what a house­boat could be.”

Alert the tug. There’s an aw­ful lot of push­ing go­ing on here.

Take the stand­ing-seam metal roof, for ex­am­ple, and its sleek wa­ter­slide of a curve (orig­i­nally con­ceived by de­signer Glo­ria An­drade, be­fore ar­chi­tect Lanker, of Lanker De­sign, jumped on board).

Not only does it pair with panoramic clerestory win­dows to open up tourist-brochure Seat­tle views to neigh­bours across the dock, it also pur­pose­fully dis­plays 5.32Kw of so­lar pan­els and a veg­e­tated roof sys­tem.

Speak­ing of veg­e­ta­tion, there are float­ing is­lands at­tached to the float­ing home: planters filled with wet­land plants — most na­tive to Lake Union — and sus­pended in the wa­ter below the deck. (The com­pos­ite deck is 45 per cent open so light can get to the plants, Lanker says: “The more they prop­a­gate, the bet­ter.”)

The is­lands are liv­ing oases of in­no­va­tion.

“Bill had come across float­ing is­lands when some friends who are en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sul­tants went to Cal­i­for­nia with him,” she says.

“We have some wa­ter-qual­ity is­sues on the lake and are in sore need of shore­line; so much has been lost.”

These is­lands, in var­i­ous sizes, let the root sys­tems ex­tend into the wa­ter, cre­at­ing fish habi­tat.

“The roots are not only clean­ing the wa­ter, but the re­cy­cled plas­tic ma­te­rial the plants are grow­ing in is like a sponge in an aquar­ium: Micro­organ­isms are liv­ing in it, also. Pretty cool, I have to say.” It gets cooler. “Bill said: ‘I want an ob­ser­va­tory for what these float­ing is­lands could do,’ ” Lanker says.

And now, down­stairs (there is a fully liv­able down­stairs!), the con­crete float of the home be­comes an ob­ser­va­tion room for study­ing the float­ing is­lands through a large un­der­wa­ter win­dow, she says.

“We’re in 50-plus feet of wa­ter here. I see small­mouth bass more than any­thing else. I’m sure there’s more stuff than what we’re see­ing.”

Also cool, in a warm­ing way: “a hy­dro­ther­mal heat­ing sys­tem ba­si­cally pow­ered from the lake,” Lanker says.

In ad­di­tion to a se­ries of tanks, a heat pump and a pump-flow cen­tre, it in­volves a ti­ta­nium plate sus­pended in the lake and a trans­fer fluid loop of Gly­col, which she de­scribes as “food­grade an­tifreeze” (it’s cooler than the lake).

“It’s so great; it’s so con­stant. What­ever the tem­per­a­ture is out­side, it’s the same in here. With forced air, there’s con­stant mon­i­tor­ing. Here we keep it at a set tem­per­a­ture, and it stays con­stant. For most of the year, what we get out of the lake is all we need for heat.”

And, dev­as­tat­ing as it was, that fire did not take ev­ery­thing.

Twenty-two old-growth cedar logs, some eight me­tres long and a me­tre in di­am­e­ter, all part of the home’s orig­i­nal float, were sal­vaged, and are trea­sured.

“They had been com­pletely sub­merged and pre­served, but were to­tally sat­u­rated,” Lanker says. “Once you get the wa­ter out, they’re pretty much clear cedar. All the wood in the house is sal­vaged from those logs. And we still have some.”

You can see it in the cus­tom cof­fee ta­ble Lanker de­signed; in the liv­ing area’s cen­tre­piece sculp­tural el­e­ment; in the up­stairs master suite’s ceil­ing, built-in bed­frame and drawer sys­tem; and, down­stairs, in the Mur­phy bed, the stor­age area, the shelves and the slid­ing pocket door, and around a wine-stor­age rack.

Ar­chi­tect Michelle Lanker, her hus­band, Bill Bloxom, and dogs Bing and Arnie live on the sec­ond float­ing home from the left — the one with the dis­tinc­tive curved roofline, so­lar pan­els and veg­e­tated roof sys­tem. G. Lit­tle Con­struc­tion built the LEED Plat­inum-cer­ti­fied home in Port Townsend, Washington, be­fore it was towed to Lake Union.

Bill Bloxom cleans the un­der­wa­ter view­ing win­dow in the base­ment of the float­ing home. The win­dow acts as an ob­ser­va­tion room for study­ing sus­pended float­ing is­lands de­signed to cre­ate fish habi­tat and help re­store shore­line.

Left: Through a se­ries of float­ing is­lands sus­pended from their float­ing home on Lake Union, “we’re pro­vid­ing ma­te­rial to al­low for root sys­tems to grow into the wa­ter,” says Lanker. “It’s a tan­gled mess: Small fish can hide in it, but preda­tor fish are too large.” Clos­ets back up to each other, form­ing a sep­a­ra­tion wall be­tween the up­stairs master bed­room and bath­room (with glass mo­saic tile, a re­cy­cled glas­sand-con­crete coun­ter­top and bam­boo floor­ing un­der a light-mor­ph­ing curved ceil­ing of sal­vaged cedar).”Ev­ery­one who comes in says: ‘That must be a lit­tle weird hav­ing a win­dow in the shower,’ ” says Lanker. “It fogs up a lit­tle on its own — plus there’s a roof over­hang.”

The win­dows in Michelle Lanker and Bill Bloxom’s float­ing home are sited for views, and to nat­u­rally vent the home when it’s warm. “In this space, the in­tent in terms of mass­ing and lay­out is as open as pos­si­ble, and flow,” Lanker says. “Al­most ev­ery space dou­bles or triples its use: Be­cause the wall opens en­tirely, the deck feels like part of the in­te­rior. The slider in or­ange pan­els [to the left] opens to the pow­der room.”

Old-growth cedar logs sal­vaged from Bill Bloxom’s previous float­ing home, which was de­stroyed in a fire, are re­pur­posed through­out the new home, in­clud­ing for the ceil­ing and the built-in bed­frame and drawer sys­tem in the up­stairs master bed­room. “It’s a very cool thing with the ceil­ing: You can touch it; it’s tex­ture, tac­tile ap­pre­ci­a­tion,” says Lanker.

Right: The steel ca­ble rail­ing on the stair­case makes the space feel big­ger. The treads, as with all the cab­i­netry, are bam­boo.

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