On a typical morning, the closest traffic passing by Michael and Charlotte Green’s house is a brood of ducks paddling toward Ross Island to forage. Michael and Charlotte live on the Willamette River—literally.
After raising a family on Bainbridge Island, Wash., the Greens decided to try something completely different. Following their discovery of a tightly knit little community of house-boaters on the outskirts of Portland, Ore., they concluded that life on the water promised a closer connection to the natural world, freshwater breezes, and constantly changing daylight bouncing off the water.
Their part of the community’s dock includes anchorage for two vessels, one on each side of the dock. The main house, which will be about 2150 sq. ft., will occupy the channel-side mooring. The guest house shown here is tied up on the riverbank side.
The Greens and I had to work with the marina’s stringent guesthouse rules, which restrict the size of the float that supports the house to no more than 18 ft. by 34 ft., with a maximum height of 15 ft. 6 in. above the water line. The fire department requires access on all sides of a structure, and with the inclusion of an exterior deck, we had a scant 14 ft. 9 in. by 22 ft. 6 in. for the home’s footprint. That’s not much room for a house with a kitchen, a bathroom, a dining area, a sitting space, and a sleeping loft.
Still, I really enjoy the challenge of designing a house that packs a lot of function and style into a minimum amount of space. A few years ago, my article in the annual Houses issue of Fine Homebuilding, “Big Ideas for small Houses”, presented 10 strategies from a variety of projects that can inject maximum utility and character into a small house. This house puts nine of them to work in one project. You can find multiple examples in each of the photos shown here.
The houseboat marina is in a part of town that has industrial buildings and warehouses scattered along the shore. We followed that lead with finishes that range from simple to rustic. Painted cedar siding, aluminum windows, and a galvanized-metal roof echo the local decor. Inside, birch-plywood built-ins, a galvanized-steel kitchen counter, and rough-sawn fir floors continue this straightforward tone. In a nod to the rippling surface of the river, corrugated-steel panels play across the ceiling.