Sue’s Simply Stunning Houseboat

updated Dec 19, 2019
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(Image credit: Alysha Findley)

Name: Sue Nixon
Location: Seattle — Washington
Size: 1000 square feet
Years lived in: 10 years on the dock; 6 months in this home; Own

A few months back I posted about Seattle’s dreamy houseboat culture in Hello Houseboats! Life On Seattle’s Shores, and to my incredible delight I had the opportunity to do a tour of one of these amazing homes. Is the idea of living in a houseboat what you imagine it to be? The answer is a resounding ‘YES’ and much, much more.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

The first time Sue got a glimpse of houseboat culture she was hooked and dreamt of one day living in one herself. Most people who see these homes are struck by thoughts of living in such a dreamy lifestyle; the difference is that Sue actually worked to make this dream a reality. It took her ten years but was worth every second.

Sue lived in her first houseboat located in towards the middle of the dock for ten lovely years. And although Sue was extremely happy in her houseboat, her ultimate wish was to have a home in the most sought after location at the end of the dock. And, as you can imagine, homes in that prime location don’t come on the market too often. But Sue’s luck struck and lo and behold her dream came true. She had an incredible opportunity to get one and she jumped at it as fast as she could. She finally had her dream location and now it was time to make the home she bought become what she knew it could be.

This new-to-Sue home had been occupied for over thirty years and was in dire need of a modern update and a breath of fresh air. Sue pretty much gutted the entire place and created an open loft with a wall of windows to be able to see the water from anywhere in the house. She redid the kitchen and downstairs bathroom, added stairs and a bathroom in the bedroom. The transformation that has taken place in this home is absolutely astounding — I saw the before images (that may just show up as a future post!).

She has created a bright, cozy, airy, breathtaking home that exudes inspiration and creativity. It is hard to believe that it is only 1000 square feet. She has done a spectacular job filling this home with calm, neutral, meaningful items that don’t take away from the heroes of the home which are the environment and the architecture.

It’s hard to believe that Sue has only lived here for six months because there is already so much life and personality felt in every pore of her home. It’s been a long, hard road for Sue to make her dream a reality but she now gets to wake up every morning, look at the lake from her bed, breathe in the fresh air and know that with determination, persistence and a dream you can make anything come true.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style and Inspiration: The first time I walked onto a houseboat dock, my heart leapt. I thought, “Seriously? People get to live like this?” I knew I had to be one of them! It took me ten years of saving and dreaming before I could make it happen. Ten years later, it delights me just the same. This home, the water, my neighbors, the light and the city we live in 7mdash; truly magical.

Houseboats, and the community drawn to them, tend not to take themselves too seriously. Maybe it’s because the floors and walls aren’t straight, so the pressure to be perfect is completely off the table. And if you don’t like weather, this life is not for you. We park our cars on the street and walk down the dock in the sun, rain and snow with groceries in tow. We’re set in motion by the elements and are forever moving toward balance. We are floating, yet grounded. Ever changing, never complacent.

The rhythm and texture of this lifestyle, along with my vocations of music and design, have cultivated my style. I love surrounding myself with things that intrigue me–mixing open spaces and clean lines, dark and light, metal and wood, old and new, angles and light. The more I appreciate, the more I pay attention. The more I notice, the more I evolve.

Favorite Element: When I travel abroad or nearby, I love finding unexpected things and making them part of my home. I have a door knocker that I found in a little shop in Paris that I use as a towel holder in my bathroom, and an old ship porthole that I found in a fisherman’s swap-meet in my shower.

One of my barstools is from my father’s old dental office, and the other is from a modern retro designer. Upstairs I have the old ship ladder that used to be the only way to get upstairs. It’s waiting for me to put an industrial hatch to the rooftop.

There is a place for shiny and new, and a place for tattered and true. I think their place is side by side.

Biggest Challenge: When my contractors came into my space to begin the remodel, they had their levels in hand. It didn’t take long for them to leave them in the truck. When my project manager asked me which wall I liked the best with a plan to match everything to that wall. I told him, eye-ball it! Intuition and instinct are hero’s in this home.

Remodels are stressful, If you are considering one, I highly recommend the team I worked with. They’re super talented, honest, flexible, reasonably priced, and did what they said they’d do!

Architect: Johan Luchsinger, Baylis Architects
Contractor: Douglas Johnson & Company

What Friends Say: I helped choose that!

We’re meant to be in community, to process things with one another. There are SO many decisions to be made in the creation of something new. It can be completely overwhelming. My friends and family were entwined throughout my process. Their insights, their opinions, their learning, all are a part of my home. I asked, they spoke, I listened. And then, more informed, I’d make my choice. They were so generous in participating, and I am grateful.

I love that they see themselves in my space. I love even more, that I see them in my space.

Best Advice: “When you live in a small home, you must ruthlessly edit.” I’ve heard this, and it’s true! Whatever you own, takes or it gives. So surround yourselves with things that fill you. Only bring things into your home, that delight you. Be patient and watch for what makes you smile, or takes your breath away. That is how we learn our style.

When I notice what I like, I try to understand why. Is it color? Texture? Is it strong, or fragile? Bright, or subtle? Straight, or curved?

The more we pay attention to our own creativity and style, the more clear we get about what we love and gives us energy. The more we choose those things to be around us, and the more our home becomes us. It’s really difficult to leave room for the unexpected. To leave space for things to become what they are meant to be. But when we do, it is worth it!

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Resources of Note:



    • Every small home should have a swivel chair. I fell in love with one from Design Within Reach that I pray will never wear out since they don’t make them anymore. I also have a thick white shag wool carpet that I adore. I found it at a little boutique home interiors shop called Seva in Seattle. Their stuff is stunning.

    Few things delight me more than relaxing in the swivel chair, or laying in the middle of the floor on a cushy rug in front of the fire listening to the water.


    • I have an old antique table that I inherited with funky legs, and chairs that I don’t remember buying. I am a fan of both. The best though, is the old industrial light that was in the original kitchen. I painted it black to hang over my dinner table, and love that it embodies the DNA of this home.

    The ceiling above my dining room is supported by PSL support beams, that were installed to hold up the loft floor. I fell in love with them. Often, they’re wrapped in fir, but I left them raw with a touch of varnish, and they are stunning. They look like some sort of rare Tiger wood.

    The fir stairs with iron balusters and steel cables are the perfect compliment to the raw industrial beams. And as much as I like the ship ladder, proper stairs rock!


    • To help the leak in my wallet, I chose kitchen cabinets from IKEA knowing that I wanted to invest in really nice appliances. I found cabinet and drawer pulls at Earthwise where they find and sell super cool things to reuse. Each pull oozes with character and infuse the kitchen with style and texture.

    Space is cherished, so I was thrilled to find a German manufacture, Liebherr that makes a refrigerator that is 24 inches wide, 72 inches tall, and feels like the W hotel when you open it!


    • Light draws me into my upstairs. Well, that and my refurbished 1958 Singer Sewing machine that I inherited from my father’s sister.

    I have a little chandelier that transports the space, a beaded lamp cover in the corner, and a lampshade on the wall that I found on the hills of Montmontre, Paris. Handmade by a darling woman and her mom. It casts amber warmth over the whole room.

    If you asked me 20 years ago if I would live on a houseboat, sleep in an open loft and learn to sew, I would have laughed. Yet here I am, adoring them all!


(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Thanks, Sue!

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