Making Waves

From Sleepless in Seattle to sleeping underwater in Dubai, floating homes are emerging as an alternative lifestyle

By Laura Goldstein

THREE LEVELSImagine exploring the emerald waters of the warm Arabian Gulf, where diverse coral reef ecosystems of purple sea anemones and beckoning sponges hide vibrant clownfish and steely moray eels. A sea turtle swims nonchalantly by your floor to ceiling glass walls — an underwater panorama viewed from your master bedroom and Jacuzzi bathtub.

Welcome to The Floating Seahorse: 42 luxurious, floating overwater villas with their own mooring in the Arabian Gulf, located four kilometre by boat (or floating jetties) from Dubai. The first of their kind in the world, the project is the brainchild of CEO Joseph Kleindienst of Kleindienst Group Real Estate and Property Developers of Austria. The completion date is set for the end of 2016.

“Fabricated on the Dubai mainland, the underwater hull will be constructed using water-tight reinforced concrete with a conventional, durable material to withstand the Arabian Gulf environment,” says project director Udhay Lall. Recessed energy efficient lighting, external portable freshwater holding tanks, sewage tanks (emptied by marina staff) with airtight double-glazed glass and safety railings throughout adhere to strict safety regulations.

An interior designer’s dream, each Floating Seahorse will boast three levels – one underwater, one at sea level and an upper deck. Flooring in the spacious, open plan living room with adjoining dining room and powder room is constructed with European marine timber.

The kitchen’s high-end Miele appliances are camouflaged behind custom wood cabinetry that boasts a glass backsplash and natural stone skirting. A curved, futuristic deck area for sunbathing or al fresco dining is reached through floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors. It’s also the perfect jumping-off point for a dip in the sea or snorkeling.

The upper deck level can double as its own guest suite with a comfortable sleeping area with retractable curtains, external shower, kitchenette and even a glass-bottomed Jacuzzi whirlpool.

But it’s the underwater level – an airtight aquarium in which the sea life can watch the humans – that transforms the floating villa into the realm of fantasy.

VictoriaThe master bedroom is full height with internationally approved underwater safety glass floor to ceiling windows. And of course, the full bath with high-end finishes, stand-alone tub and shower facing the coral reef means you may never want to leave the bathroom to enjoy the rest of the floating home!

All this luxury comes with a hefty price tag: each Floating Seahorse costs $2.16 million Cdn. Obviously not a deterrent, as at least 42 are already sold.

Back in BC, a Great Blue Heron alights on the communal dock of Ladner Reach, in Delta, a charming private community of 27colourful floating homes located on an inlet on the Fraser River overlooking protected marshland. Seduced by the lifestyle, the residents are a special breed unto themselves; they are adventurers, lovers of nature and their close community, passionate about the water and all that entails, and they march to their own drummer.

It can be an expensive lifestyle with most floating homes ranging in price from $200,000 to $2.5 million for a three-level, architecturally designed 2,500-square-foot home plus monthly mooring costs and, in some cases, strata fees. Add to that, utilities, taxes and marine (house) insurance.

Kelly and Sandy House_SMcKellar_25Here in Victoria, Mark Lindholm, development manager of Westbay Marine Village, says, “You have to be a bit of a maverick to live in a floating home.”

The community of 22 luxury float homes, ranging from 1,700 to 2,100 square feet, feature homes mostly designed by architect Dan Boot of Studio DB3. He is renowned for his sculptural residential designs and these are stunning examples of how the most innovative architectural elements in land homes can be adapted to floating homes.

“Working with our architect and engineer, we really wanted to create a WOW factor here with unusual rooflines, spiral staircases, outdoor kitchens on rooftop terraces — we even have a resident that had a butler’s elevator installed in their floating home, ” Lindholm enthuses.

The fully serviced village offers long-term leases and custom built “leading edge homes designed to appeal to those who want a beautiful, carefree waterfront home and an unparalleled marine lifestyle.”

The location is prime as residents live right on the Inner Harbour, just across the bay from downtown Victoria. And the float homes are all part of a well-established marina that encourages both live-aboard and recreational users.

Back at Ladner Reach Properties Ltd., managing director Mike Owen is an affable ‘Jimmy Buffett’ character in Hawaiian shirt and sandals, who created this floating “Margaritaville” through business smarts, personality and vision back in the 80s.

“We negotiated with the City of Delta for this marina in 1995,” explains Owen. “Here we have a mix of floating homes built on foam-filled wood barges and state-of-the-art foam-filled concrete barges, owned out-right. There is no strata here but owners pay a monthly moorage, plus annual operating expenses that covers parking stalls, garbage collection and marina upkeep.

“We’re sailors and I have an allergy to mowing the grass,” laughs Frank Archer, a retired

pharmacist, who, with his wife, Marchien, “upsized” after living in an apartment for 17 years to owning a custom built floating home in Ladner Reach for the past 23 years. Their sailboat, Windbourn II, that sleeps 5, is conveniently moored alongside.

Designed by architect Russell Chernoff, of Chernoff Thompson Architects, in Vancouver, their curvacious, 1,350-square-foot floating home boasts a two-level spiral oak staircase leading to a swivel hatch rooftop deck and spectacular 12-foot high glass skylight/sunroom overlooking the main floor with exterior catwalk.

The master bedroom has a walk-in closet, bathroom and sauna (the latter used for boat storage). Opening a hatch in the floor off the kitchen offers wine storage in a low basement area (yes, storage is underwater,) and state-of-the-art kitchen with Jenn-Air appliances. A sunken hot tub was built on the main level’s deck.

Another Ladner Reach resident Sandy McKellar is urging me to come and feed the swans that swim up to the floating homes as soon as salmon kibble cat food is tossed into the water. She is a professional photographer and VP of Wood n Frog Communications and her husband, Kelly McCloskey, president, have lived in their three-storey, 1,800-square-foot floating home since 2014.

World travelers and antique collectors, the exotic vibe of their floating home’s interior an eclectic mix of Persian carpets, carved teak and rosewood armoires, tables and plush upholstered seating.

Moving into their floating home demanded careful orchestration and although nothing had to be hoisted from the water, two trucks needed to arrive at high tide to assure that the angle of the steel ramp down to the dock was navigable; then unload as quickly as possible.

Are there any major negatives to living in a floating home?

“My main complaint is the number of ‘looky-loos’ who kayak and canoe right up to our main deck. I could reach out and hand them a cup of coffee, they’re so close,“ laughs Marchien. “Once I even caught a woman with her face pressed up to our window. They seem to think we’re a tourist attraction! And sometimes, if the weather is a bit rough, I have to tie those long Pilates rubber bands from our dining room chandelier to the chairs, to steady them.”

Otherwise, they all agree, it’s paradise.