Imagine 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 4 km. 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 it’s 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.
The 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 35 are already sold with only 7 remaining.
Remember the romantic 1993 movie, Sleepless In Seattle? It’s the film that put floating homes on everyone’s radar (and Tom Hanks wasn’t so bad either, but I digress.) On the market in 2014, (the previous owners lived there for 21 years,) the 4-bedroom, 2,200 sq.ft. architectural gem moored on Lake Union, was sold for $2.5 million.
Closer to home, a Great Blue Heron alights on the communal dock of Ladner Reach, Delta, B.C., a charming private community of 27 colourful 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; adventurers, lovers of nature and their close community, passionate about the water and all that entails, they march to their own drummer.
It’s an expensive lifestyle with most floating homes ranging in price from $400,000 to 2.5 million for a 3-level, architecturally designed 2,500 sq. ft. home plus monthly mooring costs and in some cases, strata fees. Add to that, utilities, taxes and marine (house) insurance.
“You have to be a bit of a maverick to live in a floating home,” says Mark Lindholm, Development Manager of Westbay Marine Village in Victoria, Canada. The community of 22 luxury float homes, ranging from 1,700 to 2,100 sq. ft., are mostly designed by architect, Dan Boot of studioDB3.
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.
Mike Owen, Managing Director of Ladner Reach Properties Ltd. 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.
“I lived in Kerrisdale and I tried Kitsilano, but I always wanted something different,” explains Owen, a shareholder in the Ladner Reach company that began transforming the area from heavy industrial to residential in 1983. He remembers the hippy lifestyle of students 45 years ago who lived in thrown-together float homes on metal drums and barrels because it was cheap and unregulated.
“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, about $1000 a month (unlike Canoe Pass Village in Delta where you own your own berth and stratified water lots start at $250,000.)
If you saw the coverage of Airbnb’s recent publicity stunt in which they towed a floating home complete with garden along the Thames under London Bridge, you know what a startling sight that can be! Most floating homes are constructed on land and unlike motorized houseboats, are towed to their moored location.
“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 twenty-three years. Their sailboat, Windbourn II, that sleeps 5, is conveniently moored alongside. He’s also the Vice-President of the Community Residential Waterlot Leaseholders Association of British Columbia.
Designed by architect, Russell Chernoff, Chernoff Thompson Architects, in Vancouver, their curvacious, 1,350 sq.-foot floating home, Tralfamadore (from Kurt Vonnegut’s book, Slaughterhouse- Five,) boasts a two-level spiral oak staircase leading to a swivel hatch rooftop deck and spectacular 12-ft 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 is perfect for 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.
Chernoff, a boating man since his youth, (“my daughter was conceived on a boat,” he chuckles,) has created a niche that attracts international demand for his floating homes as part of his architecture practice, as well as writing many of their regulatory guidelines. His raison d’etre when designing float homes is optimizing the light everywhere as well as cleverly crafting compact uses of space. Chernoff also designed The Slightly in Coal Harbour, the famous Yellow House float home with full height basement, at Granville Island and plans for an extension of floating units for the Grandville Island Hotel in False Creek to include two-story lofts. Projects for an entire community of floating homes, ‘Sanctuary Cove’ near Brisbane, Australia, and in San Diego, California, are not yet under construction.
The float homes at Ladner Reach are fully serviced with water, hydro, high-speed Internet, a new sewer system (this summer,) cable, telephone and fire control. Children can visit wearing lifejackets however, for safety reasons, families with small children are not allowed to live at the floating home community.)
Sandy McKellar is urging me to come and feed the swans and their cygnets 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 sq.-ft. floating home since 2014. “Sometimes it’s like a Disney movie gone ugly here because we see all aspects of nature in its raw form,” quips McCloskey.
World travelers and antique collectors, the exotic vibe of their floating home’s interior is South-East Asian and Middle Eastern – an eclectic mix of Persian carpets, carved teak and rosewood armoires, tables and plush upholstered seating. “Having lived as a child in Iran during the Shah’s regime and in Papua, New Guinea, because my father worked as an international engineer, I fell in love with Persian architecture and décor,” relates McKellar. “Our floors are covered with more tribal carpets from Iran, Turkey and one from Pakistan and Afghanistan than we have space for!”
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.