Home Ahoy

There are many limitation when it comes to the construction of a home that floats on the ocean, even though it is tethered to a dock in Victoria’s busy Inner Harbour.

By Betty Campbell

Jackie Robinson and Roger Savoie had ‘location, location, location’ in mind when it came to choosing where they wanted to live. When it came to designing and building their dream home matters became more difficult because they decided to live on the water, in a float home, amid the comings and goings of Victoria’s busy Inner Harbour. It was all about the view and one of the guiding principles in the design, construction and finishing of the home. “There really isn’t a bad view in the place – we drew and re-drew until we had exactly what we wanted and had the help of an architect who finalized the plans,” says Jackie.

The basic structure of the cedar detailed float began in early 2005 with the frame being laid on land at nearby Ogden Point. Fierce winter windstorms, in this exposed location, created some problems. The couple only had two months to do their job before having to move out to make way for visiting cruise ships which often arrive five at a time, and take up every inch of space.

At the end of April 2005, the structure was craned into the water and tugged to its new location at the end of Victoria’s historic Fisherman’s Wharf. The couple then set about the inner construction and finishing details. Careful attention to weight of materials, traffic flow and storage was essential. For example, lighter, yet stylish, black granite tiles for the kitchen counters were used instead of a weighty granite slab. Jackie says, “This is a labour of love – and there isn’t anything here that we haven’t lifted, carried or trucked in.”

The float home is called Augusta May after the owner’s mothers. Visitors step into the bright foyer from the dock. The lower level of the 2,100-square-foot home has two bedrooms: the master, with an en suite including a jet soaker tub, and a guest room. Floor-to-ceiling closets flank the bed with additional storage built into a comfy corner window seat. “We thought things out really carefully, down to the bench seats for storage,” says Jackie. A private deck off the master bedroom faces the ocean and is perfect for watching harbour activity and evening sunsets away from the hustle and bustle of the dock. Lifting up the trap door in the floor of the guest bedroom reveals their own in-floor fishing hole.

Upstairs, on the second level, the powder room has more than a touch of elegance. It features a large, gold-framed mirror and a rounded, marble-topped vanity with oil-rubbed bronze fixtures. The open-concept main living area has a living room with Valor gas fireplace and an adjoining kitchen with stainless steel trimmed granite tile counter tops, stainless steel appliances and maple cabinets with soft-close drawers. There is no dining room. “(It) takes up too much space,” Jackie says. “We just have a table for two along one wall which can be opened with leafs when we have company. We’ve had up to 12 guests seated here for a dinner party.” An eating bar underneath frosted glass pendant lights is for casual snacking in the kitchen. Propane fires the stove and the fireplace.

Ever mindful of weight and its limitations in a home floating on the ocean, is a tile-look linoleum in the foyer, rather than ceramic tile, and laminate on the upper floor instead of hardwood.

Regarding the appearance and atmosphere in the home, Jackie says, “My goal was to be as contemporary as possible. With this as a foundation, we can easily change or adapt in the future with furniture and accessories.” The couple installed five large windows in the living area with magnificent views of the Inner Harbour, and there’s a covered deck where Jackie and Roger enjoy morning lattes and Happy Hour cocktails.

The third level, a 700-square-foot deck, has breathtaking 360-degree views over the snowy Olympic Mountains in Washington State, downtown Victoria and the ever-changing marine activity of the harbour.

All-in-all, the float home took two years to complete – at least to the move-in stage. Visitors step into the foyer from the dock. “We still have to finish off certain projects – namely the stairs from the foyer up to the third level,” Jackie says. “And, now that we are living here, I want to change some things around, but that’s the fun. Then there’s the furniture on the top deck – that needs changing too.” Neighbours include more colourful float homes, fishing boats, a fish market, an organic coffee shop, an ice cream kiosk and one of Victoria’s favourite attractions – Barb’s Fish and Chip Café. Meanwhile, tiny harbour ferries drop off and pick up passengers a few feet from their front door, sailboats and ferries glide by and, a few feet overhead, float planes zoom in and out of the harbour. Then there are the plump, resident seals at the end of the dock that poke their heads up from the depths for tasty treats from residents and visitors.

“You have to like tourists and chatting with people,” Jackie says. “It’s like living in a small town, and there’s a joy that goes with it.” As for the incredible view, she says, “We stare at it endlessly; it has been worth all of the work and we just love it.”