This season we ventured to the floating home of Bill and LauraLee Symes to capture our Summer Collection. Situated perfectly on a quiet river, we were at first struck by the serene setting of their historic house on the water. Calm, cool, and collected, all it takes is a peek to see that their home has been designed with love and truly thoughtful design intention. Inspired by their story and passion for all things outdoors, we asked LauraLee to share her story and a few lesser-known facts about houseboat living.
Tell us about your home! How long have you lived in it and how did it come to be?
We live in a floating home on the Willamette River in SE Portland. We moved here in 2011 and lived in one of the moorage’s original one-bedroom “round tops” for four years while designing and building our current home, completed in the fall of 2015. Once it was finished, a tug boat pushed it up the river to its slip at the Oregon Yacht Club.
You’re a consultant by trade, but you and your husband also run Sellwood Floral Co. What set you on this path?
I went to PSU and Pacific University to study happiness and quality of life. For years I put my training to work as a professional coach and Licensed Professional Counselor. Working with flowers had been a lifelong hobby.
During my one-year sabbatical, I couldn’t see myself returning to an office. So, I thought that I could help others achieve happiness through flowers instead of coaching and counseling. Working with flowers in our community has certainly brought me tremendous joy. It is rewarding work. I have seen how flowers help others in the most momentous celebrations and the most sorrowful days of our lives.
"I’ve always been curious as to what makes people happy."
Did you always know you wanted to live in a floating home? What drew you to the water?
Though we both have always been drawn to the water (we're avid sailors), we never dreamed of living on it. Over the years of sailing on the Willamette, we couldn’t help noticing the houseboats of the Oregon Yacht Club (OYC) moorage. They looked magical in the late afternoon sun. One day I watched from my office across the river as a gorgeous new houseboat was being tugged down to the OYC. The next day I was house shopping!
How did you go about designing your home? Were there any unique challenges to overcome?
We had a pretty good idea of the house we wanted — a modern update of the traditional shingle-style beach cottage you see in eastern coastal towns or lakes. We spent two years collecting photos and drawings of pretty much every interior and exterior detail while searching for an architect who shared our aesthetic. We were very lucky to find BC&J Architects, a husband-and-wife team from Bainbridge Island, WA, who fit our needs perfectly.
If you had to choose three themes that inspired your home design, what would they be?
We were inspired by eastern coastal cottages, classic lake houses, and traditional yacht clubs. Hence, the clean lines, white wood paneling, and ample windows overlooking the water.
What are some lesser-known facts about living on a houseboat?
The floating home community at the OYC is vibrant, fun, and close-knit. It's like an old-fashioned neighborhood where neighbors take care of each other. Also, we get to keep our boats on the dock in front of the house.
We go nearly everywhere by boat: downtown, grocery shopping, out to breakfast (and even take the dog out for a walk on Ross Island.)
Winter snowstorms can be a challenge, and we have to dredge the mud under our houses every ten years or so to stay afloat.
When a large boat goes by at high speeds, the wake causes us to rock and roll and sway. Sometimes alarming if you are, say, in the shower.
"There’s always something new to see since the river is always moving."
What is your favorite area of the house to spend time in?
We love mornings in the kitchen or on the front deck, overlooking the river and the hills of southwest Portland. Going to bed at night while watching the lights come on across the river is magical.
To you, what makes a house a home?
It’s the place we’d rather be than anywhere else in the world, the place we’re always happy to return to, the place we want to sleep in every night and wake up in every morning.
What are some things that bring you joy these days?
Many things! Our amazing team at Sellwood Flower Co., traveling, cooking, and most importantly, spending time with our six grown children and two grandchildren.
Last but not least, what’s your favorite summertime houseboat activity?
Cocktail cruises on the river, followed by al fresco dinners on the deck with family and good friends!
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