BEAUTY IN THE FRIDGE

Where Architects Live | Suzanne Stefan

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Studio DIAA principal Suzanne Stefan welcomes est inside her sustainable, compact houseboat in Portage Bay, Seattle, home to her family of three.

Studio DIAA stands for design, interiors, architecture and atmosphere – the final ‘a’ is a core component of the studio’s ethos. Founded by Suzanne Stefan and parter Drew Shawver in 2019, the emerging Seattle-based firm is committed to designing thoughtful, intimate spaces that ‘move the human spirit’, both having worked with the likes of mwworks and Masastudio before joining forces. 

Reflecting Seattle’s longstanding tradition of floating homes and houseboats, Suzanne Stefan’s own family home sees a new build atop an original log float foundation from the early 1900s. The minimal home rethinks our connection to nature while demonstrating the ability to live considerately on a small footprint.

Suzanne Stefan was initially drawn to the home for its location and adjacent private garden – a rarity in floating homes. But with a dilapidated century-old build on her hands, Suzanne knew she had her work cut out for her. “When my husband and I began the process of renovating the home, we quickly realised the construction lacked structural integrity and that we would need to start from scratch,” Suzanne explains.

Suzanne and the Studio DIAA team designed the new home within the exact parameters of the previous home, retaining the historic 1900s float foundation made from old-growth logs. In addition, a 1.5 metre-wide cedar deck wraps itself around the perimeter of the home, granting each room direct access outdoors.

The overall material selection was dictated by the need to convey a feeling of lightness, coinciding with the floating nature of the home. As a result, the home’s exterior is clad in dark-stained cedar, chosen for its light-reduction properties, while the interior sees a light and bright pastel palette. “We wanted the exterior of the building to feel as though it was receding into a shadow behind the tree, contrasting the amplified presence of light inside,” Suzanne says.

“Communing with nature will always continue as an experience within this home, whether through the garden, sky, or water.”

– Studio DIAA principal Suzanne Stefan

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Studio DIAA specified aluminium-lined skylights, reflecting the everchanging colours of the sky and sea.

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The Davide Groppi Neuro Suspension Light makes a statement in the living room, accompanied by a Gruppo Euromobil sofa and artwork by Joseph Goldberg.

Inspired by the poetic quality of light reflecting off the surrounding water, the interior sees a tactile spectrum of whitewashed oak and pine, stainless steel and linen punctuated by vintage pieces and custom-designed furniture, imbuing the unique home with a deep sense of personalisation.

Linen sheers segment each space in the primary living and dining area, allowing for open-plan entertaining or private spaces when required. Suzanne says they were surprised at the generosity of space within the home, achieved through the absence of corridors. “Rather than implementing separate circulation, one passes through the rooms to move through the home,” she says. “The floor-to-ceiling windows are also key, which allowed us to expand the feeling of space by claiming the exterior.” 

Alongside full height windows, three operable aluminium-lined skylights above the dining table, entrance and in the bathroom reflect the everchanging colours of the sky and the sea, also assisting with cross-ventilation.

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Sculpture by Peter Millett

When asked about her favourite room in the home, Suzanne Stefan says it’s undoubtedly the master bedroom. “It is the quietest room in the house, and we find ourselves communing with nature here in a very private setting,” Suzanne says. “We also find ourselves peacefully observing light patterns that display on our walls and ceiling –they reflect off the water surface of the lake and make beautiful shadows from the curly willow tree just outside,” she adds.

Echoing her desire to be alongside nature, Suzanne’s Portage Bay floating home exudes a sense of calm and peace. At a time where we’ve had to spend more time indoors, Suzanne says she couldn’t be more grateful to have had her home during the past 18 months.

“Our home nurtures our wish to be alongside nature, to seek light as a quality of life, and to engage with a community that we find just outside our door by stepping out onto the dock,” Suzanne says. “The home also reduces the presence of things in our life to what is essential – we don’t like to have unused or superfluous things around us, and the small footprint of the house keeps us focused on the necessities.”

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A 1.5 metre-wide cedar deck wraps itself around the perimeter of the home, granting each room direct access outdoors.

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