This article ran in about a dozen Cox newspapers around the country. In our paper it was front page of the "lifestyle" section. We even got a call from a lady in Ocala, Florida wanting to know where she could get a shower curtain like the one in the article.
Whatever Floats Your Home
Floating house, complete with 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths and a rope swing, a dream home for Texas couple
By PAMELA LeBLANC
Austin, Texas - The daily ritual goes like this: Rick DuRapau, mad inventor, water lover, creator of the folding sawhorse sold at Home Depot, wakes up, climbs onto his roof, grabs the rope swing and hurls himself into his backyard. Luckily, he hits with a splash. He swims through emerald green water to an orange buoy, then turns around and swims back to his three-bedroom, two-story house. Did we mention that the house floats? Lake Travis is his front yard. And his backyard. It sloshes against all four sides of the encapsulated foam platform upon which DuRapau, 53, and his wife, Ann, 52, live.
DuRapau fantasized about this place for years, and with the help of the man who floated Carlos'N Charlies restaurant on Lake Travis, made it a reality. Right now, he's showing it off, from the shuffleboard and pool tables on the first floor to the fold-down, hideaway beds on the second. A blue heron lands on the dock next door. "That's what you get to see when you're living on the lake," Rick DuRapau smiles, then beckons us in.
Leaving dry land
From the gravel driveway, it's a quick walk across a 20-foot gangway into the buoyant abode on the Big Sandy arm of Lake Travis. The DuRapaus have lived here full time since March. The building is air-conditioned, but the front door is wide open to take advantage of the breeze on the water. The house is just 1,350 square feet; Anything with a footprint of 1,500 square feet or more is considered a marina and would require a marina permit.
Inside, everything is about maximizing space and optimizing the view. The decor is retro: a vintage 1955 boat motor; a stuffed fish bought at a garage sale; green, red and yellow linoleum floors; and refinished metal gliders to sit on.
The first floor is open and airy. There's a full kitchen, pullout standing bar and a kitchen table surrounded by seats made for a pontoon boat. Rick DuRapau flips one open - this is where he stashes his scuba diving equipment. Overhead, fishing rods clip out of sight to the ceiling. Another door opens onto a wide back deck, which wraps all the way around the house on both floors. All the necessities are here: a picnic table, hammock and even a barbecue grill clamped to the railing (burgers, anyone?). Upstairs are three snug bedrooms and a full bath (there's also a half-bath downstairs and a second shower on the porch). A green metal roof tops it all.
The crowning glory is the swing, which clings to one corner of the house like an enormous mosquito. It was installed in a day and a half, just in time for a party. DuRapau sketched his idea out on a napkin, purchased sections of radio tower, affixed them to the porch and rigged up a rope with a water ski tow handle. Later, he added two launch pads - one from the second floor porch railing, and then later, one from the roof.
A flood of ideas
The DuRapaus were living in a house in Austin (they still have it) when the Storehorse Folding Sawhorse (the black and yellow sawhorses that you see everywhere) started making money. In 1998, they used some of that money to buy a lake house. But that house faced due west, into the sun, and its dock got too much wave action. In 2000, they spotted the empty lot where their floating house is now tethered.
And Rick DuRapau began to think.
Lake Travis is a flood-control lake, and its level changes dramatically depending on rainfall and downstream needs. It's risky to build too close to the water, in case of a flood. But those were the houses DuRapau liked best.
"Ever since I bought this property, I fantasized about building a sometimes-floating house," he says. It would be built close to the water, with a system, similar to those used on some boat docks, that would allow it to float during high water. "And when I fantasize, I fantasize obsessively."
How polite his wife laughs.
As they reminisce, a personal watercraft putters by as its riders gawk at the floating house.
"I did drawing after drawing," DuRapau continues, explaining how he first visualized building his house on land, next to the water. That plan, however, evaporated after DuRapau met Curtis Brown, the man who made a nearby floating restaurant.
"I brought Curtis to the site and was telling him what I wanted to do. He said, 'Why don't you just float it?' " DuRapau says.
And so he did.
One idea creates more
The house would have to be designed to withstand drought as well as flood. DuRapau designed it himself using a computer program for planning in 3D.
Even though it isn't't considered a marina by Lower Colorado River standards DuRapau's house must adhere to residential dock safety standards, say James Dunham supervisor of docks and marinas program at LCRA. "There's no permitting required, but standards like encased flotation and maintaining docks no more than 100 feet from shore at all times."
Two cables attach the house to land with two more cables lead to anchors in the cove. The house glides in and out, and up and down, as the water level changes.
But merely floating wasn't enough. The DuRapau's wanted the house to be aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly and to use the space efficiently. Plus, there had to be a lot of windows overlooking the water.
Construction, led by Brown began in late 2001. Even as building began, DuRapau continued to sketch out floor plans. "What they hated to hear was 'I was drawing last night' DuRapau says. "Because it had never been done, it was a long process."
His wife puts it this way: "it was learn as you go, build from the hip"
DuRapau estimates he's spent about $250,000 building his dream home, in addition to what he spent on the lot. The base of the house and its tubular metal all-welded skeleton were built at a marina. When both floors were framed, the whole thing was put in the water and towed by the DuRapaus' 22-foot ski boat to the lot. The move went off seamlessly. The house was tied off to shore.
"The neighbors were plain ol' curious with maybe a little bit of What's the crazy guy doing?' " he says. They were mostly worried I was building a marina in there backyard.
The DuRapaus worked hard to use green materials, such as linoleum made of linseed oil and rice hulls, and installed an aerobic water treatment system instead of a septic tank. "We're proud of the innovativeness of it," Ann DuRapau says. "It hadn't been done, so there was the challenge of creating it."
They're also proud of how they used every inch of space. An office is tucked onto the second-floor stairwell. The pint-sized house can sleep 14 in beds, two of which fold down from a guest room wall; others are tucked away in trundles. Storage drawers are built into the toe kicks under the kitchen cabinets.
Ann DuRapau put her foot down on just one thing. "We were going to put an indoor fishing hole here," her husband says, pointing to a spot near the shuffleboard table. "When you can walk 12 steps outside . . . ," she replies.
Rolling with the lake
Brown, the builder putters up on his boat and ties off to the back porch, just as Rick DuRapau is explaining how during the cold winter months they like to put a fire pit on the metal pad on the back porch, flip on the underwater light and watch the fish.
"It's the only thing like it on Lake Travis," Brown says, casting an admiring glance across the deck. "And I'd bet there's no floating houses in the country with rock veneer and Sheetrock...."
The discussion turns to the feel of the place. It's a weekday evening and the group might as well be parked on a chunk of limestone. You just don't feel the house move most of the time. "When you're sitting on the toilet, or in the bathtub is where most people notice." Ann DuRapau says. "On weekends when the lake is busy, you feel it more."
And that's OK, because the DuRapau's embrace the water. That's the whole point. "One thing we love is we're so much a part of the lake itself. It's like "coving up" (anchoring a boat in a cove) all the time. Being down here on the water is what it's all about," she says. "It's the way it should be," Brown pipes in. "When you can step off your front porch and fall into the lake, you're living on the water."
But living on the lake does have its disadvantages. "You do live in a glass house," Rick DuRapau says. "When you come out of the bathroom, you do look to see who's out there." And the DuRapau's have worries most owners never have to contemplate. "I used to wake up in a cold sweat thinking what would happen if I lost an anchor," he adds. "This thing is bulletproof," Brown says. "We just overkilled it."
The result, pardon the pun, floats Rick DuRapau's boat. Consider this: A few weeks ago, he pulled a chair out onto the porch, set up his TV in the doorway and started watching a basketball game. (He call this the drive-in theater effect.) After a while, a couple of fisherman pulled up and started watching as they fished. "Want me to turn this up?" DuRapau hollered cheerfully.
Passers-by don't hesitate to stare. "Would you in you wildest imagination ever pull up to a strangers house and say 'Can we look inside?' " DuRapau says. It's happened - twice."
Not that he's complaining. That kind of reaction, in fact, is likely to win a demonstration of the rope swing.