AT HOME MAGAZINE

HGTV shows first-time homeowner's custom houseboat become her dream home

Some of the furniture was staged by HGTV, says designer/builder Kent Perry, and some was offered to homeowner Sarah J. H
Some of the furniture was staged by HGTV, says designer/builder Kent Perry, and some was offered to homeowner Sarah J. Haggard. “A lot of it did work, and Sarah fell in love with a lot,” he says. In the living room, Perry says, “We knew we wanted natural light and air flow, and to clean the windows, she can tip the sashes.”(Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times/TNS)
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SEATTLE — We can’t speak for all reality TV, but we can say this: When Sarah J. Haggard first sees her brand-new custom houseboat, in the HGTV show “Home Afloat,” her reaction is giddily genuine. That is real-life surprise. She hadn’t set eyes on her very own afloat home since it’d been framed.

Her lack of tears is honest-true for real, too.

“They tried to make me do it again to cry,” Haggard says of the filming crew. She did not.

You’d be all smiles, too, if you had this Epiphany.

Haggard has had several — including the official name of her home.

“I knew I wanted to live on the water from the moment I first stepped foot on a houseboat,” said Haggard, the founder and CEO of the mentorship app Tribute. “The peacefulness of the water combined with the bohemian lifestyle appealed to me. A few years ago, I decided to take a chance, and signed a five-month lease on a rental.”

Four months into that lease, life on the water got a little rough: The owner of her rental houseboat was going to start renovations. Haggard had gone through a breakup and had nowhere else to go. But then, she said, “Something incredible happened.” Her longtime friends Todd Filer and Kent Perry (houseboaters who owned their own design/renovation business for 20 years) had been approached by HGTV to star in its new show. “They just needed a client to build a boat for — and so they called me,” Haggard said. “I’m a believer in universal energy, but this was too good to be true. I immediately said yes, although I had no idea how it would all work out.”

The universe came through, energetically. “Literally at the last hour, the houseboat owner said I could stay. I said I couldn’t afford it on my own, and he dropped the rent $1,000 a month. I stayed there while we built the houseboat. So many stars were aligning.”

Following city law, Haggard said, she could not build a new houseboat unless it replaced an existing one. “You have to be mindful; you can only build in the footprint.” She found a 60-by-15-foot houseboat for $55,000 but then couldn’t find a loan to build her new one.

This is where Haggard’s own mentor turned into one of those aligning stars. Haggard had worked with Eileen Kollmeyer at Microsoft; she and her husband, Charlie Kollmeyer, had built their own floating home, and also knew Filer and Perry.

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“They’re kind of like my parents,” Haggard said. “This is the first home I ever had. Eileen said, ‘You’d better get used to asking friends and family for money.’ I called Eileen and said, ‘I know who I’m going to ask: you.’ They gave me money from their own home so I could build my dream home.”

Armed with a $450,000 budget and a dream that wouldn’t sink, Haggard joined the show and shared her water-life wishlist: an open floor plan (plus outdoor spaces) for entertaining, a real bathtub, a dedicated laundry area, a killer view of Seattle and a boatload of light.

Filer, Perry and Charlie Kollmeyer got to work at Seattle’s Canal Boatyard. (“Normally, you have to hire an architect, engineer and interior designer. These three were all of that in one,” Haggard said.) HGTV filmed the whole process, on a rigorous schedule. “From the barge up, everything was built in six weeks,” said Perry. “We had to prove we could do it.” (They did, but “Home Afloat” was scuttled before it became a series; Filer and Perry were featured in the first two episodes, which continue to air.)

Haggard’s dreamy two-story, 1,400-square-foot Epiphany is now the star of the airwaves and of the watery waves of its Lake Union marina. “It’s a mixture of seaside cottage meets Midwest farmhouse, with a modern spin on houseboat living,” said Haggard. Everything — every thing — she had hoped for is here. (“You have to visualize your dreams before they happen. The view from the master bedroom is exactly what I had envisioned,” she said.)

And then there were even more genuine surprises:

A fantastic, expansive plywood bookcase filled with actual books that are actually read hides a secret powder room between the kitchen and the living room on the lower level. “The bathroom is a crowd-pleaser,” Haggard said.

Following the hidden-happy-surprise concept, a good-sized square of the floor in the kitchen opens to reveal a wine cellar below, where it stays 50 degrees. Beyond this stretches a play area for Haggard’s three nieces — or for Mr. Pants, her prancing cat, when strangers pop over for a tour.

Even her houseboat’s name was a fitting surprise. When Haggard registered her new custom houseboat with the Coast Guard, she discovered the original houseboat — the one she gave away before building the home of her hopes — was named Epiphany. And even modern mariners know you shouldn’t change the name of a boat.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.