Photo Credit: Rich & Marla Thomas
can be situated in the woods, on a mountainside
or even in a tree, many people think of cabins as being located on or near the water – such that a lake
or river is part of the property. And the cabin’s positioning takes full advantage of that attribute with views of the water
from most windows, a short walk to the water’s edge, and the cabin’s patio or deck
enabling occupants to sit outside near the water. Rich and Marla Thomas, and their 10-year-old daughter Katelyn, have the “being on the water” down in spades. The unique floating cabin community of Stardust Marina and Resort sits on 33,000-acre Norris Lake near Knoxville, Tenn. The Thomases have owned theirs since March 2013, purchasing the cabin, which was built in 2007, fully furnished.
Overall, the Thomases have made only a few changes to their place. Along with some interior decorating
, they installed new weathered-looking cedar siding, faux rock on the front columns, a new section of deck and a PWC ramp. When purchased, the floating house had an “ocean beach” feel that the Thomas’ have slowly changed over to a “lake” feel by incorporating Marla’s childhood waterskis
and Rich’s fishing
rods/lures. One of Marla’s skis hangs on the front of the float house with “Life is Better at the Lake” painted on it.
The couple also uses a U.S. Marine Corps trunk/footlocker that belonged to Marla’s dad as a coffee table. “It’s a nice way to keep his memory alive at a place we know he would enjoy,” said Marla. The task of making the cabin feel like theirs was no easy feat. “Originally, the house was built near shore/the marina, filled with furniture, and then pushed out to the current site,” said Rich. “For our renovations, everything we needed had to be brought over by boat
." While the Thomases have plenty of watercrafts to tote groceries and nominal supplies, Stardust Marina and Resort rents pontoon boats for larger cargo.
Though it’s a seven-hour drive from their Ohio home, they use their cabin every chance they get. “We’re both retired school teachers,” said Marla. “Although we bought the floating house two years before retirement, we are still on a school schedule due to Katelyn. We spend the entire summer at the lake, from two days after school is out until a day or two before it starts again.” Throughout the year, the family also spends any breaks that happen in the school schedule there – school conferences, spring break, Thanksgiving.
“Some of our best hiking
adventures have been when the lake is down in the fall/winter/spring. Over spring break, we walked the shoreline – that would normally be underwater during summer – looking for treasures. Katelyn found a turtle shell, several mussel shells with fossils, a ski belt, sun glasses and two swim noodles,” said Marla. When arriving at their retreat, the Thomases park their Chevy Tahoe at the marina and take either one of their own moored boats – a 219 Bryant ski boat or a 215 Procraft fish-and-ski boat – over. However, to make full use of the lake, their arsenal of watercraft also includes a Sea-Doo PWC, a paddleboat and two kayaks
. These can be docked on all sides of the floating house. During the off season, their boats and toys get stowed five miles away in a storage garage.
What’s the best part of living on the water? “Everything!” according to the Thomases. Among the top perks are the water activities
, not having grass to mow or property to tend to, watching the sun rise over the water (it’s the upper deck off the master bedroom
that gets the nod as the best design
feature for this reason), and the extremely relaxing nature of being on their private “island.” Deciding what to do each day was the hardest part of having this kind of retreat. “There are so many options,” said Marla.
They keep busy fishing for striper, smallmouth bass and largemouth bass, swimming, waterskiing, knee-boarding, tubing, paddleboarding and kayaking, which are “definitely favorites.” Hiking and caving are pleasures they enjoy off the water. “We love to be outdoors as a family and encourage our friends and family
to join in on the fun,” said Rich. “Striper fishing is an adventure all on its own because the sheer strength and size of a big striper can intimidate even a veteran angler. Watching a new fisherman or child struggle to reel a huge fish in – while screaming with excitement – is priceless. The same can be said for those who are able to ski, kneeboard or wakeboard for the first time. It’s very rewarding for us as well as them!” This was especially true when Katelyn learned to waterski. “It was truly memorable,” said Marla. “The further out of the water she got, the more her facial expression showed delight and excitement! We were so proud of her for making it on the first attempt.”
Another learning experience they had was losing two cell phones in a week during their first summer of living on the water. “We now have a waterproof iPhone with a lifejacket!” said Rich. Lifejackets are a must for water safety
, and that extends to their Maltese/Yorkie dog, Rosebud. “The ducks and geese visit the floating house every day,” explained Marla. “Rosebud gets so excited that she often falls in while trying to greet them. She is a good swimmer but wears a lifejacket for safety just like the kids. We have also installed Aqua-Stairs [a dock ladder brand] so she, the kids and grandma can get out of the water easily at any time.” Rosebud’s lifejacket also comes in handy as she’s an avid boater. “She loves to ride on the front point of the kayak,” said Marla. “It allows her to see everything that is going on.”
Of course, spending the Fourth of July at the cabin is a common American tradition, and the Thomases are no different. “We always have a full house and enjoy watching “Fire on the Water,’” (touted as the largest, private, Independence Day fireworks show in Tennessee), said Rich, “and the many other marina-based fireworks displays with hundreds of boaters out on the water.” While the days may be full of activities, the Thomases love the evenings. “Ending the day with fresh grilled striper, then making s’mores on the campfire
(which is a dish fire pit with cover located on the side deck) and rekindling the day’s events is the perfect way to wind down,” said Rich.
Tour the Floating Cabin
Gina Chiodi Grensing, lover of all cabins, has added visiting Norris Lake and a floating cabin to her bucket list.