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YOUR HOME: THINK SMALL

A model of efficiency

Ingenious features in an architect's South Boston condo make smart use of every square inch – and play up expansive city views.

By Jaci Conry
June 26, 2011

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For the first six months that he and his wife owned their condominium on the seventh floor of South Boston’s Macallen Building, Mark Hutker pitched a tent in the living room. “The only furniture we used were those folding chairs that come in a bag,” says Hutker, an architect whose firm, Hutker Architects Inc., has offices in Falmouth, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket.

“We ‘camped out’ because we wanted to experience the place in its raw state,” says Hutker, who shares the 1,153-square-foot condominium with his wife, Carla. “Maximizing the small space was important, so before we started decorating, I wanted to see where we were drawn when there wasn’t any furniture.”

What the couple observed was that they were always congregating around the west-facing wall of windows, which offers broad, sweeping views of the city. “We’d have people over, and someone was constantly perching on the 6-inch windowsill. I realized that we could create space by extending it,” says Mark, who designed aluminum windowsill extensions that were crafted by Cape Cod Fabrications in East Falmouth and have felt cushions. The 16-foot-long bank of window seats now provides a place to read, a vantage point to take in the amazing view, extra places to sit, and an additional spot to sleep.

The windowsill near the dining area also functions as a sort of music space – it was raised and is used to support an electric piano. Hutker had an aluminum bench custom made to complement the windowsill-extension materials.

It was important that the one-bedroom condo contain personal space for the Hutkers’ two college-age children. “We didn’t need long-term bedroom space for the kids, but we wanted them to have a place to sleep that was their own,” says Hutker. His solution was to insert a 4-foot-deep cabinet containing two sleeping berths into a spatial dead zone in the foyer. Like on a train or yacht, each berth has its own shelf, lighting, and privacy curtain. A separate floor-to-ceiling curtain can be deployed between a foyer wall and the berths to create a small dressing area. The other end of the 22-foot-long cabinet, which was designed by Hutker and constructed by Herrick & White Architectural Woodworkers in Cumberland, Rhode Island, is open to the living area and serves as the media center and a place to showcase the work of local artist Sean Flood.

“In a small home, the key is that each space should offer more than one type of use,” says Hutker. “Be clever; look for ways to use space that aren’t obvious.” The condominium lacked office and shelf space, so he designed a desk out of sheet aluminum for a narrow foyer wall. The desk, suspended by tension rods, can be folded away when not in use. Aluminum shelves of varying lengths above the desk hold, among other things, Hutker’s collection of small wooden boxes.

Wanting to let the city views set the tone for the condominium, the Hutkers opted for a neutral palette offset by a few walls painted Benjamin Moore’s Blackberry, which is also used on the building’s exterior. To bring more of the natural environment into the living area, they installed a foil wallcovering on the ceiling. “It looks like an oxidized silver leaf,” says Mark. “It reflects the wonderful western light in the afternoon and the ground outside all day long. At night, it has a shimmery skylight character.”

For the furnishings, the Hutkers sought a blend of contemporary and mid-century pieces. The living area includes two asymmetrical blue-felt Cassina Aspen sofas, along with circa 1965 leather and teak lounge chairs crafted by Danish manufacturer Selig. They found a mid-century desk chair at the dump. Carla refinished the wood, and Mark’s father reupholstered the piece in leather. The dining table and chairs are vintage Edward Wormley; the table has special meaning for Mark Hutker, as it was built in 1958, the year he was born, and 10 miles away from where he grew up in Indiana.

“One of the big issues with the apartment was that it didn’t contain an area for exercise,” says Hutker, who solved the problem by designing a bed on casters that slides on a track and can be pushed up against a wall, leaving enough space for yoga. The bed is 32 inches high, just taller than the windowsill, so that from it you can see the city views out the windows.

Hutker had lights installed under the raised bed to illuminate the footpath and reduce glare from interior lighting, but otherwise kept lighting in the room to a minimum, a decision inspired by the couple’s time spent camping out in the condominium. “We relied on candles and discovered that the city lights created such a great ambience,” says Hutker. “We wanted to preserve that experience.” Although the tent’s been long packed away, “it still feels a little bit like we’re camping,” he says.

Jaci Conry is a writer on Cape Cod. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.