Architects created a spare, unconventional living space

(Globe Staff Photo / Mark Wilson)
January 18, 2009

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15 Clifton St.
North Cambridge

Price: $539,000
Style: Postmodern
Built: 1894
Square feet: 1,434
Rooms: 4
Bedrooms: 2-plus
Bathrooms: 2.5
Sewer: Public

Look at the front of this 19th-century worker's cottage and it might be a chapel, gleaming white in the winter sun. Walk around the side and you might think you've stumbled upon a warehouse sheathed in rusty corrugated steel. Such are the surprises this unusual renovation brings. Beyond the front door, the house unfolds through a nook with bookcases, into the long, narrow kitchen with its backdrop of slate, a hallway with light streaming through polycarbonate walls, an office in knotty pine, and the backyard beyond sliding doors. Along one side of the house, a row of wooden slats allows heat from the first floor to rise and light from the second-story skylights to beam down. The house has been written up repeatedly since Chaewon Kim and Beat Schenk, a dual-architect couple, bought the small cottage in 2002, stripped it to its bones, and remade it in postmodern spareness.

Kim and Schenk used low-cost but durable materials when they remade the cottage. They purposefully let the outside Cor-ten corrugated steel rust. But they periodically heard from housepainters offering to cover it up. "People are very curious about the outside," Kim said.

Inside, the architects relied on polycarbonate, a durable material more often seen in greenhouses. (They even built a postmodern litter box out of it for their cat, Miu Miu.) A downstairs hallway with polycarbonate walls is bright and airy. Upstairs, a wall in one of the two bedrooms is made of the same stuff. Here, the translucent wall lets light seep in, the wooden studs between the two layers of plastic illuminated like bones in an X-ray.

The couple is moving back to New York City. Listing agent Joe Schutt at Gibson Sotheby's International Realty is mindful some buyers might want to make adjustments - the only doors inside are for bathrooms and closets - and says the open space is suitably adaptable.