Cottage beloved for its simplicity

DREAM HOME

February 27, 1994|By Ellen James Martin | Ellen James Martin,Sun Staff Writer

The house where Robin Swift spent her childhood was a stucco mansion with 12 bathrooms on a steep hill outside Boston. Memories of the drafty, frightening house left her with a yearning for a place small and charming.

That's exactly what Ms. Swift found one day as she made her way to the Ruxton Country School, where she teaches fifth- through eighth-graders.

Responding to a small hand-painted "For Sale by Owner" sign outside a tiny stucco house in the heart of Ruxton, she met with the owner and made a quick decision.

"After 10 minutes inside, I knew I wanted to buy it," she recalls.

She paid $135,000 for the home in 1990.

Built 80 years ago, the three-bedroom bungalow with 800 square feet of living space and only one bathroom was just the right size for Ms. Swift, a 51-year-old divorced mother of two grown children who visit her occasionally. The tiny house also has the advantage of low heating bills: just $400 a year.

It wasn't just the scale of the house that Ms. Swift appreciated. She liked the comfortable corner screen porch, renovated kitchen with an exposed wood beam on which to hang baskets of Swedish ivy, and the way the ceiling of the living room had been raised to a cathedral height.

She also was intrigued by the unusual history of the property.

Adjacent to the bungalow, standing at right angles, is a second building which housed a Shell gas station and a mom-and-pop variety store on Bellona Avenue -- a business that served Ruxton customers into the 1950s.

After the business closed, the building was converted into a garage and studio.

Wary that the buried gasoline tanks might cause environmental problems, one of Ms. Swift's first steps after moving in was to have the old tanks dug up and removed. Then, convinced that the property was safe, she opened an after-school center for teen-agers, using the auxiliary building as her base.

The program, designed for middle-school students from Ruxton Country School, was popular. And for two years, income from the center helped Ms. Swift bridge the lean financial years in the aftermath of her divorce. Even so, she closed the center last year to move on to other ventures.

One of Ms. Swift's projects is a children's book she's writing on Japan in the 1850s. Another is the renovation of her home.

Recently, she hired contractors to tear down a wall and convert two bedrooms into one large master bedroom, with a raised ceiling.

When time and money allow, Ms. Swift says she would like to make better use of her auxiliary building.

Perhaps she'll combine the two structures, creating another wing of living space for the bungalow. She also may winterize her screen porch, a favorite area that she'd like to use year-round.

But she is in no rush to add more space to her cozy house. Partly a reaction to the discomfort she felt in her childhood home, Ms. Swift has a simple philosophy: "It's wonderful to keep life simple."

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