At Home in Kendall Square
For a couple of Cambridge-based artists, a West Coast relocation means saying goodbye to their light-filled, industrial-style loft.
Words: Alyssa Giacobbe
Images: Samara Vise
After graduating from Syracuse University’s industrial design program, college sweethearts Tracy Luk and Nate Schaal maintained a long distance relationship for several years before finally landing jobs in the same city: Boston. The year was 2007 when Tracy, a footwear designer for Reebok, and Nate, an industrial designer for Bose, first settled into a 700-square-foot rental in Cambridge’s then-up-and-coming Kendall Square neighborhood.
Eventually, the couple traded up, purchasing their 1,900-square-foot, bi-level loft in the Bent Street Artist Association, an 8-unit live/work co-op a few blocks away. They felt right at home in the open, industrial space — converted into condos in 1996 from a municipal building — with unlimited potential for personalization and plenty of room to entertain.
Although the building is no longer artists-only, the creative vibe in the former commercial garage remains, as do elements from its previous incarnation, such as a steel gantry system made from an old snowplow engine hoist in the shared 40’ by 40’ courtyard. But as their family has since grown to include 4-year-old Milo, they’re making the move to San Francisco to be closer to Tracy’s family.
What a fun space. Was it a big design project when you first moved in?
Tracy: Not at all. We personalized and we painted — including the blue-and-white striped wall in the entryway. But one of the things we liked most was the industrial-ness. That’s why we decided to keep the concrete floors, even though a lot of people choose to hardwood over them.
Nate: We tried to keep the space as raw as possible. And open. When people come over, they’re always amazed by how much room there is to move around.
Tracy: The one big change we made was adding a wall upstairs. When I was pregnant in 2011, we realized we’d need a proper second bedroom. We added the wall, and suddenly it was a great space for a family and for guests. It also created a small office area, which is nice for when we work from home.
But I noticed even the wall has windows. There’s a ton of light here.
Tracy: We love that about it. The skylight in Milo’s room has blinds, but we’ve more or less tried to take advantage of the light. Upstairs, frosted Plexiglass panels divide spaces while letting light through.
Nate: It makes it pretty easy to keep plants alive!
Did you work with anyone on the interior design?
Nate: Everything’s been on our own. We’ve collected a lot of vintage pieces over the years, whether from flea markets or the Brimfield Antique Show. We spent five years in college in upstate New York, and a lot of the furniture and art are things we found around there, too. A midcentury dresser in Milo’s room was a Craigslist find; the desk in the office is a table I made in college. And we have a friend who is associated with Herman Miller, so we have collected many of those pieces over time.
Tracy: We have lots of Nate’s college artwork and photographs by friends. The photo over the kitchen sink is of Nate’s college kitchen sink.
There must be a story behind the letters over the dining room table.
Tracy: We left that wall blank for a year or two. We didn’t know what to put up there. I was at Brimfield with a coworker when I found the letters.
Nate: I got a text. She said, ‘Hey, we found these cool letters, but all I can think of to spell is NEAT.’ I said, ‘No — it spells NATE!’ NEAT won.
Tracy: People always ask us, “Why ‘neat’?” But it just happened to be those four letters.
What attracted you to the neighborhood?
Nate: For our first two years in Boston, we lived half a block away in a one-bedroom. When we were ready to buy, a coworker of mine who was living in this building at the time connected us with the couple next door, who they’d heard was thinking about selling. We came by, knocked, and had a conversation. Next thing we knew we were buying a condo.
The Kendall Square area was very different back then, right?
Nate: It was much less developed. But we liked that it was raw, and there weren’t lot of people around. After 5 pm, it was a ghost town. It’s changed quite a bit since then, but only in positive ways — companies doing exciting things have moved in and the restaurant scene in Kendall Square is terrific, especially Area Four and Tatte. But you’ve still got families who’ve lived in the neighborhood for multiple generations and quite a few young families as well. Milo goes to preschool a few blocks away, and most of his friends walk or ride bikes to school.
Tracy: We’ve also loved that it’s accessible to a lot of different aspects of Boston. We can walk right outside our door and go somewhere. But if you do need to leave the neighborhood, the green and red lines are both within a 10-minute walk, and you can easily reach Beacon Hill and Boston Common by foot. We’re also right by the highway, which has been convenient for our commutes out of the city.
Nate: On a Saturday or Sunday morning we’ll walk to get breakfast or coffee. When Milo was younger, he was really into construction equipment and there was, at the time, a lot of construction going on. On a daily basis we’d take him out in the stroller and just sit and watch all the big machines operate. It was a good way to experience all the change that was going on.
What made you choose to work with Bigelow / Irving?
Nate: They were the buyers’ agents for the couple next door and came highly recommended. We met with three or four agents, but clicked with them right away. They had a lot of good energy. And two different personalities. Bruce is pretty laid back, with expertise in the nuts and bolts of home construction. John’s the negotiator.
Tracy: They’re both easy to talk to and easy-going. We just learned that John speaks Mandarin, which has been convenient, too; because we’re so close to Harvard and MIT, a lot of Chinese buyers have come through.
And many realtors want you to depersonalize your home in order to sell. We were told that a few times. John and Bruce’s thought was that you want to depersonalize to a degree, but in a home like this, so much is about the choices you make — how you decorate, how you use the space. They said, ‘Still be you.’ We loved that about them.