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Living sideways

The second thing you notice about the North End house is that it has no front door.

To enter, you walk down a narrow alleyway, open a side door, and promptly climb a steep set of stairs, which open into the kitchen. A 3-foot-by-6-foot kitchen.

Which is next to a very tiny dining room and, on that floor, nothing else.

Which has a lot to do with the first thing you notice as you stand outside: It's incredibly narrow.

At its widest point on Hull Street, the house spans 10.4 feet. In the rear, it tapers to 9.25 feet on the outside, while the interior rear walls are a mere 8.4 feet wide.

Inside the four-story building, the walls are no more than 9.2 feet wide.

The place has the "uncontested distinction of being the narrowest house in Boston," says "The Boston Society of Architects' AIA Guide to Boston." With its figurative belt tightly buckled, the home's thinnest point is 6.2 feet across, letting an occupant touch opposing walls.

Its owners, Jennifer Simonic and Spencer Welton, live a vertical life.

"We can't have any ballroom dancing," said Simonic, who, with her husband, bought the home four years ago. "We had a party of 10 one New Year's Eve, and when one person has to go to the bathroom, everyone has to move."

Living in the house also has a public component. "We've had people just walk into our backyard and sit at our picnic table," said Simonic. "They say, 'We'll just be a couple of minutes, we just want to take a couple of pictures.' That was bizarre."

There are only five doors in the house.

"Instead of doors, we have floors between each space," said Welton, 35, who has a degree in architecture and works for an apartment development company.

The second floor holds the living room and the bathroom, one of few spaces separated by a door. The couple's daughter, Julia, has her own room on the third floor, but the 2-year-old shares that level with the family closet.

"When guests stay over, we put a mattress down on the closet floor," said Welton. "Except for sleeping in the closet, they seem to like it."

What had been cabinet space and the fourth-floor attic is now a doorless bedroom and a home office.

"It's our sleeping attic," joked Welton.

The origin of the house, which apparently dates to the Civil War era, is obscure. Local legend says two brothers inherited land from their deceased father. While one brother was away serving in the military, the other built a large home, leaving the soldier only a shred of property that he felt certain was too tiny to build on.

When the soldier returned, he found his inheritance depleted and built the narrow house to spite his brother by blocking the sunlight and ruining his view, giving rise to its nickname, the "spite house."

The footprint of 44 Hull St. appeared in "The Hopkins Atlas of 1874, Boston Proper," according to Kristen Swett, assistant archivist at the Boston City Archives. In 1884, the land was split into five lots, with one measuring only 274 square feet, which corresponds to the size of the house before renovations that lengthened it.

"In a city where there are many narrow lots, this far exceeds the norm," said Ellen Lipsey, executive director of the Boston Landmarks Commission. "As far as we know, it is the narrowest house in Boston."

The views of Copp's Hill Burying Ground across the street and Old Ironsides floating on the Charles River are constant reminders of Boston's storied past. The attractions also bring visitors to their door.

As she spoke, a small group of people across the street pointed to the house and then to their maps, perhaps wondering why it was not marked.

"I think because it's so odd, and the cemetery is right across the street, people think it's just part of the Freedom Trail," said Simonic, gazing outside from the living room. "So many people look through the window, and I'm not sure if they expect to see Betsy Ross sewing a flag or Paul Revere's wife cooking over an open hearth."

The abode's uniqueness and tales from the past added to its attraction for Welton and Simonic.

"When we saw it, we fell in love with it right away, because it had a lot of character," said Welton. "And it had a backyard, so we grabbed it."

Diane Giacobbi is the realtor who showed them the 964-square-foot home.

"I don't think it's marketable for everybody," Giacobbi said. "But for anyone with a creative or architectural background, it's a perfect fit."

The narrow house was bought four years ago for $345,000, at roughly $360 per square foot. A single-family home of 1,400-square-feet recently sold in the neighborhood for $689,000, about $490 per square foot. The asking price for a brand new 915-square-foot North End condo is $560,000, about $610 per square foot.

"Single-family homes are very rare in the North End," said Giacobbi. "It's not the same as a 964-square-foot condo. There's nothing comparable about it."

Consider moving into such a skinny house. Furniture and appliances are carefully measured before they are purchased. Once delivered, they are either forced in, or have to be taken apart and reassembled inside.

Ingenuity and brute force were employed to get the mattress to their bedroom. It was folded in half and maneuvered all the way to the third floor, where it refused to go any farther. So they tied a rope to it, pushed it out the third-floor window, and from the fourth floor, a friend helped hoist it up and in.

"We even had to saw the box spring in half diagonally to fit it," said Welton.

They have adapted well to the spatial crunch in their everyday lives.

Living in the slim house is the first slice of city living they have experienced, so it is normal for them, Simonic said.

"But it's a StairMaster house," said Welton. "If you forget your keys on the fourth floor, you notice it."

Limited space does, however, require a spare aesthetic for the couple, who were married the year they bought the house.

"In terms of our style of living, there's a lot more thought put into every purchase," said Simonic, 34, currently a stay-at-home mom. "You end up minimizing. We just don't have as much stuff."

Having a daughter has made space even more precious.

Even though it is small, the house is divided well, so Julia can easily sleep upstairs while Welton and Simonic talk or watch television downstairs.

"A lot of our friends, once they have had kids, they move out [of the city] to get bigger spaces or the house with a garage," said Simonic. "But because [Welton] can walk to work in five minutes and we have such a great community here, I think I'd go a little stir-crazy. I can't imagine handing the keys over to somebody else. That would just break my heart.

"We're comfortable living here," she said. "It's home."

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