They were city romantics looking for a place in the country. But a deserted chicken coop wasn't exactly the dream house that Tom and Mary Thomas had in mind.

The couple discovered the abandoned coop in the Farm Hills section of Hingham, however, and bought it. Today, 16 years and countless work hours later, they ahve a beautifully handcrafted, seven-room home.

Part of the attraction was that they could buy the wood frame, 20-by-65-foot building set on a 4-inch concrete slab and three-quarters of an acre of only $5,000. Thomas a junior high school industrial arts teacher, had the skills to make it a home.

"The low price and sturdy construction appealed to us," says Thomas. "It was plain but two steel "I" beams.

"We liked the land. A pine grove was on the north and an orchard on the south. I was looking for family roots in Hingham."

Their budget for a home was $17,000. "Average homes were selling for about $25,000 then," says Mrs. Thomas. "We paid in full on the property and secured a $6,000 loan for basic remodeling and later borrowed another $3,000."

There is a feeling of the Orient in the converted coop. The low ceilings and small, simple rooms are like those in the Oriental rural homes Thomas lived in during his childhood years in China. On the outside original clapboards lend a touch of Americana.

Unadorned natural plaster walls and small moldings, bare floors and exposed beams of natural golden oak echo the Shakers' concept of simple architectural beauty and quality materials.

An architect did the designing. Thomas did the carpentry, and his father helped. It took a year to arrive at the final plans and another year to make it livable. They moved in at the end of two years, but worked on major details for several years more.

Tall windows in a porch off the living room bring in heat from the sun. The home also has radiant heating and granite fireplace.

Such extensive rebuilding is not for everyone, the Thomases say.

"Building a house put stress on our marriage," says Mrs. Thomas. "Our decision making abilities were tested. We argued for a whole Sunday afternoon about where to put an innocent wisteria tree. Things undone are a result of not reaching a compromise. Just last year we decided on a design for the front entrance."

The thomas live simply and without clutter. They have no dishwater, sofa, tufted chairs or curtains. Simple Danish chairs surround the fireplace.

Color is minimal and used for accent only-a bright rug or colorful cook pot, for example.

Building a home from a chicken coop had its challenges.

There were problems with the design plans. The architect drafted a love nest for two, but they wanted a family home. They finally agreed on a plan with two small bedrooms, a living room, bathroom and kitchen downstairs, and a family room and two small rooms upstairs. The Thomases also have a root cellar for the heating unit and tool storage.

There were problems with the radiant heating system. Thomas spent three years doing remedial work. He tore up the outer layers of the brick and wood floors and learned to lay bricks himself when the cost of repairs exceeded their budget.

The Thomases plan to have the upstairs finished this fall for their son Loren, 14. It will have dormers and roof windows to let it light.

Today their chicken-coop-turned-into-a-home is worth at least four times their investment. CAPTION: Picture, Clapboard siding adds a Colonial air to this chicken coop turned into a showplace. Christian Science Monitor News Service