Despite the kitchen and dining room becoming one open space, the Wuest family still tends to eat at the island instead of their dining room table.

It was during the holidays when Sara Wuest knew it was time to remodel the kitchen.

"My husband and I both come from really big families, and his are mostly here in the Twin Cities, and they all love to cook," says Wuest. "When we hosted Christmas Eve, everyone was coming in and changing the temperature of the oven for their dish. I said to my husband, 'I'm not going to host again until we have two ovens.' Now, we do."

Dave and Sara Wuest's home, near Lake Harriet in Minneapolis, has been evolving since they moved in 15 years ago.

"When we bought it, it was a total fixer-upper," she says. "The nicest thing people could say about it was, 'Well, it has potential.' "

A major remodel upstairs included an addition to incorporate another bedroom and bathroom.

"Our biggest priority was adequate sleeping space," says Wuest of her family of five.

But, since the couple and their three daughters - ages 15, 13 and 10 - all enjoy cooking, the kitchen was the next priority.

"We started out with the idea of taking out the wall between the kitchen and the dining room," Wuest says, "and we ended up pretty much redoing the entire first floor. We gutted it down to the studs."


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It was a major remodel - but no square footage was added.

"We didn't feel we needed to, and there was not any room to do that, really," Wuest says. "All the spaces are pretty much used as the type of space they were before, but it's a better floor plan. The feel of it is more open."

To help refashion the house, which was built more than 100 years ago, the family hired architect Eric J. Hansen of E.J. Hansen, AIA, a Minneapolis architect who specializes in residential design and renovation.

"The house had a circulation problem," Hansen says. "A lot of the spaces were disconnected. The idea was to open everything up but retain the formality, because it's a fairly traditional older home."

The house, like many older homes, had the confounding eccentricity of too many doorways.

"The challenge was making the kitchen more functional," says Wuest. "It is a fair-sized room, 12x14 or larger, but it had three doorways into it and with all the doorways, it chopped up the space."

The Wuests also preferred to eat in their kitchen rather than the formal dining room.

"We had a little breakfast bar with three stools there, and the five of us crowded around there for years,"Wuest says.

All the while, the big dining room sat empty.

"The formal dining room was the largest room on the first floor and we only ate in there about once a week," she says. "To have that large of a space and not use it was crazy."

The two rooms seem more like one now.

"There was one door, a regular door, between the dining room and the kitchen, and now it's a 10-foot opening with an island through the middle of it,"Wuest says. "The whole wall is pretty much open between the two rooms now."

The kitchen itself is also more functional.

"Certainly the kitchen, even though it's in the same footprint, feels so much larger," Wuest says. "Taking out the doors and changing the traffic pattern added a ton more counter space."

For this family of cooks, new details like a really big sink are appreciated.

"It's a farmhouse-style sink built out of Brazilian soapstone," Hansen says. "It has two sides, and I sized the larger half of it to my lasagna pan."

Wuest says she found Hansen's skill at creating the smallest design elements was one of the educational parts of working with an architect.

"I saw a pressed-tin backsplash in a kitchen in a magazine, and I really liked it and wanted to do it on one whole wall,"Wuest says. "He confined it to a smaller area, about four feet, that he calls 'the pie safe area.' It turned out it was just the right amount." Hansen also helped bring color to the kitchen.

"She had always wanted to have a yellow kitchen, but did not feel daring enough," Hansen says.

"So, he showed me another project of his where the kitchen had been painted a very vibrant yellow,"Wuest says.

"It gave her the courage to try it," Hansen says.

"But I didn't have the nerve to do such a vibrant color,"Wuest says.

"It's like the color of butter," Hansen says.

"It's brighter than that,"Wuest says.

"Maybe the color of daffodils," Hansen says.

"When the color started to go up on the wall, the painter said to me, 'Yes, that is the right color' - he didn't even let me ask the question! But I love it. It's a good color to keep the room bright but also keep it warm." Daffodil yellow was an appropriate color for this remodel, which was, in essence, all about brightening things up.

"We rarely used our living room before, mainly because it was so dark,"Wuest says.

Converting the long, skinny and rather unusable front porch into part of the living room solved that problem.

"That allows a lot of light to come in the room now, and although it also added some more space where we now have a desk and a computer and a sitting area, it's really more about the light,"Wuest says. "Sometimes, we joke that it would have been a lot cheaper to bring an electrician in here, rather than tear apart the first floor."

But another change makes the living room more inviting, and that's the new fireplace.

"It's a gas unit that resembles an old English coal-burning stove, and it looks like it's always been there," Hansen says.

That was important to Wuest.

"I didn't want to totally modernize the space," she says. "I wanted the changes to blend in."

THE CHALLENGE
Architect Eric J. Hansen of E.J. Hansen, AIA, needed to help a family of five make the first floor of their 100-year-old house more usable - without adding any square footage. Here's how he did it:

BEFORE A separate kitchen and formal dining room.
AFTER A kitchen, dining room and living room that flow into each other.

BEFORE A living room that was too dark.
AFTER By converting the front porch into part of the living room and adding a gas fireplace, the room is now both brighter and more inviting.

BEFORE A bathroom with a shower that was rarely used.
AFTER The shower was removed and the bath is now a powder room; the extra bit of square footage gave the family more floor space in the mud room. The bathroom was dressed up to include a new stone, farmhouse-style sink that's perfect for hosing off the family's little dog.

BEFORE A family room, shut off with double doors, had a wood-burning fireplace that overheated the space.
AFTER The family room now has a gas fireplace. It also has a new tile floor - with a rug covering part of it - and thus can endure more wear-and-tear than the carpet that was there before.

BEFORE A cramped, dark foyer
AFTER The other half of the front porch was converted into a new informal entryway - akin to a second mudroom and decorated with a new tile floor and a salvaged stained-glass window (with fun touches like old doorknobs, instead of hooks, to hang coats). It opens onto the revised existing formal foyer that features a built-in wardrobe cabinet and a bench that looks original to the period.