Older homes are an endangered species on red-hot real estate like Lake Minnetonka.

Rick and Jeanne Carter knew that their 1970s split-level in Excelsior was a tempting teardown target when they bought it in 2014.

“It was in rough shape,” Jeanne recalled. “Very ’80s.”

The 2,800-square-foot home had yellowing popcorn ceilings throughout, and the kitchen was a relic from the Reagan era.

But the house had an irresistible location — on Lafayette Bay, less than 30 minutes from Rick’s office in Minneapolis’ North Loop.

“I loved the openness out to the lake,” said Jeanne of the home’s level backyard.

Rick had been yearning for lakeshore ever since his parents sold the family cabin.

“I grew up being on a lake,” he said. “Most of my life there was a cabin to go to.”

For many years, the Carters lived in Minneapolis, where they raised their two children. But after their youngest left home, the couple moved out of their house to fulfill Jeanne’s dream of running a B&B.

“It was a lot of fun for two years,” she said of operating the Bird House Inn in Excelsior. “But I didn’t want to work that hard for the rest of my life.”

The renters in the Carters’ Minneapolis house had eight months to go on their lease, so the Carters had to find someplace else to live. Rather than move back to the city, they decided to look for a place near the lake.

“We fell in love with this area,” said Rick.

That’s when they found the split-level. At first, they moved in as renters, and had no intention of remodeling it. “Someone’s going to tear it down,” Rick reasoned.

Life at the lake

The Carters settled in and began savoring lakeshore life. They enjoyed paddling a canoe across Minnetonka’s many bays, and watching fireworks from the Lafayette Club on July 4th. The couple even started a twice-yearly lake paddling race, Big Island & Back, to raise money for a local foodshelf.

Eight months after moving in, the Carters bought the house — and wanted to make some updates. But which ones, and how much should they invest? Rick, an architect with LHB, was wary of going too far.

“I kept cautioning Jeanne that we should not over-improve, since the next buyer would likely tear it down,” he said.

Teardowns were happening all around them, including the house next door, built the same year as theirs.

“It was demolished in one day,” Rick said. “There have been half a dozen home sales nearby, and all were demolished.”

So the Carters proceeded in small increments. First, they enhanced their lake frontage and outdoor spaces. They repaired their dock, created a beach and added a shoreline buffer of native plantings. They replaced their deteriorating deck (“We were afraid to have people on it,” said Jeanne), and added sleek new railings and new sliding doors.

Inside, they removed every inch of popcorn ceiling, and replaced it with a smoother updated finish.

But Jeanne, the family cook, was yearning to make one more big improvement.

“Her favorite place to be is the kitchen,” said Rick. So finally, they agreed to tackle a complete kitchen overhaul.

The kitchen had tired ’80s finishes, including ceramic tile countertops and laminate cabinets, plus a brick knee wall that cut into the space. But the basic footprint was good — airy and open with a center island and a view of the lake. So they opted to keep the existing layout.

“We were trying to balance a nice, clean new space without going crazy,” Jeanne said. “We gutted it, but everything is where it was.”

They hired Plekkenpol Builders and sought design advice from architect Bruce Cornwall, a friend and colleague of Rick’s at LHB.

“There were thousands of decisions, and he gave us suggestions,” Rick said. “We were trying to decide between birch and white cabinets, and he said, ‘Do both.’ ”

So they did, installing birch cabinets on one wall and enameled white cabinets on another.

To gain more storage space, they rerouted ductwork that originally ran through some of the cabinets, and added deep pullout drawers. To complement their new cabinets, they added linear hardware, white oak flooring, stained dark espresso, and white quartz countertops.

There’s only one original element left in the kitchen — a 1972-vintage Modern Maid built-in pullout toaster.

“It makes good toast,” said Jeanne. And it also lends a quirky retro “Jetsons” touch to the space.

The Carters’ remodeling project grew beyond the kitchen to include a bathroom makeover, new lighting and a staircase face-lift, replacing the original metal railings with sleek modern cable railings.

There are still a couple of projects on their wish list, including updating the other bathroom and sprucing up the exterior. And Rick remains cautious about over-improving. Even with all the updates they’ve made, “there’s still a good chance the next buyer will tear it down,” he said.

But for now, they’re enjoying life in their freshened home.

“It’s so nice to have everything clean and operational,” said Jeanne. “It’s simple and easy to take care of. I feel like I can relax.”