The challenge: Kari and Ben Nelson’s 1942 Minneapolis Tudor was packed with character but lacked the space and function that most families need today. The tight back entry had minimal storage for coats, hats and shoes for their two children, and there was no place to drop keys and other stuff when you came in the door.

The adjacent kitchen had been updated in the 1980s, but still was dark and cramped, with little counter space for meal preparation. “The appliances were breaking down, and the cabinet doors were falling off,” said Kari. It was due for a makeover.

The couple’s mission was to gain various functions from a basic kitchen remodeling. “We knew we could get what we needed in the existing space,” said Kari, an architect. “It just had to be smartly designed.”

The designer: Kari Nelson, K Nelson Architects,, 763-913-9912. The builder was Styba Builders, Mpls.

The solution: The project involved only 140 square feet, but Kari’s design overlapped areas to create flexibility and functionality.

In the back entry, tall white-painted custom cabinets offer a “drop-zone” shelf, as well as a place to store shoes, knives and cookbooks. In front of the existing kitchen bay window, she removed the old curved built-in bench and transformed the space into a combination mini-mudroom and eating area. Built-in drawers hold everything from winter hats and gloves to baking supplies.

The Nelsons can help their kids put on shoes at the two new wood benches. “It helps organize all the things that cluttered up the kitchen,” said Ben.

And finally, a pullout table converts the “mudroom” into an eating nook. “We use it every day to drink coffee or give the kids snacks,” said Kari.

New and improved kitchen: The Nelsons gutted the old kitchen, and added new insulation, cabinets, countertops, lighting and flooring. Kari reconfigured the layout by rearranging appliances and the sink to gain more counter space. They replaced a double wall oven and separate cooktop with a space-saving slide-in stove.

The new birch custom cabinets reach all the way to the ceiling. “We didn’t add a single square inch but gained 25 percent more countertops and 25 percent more storage space,” said Kari.

The free-floating open shelves for everyday dishes on both sides of the window allow more light to flow through the space. Paneling hiding the dishwasher matches the cabinets, for visual continuity in a compact kitchen. “It was surprisingly a small expense for the result,” said Kari.

Cool blue: The color scheme includes blue undertones in the soapstone countertops, a teal shade for the base cabinets, and light blue glazed ceramic subway tile backsplash. “With small children we were not going with all-white cabinets,” said Kari. “And we also love a punch of color.”

Staying in character. Although the new kitchen has a fresh, modern feel, the full inset cabinets and burnished brass hardware add traditional touches. Kari replaced the old peeling linoleum with red oak floors to match the adjacent dining room, so the rooms flow together and feel more spacious. “The new wood detailing is traditional and true to the home’s 1940s style,” said Kari.

Cook’s dream: Ben, the cook of the family, appreciates the better flow, new LED lighting in the ceiling and under cabinets, and “how everything feels like it’s in the right place,” he said.

The result: Kari successfully maximized the efficiency and utility of the existing square footage. “It changed the feel of the whole house,” she said. “To have the kitchen function for the way we use it is a treat every day.”



Everyday Solutions features projects by AIA Minnesota member architects that solve a homeowner’s everyday design challenge. To submit a project for consideration, please send uncompressed JPEG images of the element or space, before and after photos and a brief description of the story behind the project to Angie McKinley: mckinley@aia-mn-org