The challenge: John and Amy Higgins loved their Italianate Renaissance home overlooking Lake of the Isles, but its kitchen didn't work for their young family, which includes two school-age children. "We wanted an old classic home but with functional modern spaces for cooking and entertaining," said John.

The designer: Gary Aulik, principal of Aulik & Associates and Aulik Design Group, Mpls., 952-591-1500,

Repurposing the space: Aulik, who has an affinity for old houses, had looked at the home with several prospective owners before he started working with the Higgins family. "Everybody commented on it not having a kitchen/family room," he said. There was plenty of space, but the home had originally been designed with a small service kitchen adjacent to servants' quarters. Even after a remodeling by a previous owner, the kitchen still wasn't fully integrated with the space surrounding it. "We needed to repurpose the existing square footage to suit the needs of a contemporary family," Aulik said.

Invisible support: The biggest challenge was structural, according to Aulik. Opening up the space required removal of two load-bearing columns. The house, designed in 1928 by architect Ernest Kennedy for Cream of Wheat President Daniel F. Bull, was built like a commercial building with concrete floors and walls, said Aulik, who consulted the original documents before adding a massive steel ceiling beam to support the weight of the two floors above.

Integrating the outdoors: Removal of the columns opened the kitchen to the rest of the space and allowed better access to the back yard via a new sliding door. "It doubled the amount of light," John said. "It's great for entertaining and for watching the kids playing in the back yard."

New spaces: The original butler's quarters is now a cozy family room. Aulik raised the family-room floor about 6 inches, which allowed him to reconfigure the back stairs and create a mudroom. A former desk at one end of the kitchen is now a banquette for casual dining and homework. That's Amy's favorite feature: "The kids can be playing games or drawing while I'm cooking," she said.

New finishes: The kitchen work space didn't require a full-scale remodeling, Aulik said, just new finishes to help it blend with the rest of the house. The stained cabinets were enameled white to match the home's painted millwork, and the Calcutta marble countertops were refinished.

Best compliment: Aulik, who has attended several parties in the home, said he's proudest when guests aren't sure which spaces are original and which are new. "People can't tell where we started and where we stopped," he said. "It looks authentic and seamless."

Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784