Last June, Schelly Braden and Bryn Vaaler downsized to a Cape Cod in Minneapolis.

Here are some ways they improved and maximized space, while retaining the old-house character:

Kitchen magician: Cantilevered an existing wall to make the kitchen wide enough for a center island. "It was cost-effective because we didn't have to build a foundation," Vaaler said. Tall double-hung windows bring the outdoors in.

Demo time: Knocked down a wall between the kitchen and dining room to let in light, open up views and gain usable space.

Cottage charm: Covered the living room's knotty pine walls in fresh white enameled paint. "The white enamel is more sophisticated and is a contrast to the black grand piano," said designer Nancy Morris. Steam-cleaned the brick fireplace and painted the wooden mantel. Sanded and refinished the oak hardwood floors and matched new flooring to the old. Added marble counters, white subway tile and farmhouse sink in the kitchen.

Owners deluxe suite: The two main-floor bedrooms were combined into one bedroom with a walk-in closet. The attached bathroom has heated floors, his-and-her sinks and an oversized tiled shower.

Mini-mudroom: "We needed a place for the dogs to eat," Braden said. An eating nook was turned into a compact mudroom for dog dishes and a desk, with a new doorway that steps out to the patio.

Basement makeover: Replaced 1970s dark plywood with painted wallboard and installed porcelain tile floor that resembles hardwood. In-floor heat keeps Vaaler's Frank Sinatra-themed "man cave" warm in the winter.

Storage solutions: New built-in cabinets throughout the home, including inside the master bedroom and mudroom. The remodeled basement laundry room has two walls of cabinets to hold kitchen-related items not used every day.

Space-savers: Picked a 30-inch-wide Subzero refrigerator and 30-inch-wide Wolf range to fit in the cozy kitchen.