David Heide restores old homes for a living. Still, he felt a sense of dread when he and partner Michael Crull closed on the purchase of their 1922 Prairie-style house.

Crull, an interior designer, saw a fixer-upper with tons of potential, but Heide saw a neglected St. Paul house that would require a comprehensive, time-consuming remodeling to restore it to its glory days.

"We had just started our own business," he said, referring to David Heide Design Studio in Minneapolis, which specializes in historic-home restoration. "It felt like an overwhelming project."

Although Heide and Crull had remodeled two of their previous homes, this undertaking would turn into an eight-year project that included restoring many of the home's details as well as building an addition to the back of the house to improve the floor plan and create a new kitchen.

Sound but outdated

The four-bedroom home had classic 1920s Prairie-style features -- broad eaves, a low-pitched roof, stucco exterior, strong horizontal lines, built-in cabinetry -- and was structurally sound. But it needed work to remedy a 1960s updating.

For several years, Heide and Crull worked weekends stripping, painting, tearing down wallpaper and ultimately redoing every surface from top to bottom. They replaced missing architectural details such as crown molding, updated the plumbing and wiring, and installed new mechanical systems.

By 2005, they were ready to bump out the back of the house to rectify some of the home's design shortcomings. The back entrance led to a narrow hallway and to the cramped, outdated kitchen, which led to other rooms in the house.

Heide and Crull collaborated with Mark Nelson, their firm's architect, on the 400-square-foot addition that encompasses a new kitchen (they converted the original kitchen into a breakfast room), a much-needed powder room, a mudroom and a more inviting back entrance.

Heide said they extended the house by only 12 feet, but the result was a vastly improved flow from room to room.

"It also added much needed family space at the back of the house without impacting the overall design aesthetic of the existing building," Nelson said.

Old with new

To seamlessly connect the old exterior with the new, Nelson echoed the slope of the existing roof, the wide eaves and the window and door styles. The new open porch, which leads to the back entrance, provides a smooth transition from outdoor to indoor spaces.

As with the exterior, the couple's design goal for the interior of the addition was to remain true to the period as much as possible.

"We wanted to keep the flavor and feel of the 1920s," said Heide, "but make it livable and sensible for today."

The custom red birch cabinets are reminiscent of what might have been in a 1920s kitchen, and the olive tile backsplash is also from the period. The dark brown oak floor matches the flooring in the rest of the house. Large wood panels hide new appliances such as a Sub Zero refrigerator, and decorative woodcuts conceal mechanical systems.

A common feature in today's kitchens is the granite-top peninsula. This one was designed to divide the new kitchen from the old, which was converted into the breakfast room.

"We're not interested in the newest trends, but what's appropriate to the house," Crull said.

Still, the designers put their stamp on some of the home's unique features, such as lighting. Heide designed the "Craftsman meets Asian" pendant lights suspended over the kitchen island and breakfast table.

Last summer Heide and Crull moved outdoors and built a 14- by 14-foot screened summer house, which they call their cabin in the city. It's at the edge of the back yard so they can see the garden from there. The summer house doesn't overpower the small urban yard because the structure matches the scale of the garage and echoes the architecture of the house, giving it a visual connection, Crull said.

Transforming their own place was an "exhilarating experience," they said. But unlike doing a renovation for a client, this one is a never-ending work-in-progress.

"Because we live there, we're constantly fine tuning and changing things," Heide said.

But Heide learned something by taking on the role of client.

"I had plaster dust in my cereal in the morning," he said. "Now I know how stressful a renovation can be."

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619