During the past two years, Janet Graves visited countless Remodelers Showcase homes with one question: Would an addition look like a pimple on the face of her charmingly modest home?

Her answer: "I discovered that an addition can be so well designed that you can't tell the old from the new," she said.

Graves knows from personal experience. She recently completed a back-of-the-house bump-out on her century-old St. Paul home. The new curved roof, which reminds her of a Swiss chalet, looks as if it could have been a part of the original home. Inside, new and old meld seamlessly, with oil-rubbed bronze hardware, beadboard accents and antique glass kitchen cabinet doors -- all design details she borrowed from homes she saw on showcase tours.

This year, Graves won't be going to the Remodelers Showcase. She'll be in it. Along with her builders, Josh and Angela Columb of Vertical Grain Builders, she'll be on hand to answer questions about the remodeling of her German Colonial-style house, one of the 94 remodeled homes across the Twin Cities that will be open for tours from Sept. 11 through 13.

Parade of practicality

As it has for the past two decades, the showcase will feature a wide range of projects -- including the ever-popular kitchen remodel, as well as whole-house renovations, owner's suites, mud rooms and finished lower levels -- by professional remodeling companies

"It's an opportunity to see quality work and new products and materials," said Shawn Nelson, president of New Spaces in Burnsville, which will have two remodeling projects on the tour.

Regionally, the number of residential remodeling jobs has increased over the last year, according to the Remodeling Market Index, which is measured by the National Association of Home Builders. But Nelson, who is chairman of the Builders Association of the Twin Cities Remodelers Council, said that the number of homes on the tour is down from last fall's 133. Nelson blames the drop on the sagging economy and homeowners' tighter budgets. And he noted that this year's projects tend to be more practical and affordable.

"Lifestyle features, such as a more functional kitchen and luxurious bathrooms, will continue to drive remodelings," he said. "But I've seen that people are scaling their projects back and choosing more affordable materials and finishes."

He's convinced that remodeling is on the rebound, in part because homeowners, fueled by a love for where they live, are spending money to update rather than move.

Honoring history

Graves not only loved her location near St. Paul's Como Park. She also fell in love with the house after she discovered its unique history. It was built in 1888 as a one-room schoolhouse, complete with a bell tower. In 1937, the owner converted it into a single-family home. When Graves, a retired music teacher, and her husband, Edward, bought the 1,400-square-foot stucco house in 1977, many of those '30s details were intact.

The house was far from perfect, however. It had a tiny, inefficient kitchen, the main-floor bathroom was the size of a broom closet and an awkward layout created several dead-ends. Graves had wanted to remodel for a long time, but Edward was hesitant.

"Edward wasn't keen on a remodel because he thought it would be a shame to destroy the integrity of the home," she said.

After Edward passed away, she started scoping out remodeling projects in the showcase. Eventually, she enlisted the Columbs to design an addition that was "attractive and artistic," and would allow her to age in place.

By adding just 300 square feet of space, the Columbs were able to expand the kitchen and add a new bathroom with in-floor heat and walk-in shower. They also doubled the size of the den, adding a gas fireplace, and created a new back entry that gives Graves easy access to her patio. The renovation, which cost about $150,000, included new mechanical systems, updated plumbing and electrical.

To maintain the home's quaint character, the Columbs matched new windows, doors, wood trim and railings to the old.

"This is an example of how you can garner a lot of space just from a small bump-out and reconfiguring existing rooms," said Angela Columb.

Graves, who said she's eager to show off her new old home, gives the completed project her highest compliment: "Edward would have loved this," she said.

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619