Kathy and Vince Moccio were Up North at the lake when it happened — an electrical fire that started in the attic and swiftly consumed their Minneapolis home.

Alerted by their college-age son, who was asleep on the couch when he awoke to popping sounds upstairs, the Moccios rushed back to the Twin Cities. There they found their charred house still smoking and the fire department leaving the scene after battling the blaze.

“The firemen were really heroic. They tried to save what they could,” said Kathy. But the three-alarm inferno, and the water used to fight it, had destroyed most of their home.

The Moccios were devastated. They loved their Mediterranean Revival-style house in the Tangletown neighborhood, where they’d lived for 20 years and raised their three sons.

The couple resolved to re-create the house just as it had been — down to the last detail.

“We wanted it exactly the way it was — the look, feel, materials and floor plan,” said Vince. To accomplish that, they turned to David Heide Design Studio and Dovetail Renovation.

‘Authentic’ rebuild

While the Moccios’ original home had many beautiful, timeless features, a lot has changed since it was built in the late 1920s. Heide hoped to help the couple create something “authentic — not a caricature of something from the past.”

But when Heide or Dovetail co-owner Doug Tanner tried to suggest improvements, the Moccios resisted, at least initially.

“We’d show them a sketch, and they’d say, ‘No, I want it the way it was,’ ” said Tanner.

“It was a more emotional process than usual,” said Heide. Unlike most clients, who begin remodeling eager to make enhancements, the Moccios hadn’t chosen to do any home improvements: They were still grieving the home they had lost.

“They were really upset,” said Tanner. “They wanted their house put back the way it was.”

Eventually, the couple came around to the idea of improving their house while restoring its original character.

“We always wanted to expand the kitchen,” said Vince. “The fire gave us an opportunity.”

That new kitchen has a vintage Mediterranean vibe, thanks to its rustic ceiling beams, colorful tile accents and wrought-iron detailing. But it’s bigger, open to the family room and has additional storage, including a small butler’s pantry and shelves built into pullout pocket doors.

Gaining space

To gain space for the bigger, better kitchen, the kitchen and family room were flipped and opened up to each other to create a great room at the back of the house. A small 8- by 8-foot addition in the corner of the family room expanded the footprint to add spaciousness.

The new family room features a built-in mahogany buffet and oak flooring that echoes the home’s original woodwork, which also was re-created in the living and dining rooms and the library.

That library remains petite and cozy, just as it was before the fire. But by repurposing the space where a tiny bathroom had been, they were able to add an alcove with a love seat in the library.

“There’s some restraint as to scale here that’s difficult to resist with a new house,” said Heide. “This room is intimate as a library. I don’t know if it would be built today.”

A new powder room has a dramatically updated look, paneled in mahogany with a stainless-steel inlay and a red granite floor.

But the rest of the main floor looks just like it did before the fire. Heide found tile that was similar to the original. Dovetail re-created the original ceiling beams, trim and plaster work — and even the built-in phone niche, with a little wooden door, in the entry.

Of course, phone niches are obsolete in today’s digital world, but it held special memories for Kathy. “The kids played with it, pretending it was a drive-through window,” she said. “We reproduced it, an exact replica.”

When Vince stands in the entry hall and looks into the surrounding rooms, he sees what he used to see.

“It looks exactly like the old house — the beams, the floor, the texture on the walls,” he said.

But the new kitchen and family room have changed the way they use the space, the couple said.

“The old kitchen was very isolated,” said Kathy. “Now everybody can be together.”

Upstairs, where the fire damage was heaviest, the Moccios made some additional changes to the original floor plan. Kathy decided she wanted a second-floor washer and dryer, so one of the five bedrooms was repurposed. Half of it was used to carve out a small laundry room, while the rest was used to expand the master bath and give Vince a slightly larger closet.

Many of the improvements aren’t visible, but have made a dramatic difference in the home’s efficiency.

“It feels old, but behind that is a completely modern house, with new plumbing, heating and foam insulation,” said Tanner.

Rebuilding the house took a full year, during which the Moccios lived in hotels and two different rental homes. Now that they’re back living in their house, they’ve put the fire behind them and are enjoying their refreshed spaces. Kathy even found cabinet hardware with a flame motif that they incorporated into the project.

“It’s part of the history,” she said.

The Moccios have a new house, but its original personality remains intact.

“I thought of this house as an old lady that helped me raise my kids,” said Kathy. “I wanted to restore her, to do it right. I think we did. She looks really good.”