The challenge: Open up and update a tiny kitchen, without adding expensive square footage.

The designer: Architect Eric J. Hansen, E.J. Hansen, AIA,, 612-328-0881.

The house: Jane and Steve Aldrich had lived in their cozy, compact 1942-built Cape Cod since 1988. “It’s one of those one-and-a-half story houses in St. Louis Park,” Jane said. The kitchen was galley-style, with limited counter and storage space. The couple had made a few modest improvements. “We added a chair rail and wainscoting — simple DIY stuff,” Jane said. But they still had their 1960s avocado and Harvest Gold appliances, and the kitchen was just too small. “It needed a big change,” Jane said. “We were wishing for a more open floor plan.”

Chance encounter: The couple had committed to a major remodeling. “We were going to be our own architect,” said Jane. But while visiting a home on the Remodelers Showcase, they met Hansen and started chatting about their project. “We instantly liked him,” Jane said. “He was super helpful, and had worked with friends of friends — and done a great job.”

Making the most of a little: Hansen was intrigued by the prospect of helping the couple’s small home live larger. “How do you make a little house not so little?” he said. “People have a tendency to think, ‘We need to add more square footage,’ but you can rework what you’ve got. It’s about respecting what’s there and opening it up to make it feel better.” In the Aldrich home, several factors contributed to the closed-in feeling, he said. The 9-by-10-foot kitchen and 8-by-8-foot dining room were separated by a partial wall, multiple finishes and different ceiling heights, with a 7-foot dropped ceiling in the dining room. “Visually, it was kind of cut up, with all these little spaces,” Hansen said. “It had all different wallpaper. There were too many things going on.”

Same footprint: Hansen reworked the kitchen without expanding it, a process he described as “undoing everything to allow it to feel more open.” The windows and most of the new appliances stayed where the old ones had been. But Hansen removed the partial wall and the dropped ceiling, creating an informal dining space that opens to the kitchen where the separate formal dining room had been. The look is seamless, with knotty alder cabinets, oak flooring and black honed granite countertops. Hansen also designed a knotty alder table for the built-in bench in the dining area. “It’s hard to find trestle tables, and it’s quicker and less expensive to have the cabinet guy make it up,” he said. “It helped tie all the finishes together.”

New entry: The couple also wanted a better front entry. “It was awkward,” Hansen said. “You walked in the front door and fell into the dining room.” Adding a small bump-out and a new front door allowed for a small, 9-by-4-foot entry/transition area for hanging coats — with a blue stone floor to add color and texture, and also stand up to the daily wear and tear generated by the couple’s large dog.

More storage: The new kitchen includes 13 more linear feet of both upper and lower cabinets; Hansen made the most of the slim space by using some 14-inch deep cabinets. “You don’t have to have 2-foot countertops to have a productive workspace,” he said. Adjusting the door opening to better align with the staircase also added space for more cabinets and an L-shaped work area — “which makes a huge difference in a working kitchen for storage of utensils and pots and pans,” he said.

New patio: To complement the new entry, Hansen also reworked the exterior, adding a raised patio. “It’s a place to hang out in the front yard with the neighbors,” he said. “Jane and Steve live at the end of a dead-end cul-de-sac, and we wanted to exploit that.” As a result, outdoor living is more inviting, Jane said. “It’s nice to be out in front, for dinner or happy hour. We used to sit on the tiny front steps or go in the back yard, but now that we have a patio, it’s made entertaining easier.”

The result: The biggest lifestyle change, from Jane’s perspective? “I cook more,” she said. “My husband used to do all the cooking. But I’m more inspired now. The whole front of the house is now one big room. It’s exactly what needed to happen.”


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