When Barak and Carrie Steenlage were newlyweds house-hunting in 2011, they fell in love with a 1939 Cape Cod in St. Louis Park.

The house wasn't perfect. But it had potential. "We thought, 'It needs a little cosmetic work,' " said Carrie of the story-and-a-half home. "But it has the bones of a good house."

Fairly soon after purchasing, Carrie and her mom painted the entire interior of the house. They had only recently finished that project, when the couple decided to tackle a much bigger one: remodeling the entire house. With plans to start a family, they knew they would soon need more space, and interest rates were attractively low. And Barak, who founded Anchor Builders in 2005 at the age of 23 with his brother John, had been renovating homes for years and was eager to work on a project for himself.

The tricky thing, and what would become the project's major challenge, was that the Steenlages wanted a two-story home with the feel of a story-and-a-half. It was important to them to maintain the footprint of the house and keep the character of the home in line with the rest of the neighborhood.

"They didn't want a big house that towered over the neighbors," said Shelly Lindstrom, of Fluidesign Studio, the project's designer.

On the exterior, "We wanted to make sure it didn't look like all roof."

Barak began a series of conversations with the subcontractor who was building the trusses. "There was a lot of back and forth until I was able to get the trusses to look like I wanted," he said.

A front porch and a smaller gable over it, along with a dormer window and an arched portico, all helped break up the roofline.

The Steenlages also used a mixture of textures and materials on the exterior, such as shakes on the gables and two different sizes of siding.

"Everything that can create contrast will just create more interest," said Lindstrom.

Vintage character

One of the couple's favorite weekend activities is visiting open houses. Carrie always appreciated renovations that opened up older spaces to give them the flow of a new home, while maintaining the classic feel of the original home.

"I've always loved older houses," said Carrie, who grew up in a 1941 home in St. Louis Park. "We didn't want to completely change our house because we really liked it the way it was, but we wanted it to be more functional."

To maintain their home's vintage character, they replicated the original 1939 ogee archways throughout the house. Cove-ceiling detailing was repeated in the dining room. The couple refinished the original red oak floors in the living room and matched them elsewhere.

"We took the details in the living room that we really liked and brought those through the rest of the house," said Lindstrom. "We wanted to make sure there was a lot of that original charm and character."

Also, Carrie wanted to keep some aspects of the original floor plan. "I know this is something a lot of people in my generation don't care about, but I wanted the formal dining room," she said. Her family often hosts dinner parties for extended family, and she wanted to carry on the tradition.

To open up the space, the Steenlages removed the wall separating the dining and living rooms and extended the space into the former sun porch. The kitchen actually had been quite large for a smaller home, but an awkward layout left very little counter space, which made cooking together challenging.

"We literally had this one little chunk of counter space that we'd fight over," said Carrie.

The new kitchen has plenty of counter space, plus a kitchen island, so the couple now have room to work and can chat with guests while making dinner.

Even though it was tough to fit in a mudroom, Barak and Carrie were both set on having one adjacent to the kitchen. "It's a necessity," said Carrie. "Especially in Minnesota."

Upstairs, a large bedroom with a half bath, a livable area of only a few hundred square feet, was basically gutted. The stairs now lead up to an area with a floating desk shelf in a niche between two cabinets. "It ended up being very charming," said Lindstrom, "and it was just a little framing and drywall cost."

The master bath, a bright, spacious room with a claw-foot tub and Carrara marble hex-tile floors, is Lindstrom's favorite room in the home. "We were able to get enough space to do something unique in there and showcase the claw-foot tub," she said. "It's kind of the dream bathroom."

In the master bedroom, a big window overlooks the back yard, and on the street side, smaller awning windows above the bed let a breeze through without letting rain in.

Bonus laundry room

Almost as an afterthought, the couple put in an additional washer and dryer upstairs in some extra closet space adjacent to the master bedroom. Now, they rarely use the basement appliances.

With 1,250 square feet upstairs, the couple had room for two kids' bedrooms and another bathroom. Because of budget constraints, they considered waiting to finish a second bath but settled on doing a simpler plan. Now, as busy parents of a 6-month-old baby girl, they are glad they finished the extra bath.

Barak added one more surprise: stereo speakers wired into the kitchen and master bedroom for Carrie, who likes to blare music.

With their now four-bedroom, three-bath home, the couple have plenty of space for their growing family.

"We love this area," said Carrie. "We never thought we'd be living here and have this kind of space."

Their carefully thought-out project was recognized by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, which recently announced regional winners for its Contractor of the Year award; the Steenlages' project won in its category for the North Central region, and will move on to the national competition.

Barak, who now works in the office at Anchor, spent his weekends working with the crew on his own remodel. Going through the entire process gave him a better appreciation for what homeowners go through when remodeling, he said.

"There are just so many decisions and so many opportunities to spend more money if you want to, whether it's more expensive countertops or more expensive lights," he noted. "Sometimes it becomes a little overwhelming."

When you buy a car or a completed home, "You get to walk through it, touch it, feel it, test-drive it, and then decide what you think it's worth to you," he added. "And a remodel or a construction project, you really have to commit the money up front and then see it take shape — and not truly know if you love it until it's done. It's a little more emotional ride."