The three dogs sat at attention like soldiers dressed in silky coats. Dachshunds Frankie, Lillie and Coco patiently waited for their owner, Bryn Vaaler, to give them a treat.

The dogs were one of the reasons Vaaler and his wife, Schelly Braden, moved from a 3,800-square-foot condo to a charming, albeit compact, Cape Cod in Minneapolis. It had a fenced-in backyard where the "girls" could run and play.

"After taking the dogs for walks to find grass for 14 years," said Braden, a Coldwell Banker Burnet real estate agent, "we were ready for a change."

The couple's former residence was in Station 23 Lofts, converted to condos in 1991, on Hennepin Avenue S. near the Uptown area of Minneapolis. The three-level home boasted 14-foot-high ceilings, brick walls and arched window openings. But the couple's adult daughters were living out of state, and "we were only using a third of the space," Braden said.

They decided that buying a right-sized single-family home would be the key to downsizing to a simpler style of living, while reducing their monthly expenses. A house would also have a yard, giving Braden an opportunity to learn to garden.

But before long, Braden and Vaaler felt like discouraged buyers on HGTV's "House Hunters." They had scrutinized more than 15 homes located close to mass transit to downtown Minneapolis, where Vaaler works as an attorney at Dorsey & Whitney. None of the houses was the right fit. Meanwhile, their fire station condo had sold in five days, so time was running out.

Then Braden's colleague Ruth Whitney Bowe mentioned that she was considering selling her home. Would they want to take a look?

The couple immediately were charmed by the quaint 1939 Cape Cod in Linden Hills. The living room and bedroom walls were covered in dark knotty pine, and the kitchen sorely needed updating, but the two main-floor bedrooms boosted the home's renovation potential.

Upstairs, there was an attic bedroom suite where the couple's dog sitter could stay when the couple traveled to Uruguay, where Vaaler taught. Best of all, the backyard was surrounded by a fence.

The house ticked off all the necessary boxes. "It had the right configuration for primarily main-floor living," Braden said. "We knew we could modify it for the future."

New owners suite

Last June, the couple closed the deal and lived in the attic for five months while designer David Steingas of Steiner & Koppelman and contractor Dale Kutzke of Kutzke Construction knocked down some interior walls, cantilevered out the kitchen and transformed two tiny bedrooms into one deluxe owners suite.

Nancy Morris, their friend and a Wayzata interior designer, helped refresh and brighten the interiors while maintaining the Cape Cod's vintage spirit. As a real estate agent for 25 years, Braden has witnessed many home "remuddlings." "I've seen people destroy a house with a hodgepodge of styles," she said. "They don't want to invest the money or consult qualified experts."

Morris also is "the master of small spaces," Braden added. In the dining room, she replaced side chairs with space-saving covered benches that can slide under the table when not in use.

Braden has observed a trend among baby-boomer clients who want to downsize into homes with lots of light, open floor plans and manageable smart spaces where they can age in place. She's working with four groups of clients exploring lifestyle changes. "They might consider a downtown high-rise condo, but they're not ruling out remodeling a single-family home in a desirable neighborhood, either," she said. "I believe it's the wave of the future."

And Braden can show them her own revamped two-bedroom "city cottage," which is about half the size of the fire station condo, but still comfortable and functional for two people — and their three dachshunds.

"Now we can sit outside on the patio having dinner or a glass of wine," said Braden, "and the dogs can be right with us."

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619