Adding a second story to Susan and John Herbert’s 1940s Cape Cod was a no-brainer back in 2004. Their young family was growing, and needed more bedrooms and bathrooms.

But 10 years later, the Herberts faced a dilemma in their desire for an updated home.

“We really loved our St. Louis Park neighborhood with mature trees and corner lot — and wanted to stay,” said John.

Should the Herberts do a costly addition to make room for a spacious modern kitchen, a computer workstation and an uber-equipped mudroom for their three boys and sports equipment? Or could they somehow rework the existing outdated spaces?

“We didn’t want to put money into improving the kitchen unless it made a difference,” said John. “We wanted a practical solution — not aesthetically pleasing cabinets in a cramped space.”

Susan felt a mudroom was at the top of the must-have list. “There was no place to drop shoes and backpacks,” she said. “We needed that transition space for our active coming-and-going life.”

The Herberts turned to Susan’s sister, architect Jean Rehkamp Larson, whose Minneapolis firm, Rehkamp Larson Architects, had designed the Phase 1 second-story addition/renovation.

She presented the couple with a range of floor-plan possibilities, from converting a main-floor bedroom into kitchen space, to a bump-out to increase their square footage. “We explored every option known to man,” joked Susan.

One of the Rehkamp Larson designs eventually rose to the top. “By staying within the existing footprint, we could spend the cost savings on quality details and finishing off other parts of the house,” said John. (To see how they did it, tour the Herberts’ home renovation during the Homes by Architects event Sept. 17 and 18.)

Rehkamp Larson’s “inside the box” re-energized floor plan focuses on trading and reconfiguring existing square footage. “There are so many ways to reshape spaces,” said Rehkamp Larson, “and make them more functional without adding on.”

But in order to gain a new kitchen and mudroom, the Herberts had to give something up.

“I was reluctant to lose the family room,” said Susan, who had bought the Cape Cod in 1999. “But I was super-excited to get the kitchen of our dreams.”

Space for everything

Today the gleaming steel-and-white kitchen functions like a modern-day family room. The big quartz-topped center island offers plenty of space for meal prep as well as homework. The kitchen is packed with amenities, from pullout pots and pan drawers to a flat-screen TV mounted on a wall.

For Susan, the biggest splurge was the eye-catching geometric marble mosaic-tiled backsplash, which was much more costly than basic subway tile. “I look at it every day, so it was worth it,” she said.

Homeowners should plan to invest a big chunk of their remodeling budget into the kitchen, noted Rehkamp Larson. “It’s the heart of the home — and everyone always ends up there.”

The new kitchen flows into the existing dining area, where the Herberts kept the big bay window to draw in lots of light. Susan always liked the look of ceiling beams, so Rehkamp Larson designed a flattened version to connect and define the open kitchen and dining area. “The subtle, lightweight beam feels more modern,” she said.

The new floor plan also traded other spaces. The family primarily used a side entry that opened to their formerly dark, “one-cook” kitchen, which was disconnected from the rest of the house. A table pushed up against a wall served as an eat-in area. The kitchen also was used as an “accidental” mudroom where everyone dropped their stuff.

Cubbies and coat hooks

In place of the old kitchen, Rehkamp Larson inserted a fresh, light-filled entry/mudroom with assigned storage cubbies for each boy, pullout shoe shelves and 36 bag and coat hooks.

The L-shaped mudroom was designed with a smooth circular flow around a walk-in closet “that’s like a crate sitting in the middle of the space,” said Rehkamp Larson.

On the far end, Rehkamp Larson positioned an organization station equipped with a computer desk and white cabinets that match the ones in the kitchen. Tripping over shoes every day is just a bad memory. “The new mudroom is the saving grace and gives me sanity,” said Susan.

Rehkamp Larson also tackled the issue of the Herberts’ rarely used front living room. A simple solution was to cut a new doorway between the side entry and the living room, making it more accessible and inviting. Carving out a new doorway is “like cracking a nut,” said Rehkamp Larson. “It really opened up the room.”

To gain more sitting space, they moved John’s baby grand piano from the living room into a new music room converted from an office. Now the living room is a gathering area for reading, watching movies, playing games and lounging by the fire.

Finally, the revised floor plan’s two new circular pathways create a smoother flow from the front to the back of the house.

As a nod to the home’s period style, Rehkamp Larson juxtaposed traditional vertical painted pine paneling with modern industrial materials, such as stainless-steel baseboards and steel trim around the kitchen island.

“You want your house to evolve over time and not be stuck in a time period,” she said. “But you want the evolution to feel cohesive — and sensitive to the home’s original details.”

The Herberts’ smart use of existing spaces saved them remodeling dollars — which they invested in turning the low-ceilinged basement into an excellent kids’ hangout.

And it was definitely worth losing the family room to gain a first-class kitchen for a family of five.

“In the morning, it’s a mad dash to get out of the house,” said John. “Now it’s a lot easier to sling hash across the counter.”