Barbara and Cully Johnson had been dreaming of remodeling their longtime home, a 1960s Colonial in St. Anthony.
The kitchen was tight on space and separated by a wall from the living room, where they typically entertained guests. "There was a lot of walking around it," said Barbara.
During a Scandinavian getaway with their daughter, the couple, who both have Swedish heritage, saw a vision of what their kitchen could be. They took a cooking class, during which they prepared a traditional Swedish Christmas meal in an inviting space with open shelving and white tile all the way up the walls to the ceiling.
"The kitchen was amazing!" recalled Barbara. "Super-functional and warm. That was one of the big inspirations."
Back in Minnesota, they reached out to architect Christine Albertsson, Albertsson Hansen Architecture, who had redesigned their home's exterior several years earlier.
The couple were hoping to make the new kitchen part of a whole-house remodel.
"We wanted to open it up," said Cully. "And we were missing some things," including a mudroom. "We didn't have a place to kick off shoes" or hang coats.
The couple also hoped to create an owners' suite upstairs and add a bathroom in the basement.
Albertsson came up with designs for all three floors of the 2,300-square-foot house, and had the builder estimate costs for each floor separately so the Johnsons could prioritize. Remodeling all three floors turned out to be cost-prohibitive.
"There was more scope than there was budget for," said Albertsson. "HGTV makes everything seem simple and cheap. But if you want quality, it's not. They [the Johnsons] had a fantastic willingness to stay with the process" and consider options for a scaled-back project.
Albertsson was confident that a more modest makeover could still have a major impact on the couple's enjoyment of their home.
"More is not necessarily better or what you need," she said. "You need what you have to work better."
The couple decided to concentrate on the first floor to create better flow and to get the must-have mudroom and the Swedish-inspired kitchen of their dreams.
They didn't want to add square footage, so to gain space for the mudroom and a pantry, Andersson proposed eliminating their formal dining room and creating space for dining, including a built-in bench, at one end of their large living room.
"Getting rid of the dining room was an awesome idea!" said Barbara. "The living room was really long and it was hard to place furniture. And the bench is cozy."
In the kitchen, the door facing the living room was widened to create a better connection. And the kitchen was redesigned to make the most of its square footage.
There's a built-in beverage center with storage for the coffeemaker and espresso machine. There are open shelves, like the ones the Johnsons admired in Sweden, rather than upper cabinets. And an 8-foot island includes built-in storage, which, together with the pantry, provides enough places to stash pots, pans and dishes.
The island was designed to be the perfect height for Barbara, who stands a petite 5 feet 1½ inches.
It's topped with hickory butcherblock. "I didn't want a cold countertop," she said. The perimeter countertops and a shelf above the stove are Carrara marble.
Cabinets in the island base and the beverage center are white, while the wall of lower cabinets under the open shelves are soft gray to complement the appliances.
"We fit all three appliances on one wall in a row, like a European kitchen," said Albertsson.
For the tile that runs all the way to the ceiling, Albertsson found Delft tile from the Netherlands in different shades of white. "It gives you a wonderful non-boring background," she said.
The new mudroom serves both the front door and the entrance from the garage with a tile floor, a bench, a cabinet for coats, wall hooks and a drop zone for keys.
The home has fireplaces in both the living room and the hearth room adjacent to the kitchen, and both got Scandinavian-inspired updates.
In the living room, the brick surround was replaced with black soapstone. And in the hearth room, the fireplace wall is now clad in textured white ceramic tile, laid vertically so the lines run horizontally. "That's a Scandinavian thing," said Barbara.
Barbara shopped for vintage Scandinavian-inspired furniture at MidModMen, Findfurnish and Golden Age Design. "I wanted to buy used furniture; I like the idea of reuse," she said.
Albertsson helped her find fabrics for pillows and the bench cushion that coordinated with the rest of the interiors.
The project, which was completed two years ago, transformed the connection between rooms and the energy when the couple host gatherings.
"The flow is so much better," said Barbara. "Before, people wouldn't congregate in the kitchen because you couldn't see the people in the living room."
Cully used to watch TV at night in the basement. Now he watches upstairs, he said. "I just love sitting on our main floor."
The Johnsons recently sold their cabin, which prompted them to buy a home in North Oaks and put their St. Anthony home on the market.
"We wanted a property near the city with the nature aspect of the cabin," said Barbara. "The house we bought is near a conservation area with miles of trails. We're combining the house and cabin into one property, with one yard to take care of."
But they're not sorry they remodeled. For one thing, their fresh Scandinavian-inspired home sold in two days at a price that recouped a substantial percentage of their remodeling costs.
And they enjoyed the experience of improving their home.
"People can get scared of working with an architect on a project like this," said Cully. "It was an enjoyable process, not a scary process."
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784