Seven years ago, Cassie and Scott Frick and their two young sons downsized from a big house in Minnetonka to a much smaller one four blocks away.

“We absolutely love the neighborhood,” said Cassie, an agent with Edina Realty. But the housing market was slow at the time, and her mother was battling cancer. Less house would be more manageable, the couple decided.

The house they chose, built in 1973, was overdue for an update. “We knew what we could make it into,” said Cassie.

The Fricks lived in the home for several years while Cassie planned her dream kitchen. “More space was huge for me,” she said. To get it, she wanted to open up the floor plan, widening the openings between rooms and extending the kitchen by incorporating the space from their dining room.

“It had turned into a Lego room,” she said of the rarely used dining room. “I put office furniture in, but I never went there. It was total dead space. This is not a big house. When you’ve got a room you don’t use, it’s a waste.”

The couple sought bids from design-build firms, but ultimately decided to act as their own general contractor.

“The [bids came in] higher than we were comfortable with,” said Cassie, who wanted to hire subcontractors she already knew and trusted. Plus she and Scott planned to tackle some of the work themselves.

“Before kids, we’d done some flips,” she said. “We’re not novices to restoration.”

They did consult with an architectural designer, a structural engineer and hired a contractor, Nic Ciola of Ciola Construction and Remodeling, to serve as project manager. “He was our knowledge base,” said Cassie.

The Fricks worked their regular jobs during the day, then worked late nights on their house. In addition to painting walls and trim and installing hardware, they also did some of the finishing work on their two-tier, 12-foot center island.

Because the island is so long, their architectural designer, Max Windmiller of Windmiller Design Studio, advised the Fricks to choose two different countertop materials — white quartz and walnut butcher block — so it wouldn’t “look like a bowling alley,” Cassie said.

They bought the wood unfinished and uncut at Builders Resource Outlet in Eagan.

“Scott cut it, and I sanded and stained it,” Cassie said. “Nic built cool table legs for it. It’s gorgeous! It makes me feel good every time I look at it.”

One of the trickiest DIY jobs was installing their glass-tile backsplash in a herringbone mosaic pattern, a painstaking project tackled by Scott. Afterward, “He said, ‘Don’t ever make me do that again,’ ” Cassie said with a laugh.

But now that the project is complete, Scott’s a fan of how everything came together.

“She’s been planning it for years, and it’s very well thought out,” he said. “The kitchen is twice as big and much more functional.”

Even their two sons, ages 8 and 12, enjoy preparing food there. “The kids are cooking all the time now,” said Cassie.

The family also enjoys sharing the new kitchen with guests. “We used to entertain only in summer when we could be outside,” said Cassie. “Now it’s, ‘What can we host? Let’s have people over.’ It’s fun to have space we can be proud of.”

Best of all, it’s easier to hang out as a family now that there’s room for everyone. “Before, we had a peninsula with two stools,” Cassie said. “Now we can all sit down together. It feels really nice.”

Improving the flow for a young family

When Steve and Chelsea Ribnick bought their 1978 two-story in Bloomington a few years ago, they were intent on freshening up its dated kitchen.

“Originally, we thought it would be just a face-lift,” said Steve. They intended to update the cabinets, appliances and countertops but keep the existing layout.

But the project grew after the Ribnicks had lived in their home for a while and had grown weary of some of its features, including a wall between the living room and family room, and a step-down from the kitchen to the family room.

“At first we liked it, the separation,” said Steve. “But it was very easy to fall.” A visiting grandmother missed the step. Then the couple had a second child, now age 2, who “took a few tumbles” on the step.

Their home’s layout just wasn’t practical for a family with young children, the Ribnicks concluded. The living room was cut off from the rest of the house, and the kitchen felt cramped. “When the oven and dishwasher were open, there was no room to walk,” Steve said.

Then Steve and Chelsea visited a neighboring house with an identical floor plan where the owners had knocked down a wall to improve the flow. They decided they wanted to do the same, and turned to Bridgewater Construction of Bloomington.

Owner Craig Weber, an architect, has removed a lot of walls to create more open floor plans. He proposed tackling the Ribnicks’ obstruction “the right way.”

He removed the 16-foot, load-bearing wall that supported the children’s second-floor bedrooms. The challenge was to temporarily support the second floor while removing the wall, then re-support with an embedded steel I-beam, hidden in the ceiling joist rather than boxed in below. The process was time-consuming but it secured the house and resulted in a cleaner look, with more headroom, than an exposed beam.

Then in the sunken family room, Weber raised the floor, which greatly enhanced traffic flow. “We put a false floor on top of the existing floor, so everything is level,” he said.

A built-in desk also was removed from the kitchen, opening up space for more useful built-in storage and a longer, wider countertop peninsula. “The kitchen was too narrow for an island,” Weber said.

White enameled cabinets, Cambria quartz countertops, engineered hickory floors and stainless-steel appliances gave the kitchen a refreshed look.

The Ribnicks had considered stock cabinets but it turned out to be less expensive to build custom ones, said Weber. Going custom also allowed them to create a shoe-storage cubby beneath the pantry by the home’s back entrance.

The kitchen now flows into the formerly sunken family room, where the Ribnicks have created a cozy spot for casual dining, and into the open living room.

And their formal dining room? It’s now a music room/playroom with barn doors that they can close.

“Before, we used the formal dining room less than 10 times in two years,” said Steve. “Now it’s used every day. It’s fantastic!”