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By the time Cindy Zwicky and Lisa Ryan were done reimagining their Robbinsdale rambler, every square inch became usable spaces that were also works of art.

"It was just a bunch of dark rectangles before," said Zwicky. "There was nothing airy or open about it and the stairs went right down the middle of the house and [where the mechanicals were] there was no way to knock out those walls."

That's why they decided to bring in family friend and architect Mark Saxton to help.

Still, the 1965 rambler had its charms, such as original hardwood floors. And a previous owner had updated the kitchen with granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances and heated floors. The couple also liked that the main bedroom had an en suite bathroom. The fact that the house was located on a deep lot was a draw, too.

"It's a backyard with no alley and has just a nice privacy back there," Zwicky said.

Making moves

Saxton went right to work creating usable, art-filled spaces for the couple.

"The first question he asked me was 'What was your favorite part of your childhood home?' and I loved sitting on the window seat and just looking outside. So he said, 'Your house needs to have a big picture window,'" Zwicky recalled.

Rearranging rooms was a game changer. The narrow dining room with only a tiny window was transformed into a light-filled sunroom by adding a large picture window and a glass door, which provided access to the backyard. Then, a bedroom between the living room and the kitchen became the new dining room.

The family said those moves made all the difference in the world.

"I always wanted a sunroom, and the cost of building them off the back of your house is just exorbitant. Then there was this bedroom off the living room right when you walk in that was an odd place for a bedroom," Zwicky said.

In addition to the sunroom, Saxton brought more light into the home in other ways, such as replacing a wooden door in the kitchen leading to the backyard with a glass one.

"Now you stand [in the entryway] and you can look straight through the kitchen to the backyard, and it's just a breath of fresh air. It just kind of opened everything," Zwicky said.

Sculptural details, lightboxes

Saxton, now retired, also used sculptural details and lightboxes in his design. The ceiling in the entryway was dropped to a lower height.

"With a lot of those ramblers, there's no distinction between an entranceway and the rest of the house. He dropped the ceiling over that long entranceway so when people come in, it gives you a sense of space," Zwicky said.

They replaced the stone mantels on both the main floor and downstairs fireplaces with wood tops that intentionally extend far beyond the width of the fireplace in both directions.

"It just gives it more of that linear kind of Scandinavian look," Zwicky said.

The lower level was no afterthought. It was transformed into a usable living space. First, they tucked away all of the utilities, mechanicals and washer and dryer into a backroom that also includes a sauna. Then, they carved out a family room. Saxton played off light from egress windows, then added lightboxes on the floors and ceilings.

"There was a lot of geometry to that, and then Mark was a master choosing colors that were well-placed and made things pop. Then the biggest lightbox was using mirrors that reflect a lot of space and light," Zwicky said. "That whole room became just an open sunny room. It's really soothing and you can entertain down there now."

2 blocks from Crystal Lake

After 10 years of living in their rambler, the couple and their teenage daughter are bidding adieu to their four-bedroom, two-bath home. Zwicky said a condo better suits their family's changing needs.

Listing agent Rhea Barrow said the next homeowner will get a rambler with a well-thought-out design throughout its 2,600 square feet.

"It's very clearly well cared for and maintained and, with the architectural touches, they really made it something special," she said.

Zwicky said that in addition to the home's interior spaces, they enjoyed the outdoors just as much, starting with their private backyard that was a respite and where they could enjoy nature. "We see lots of birds — blue herons, hawks — we've had a robin's nest about every other year," she said.

Zwicky said the location offers easy access to recreation,as well.

"Out our front door, it's just two blocks from Crystal Lake and one block from Victory Memorial Drive" parkway, she said.

At the time of publication, there was a contingency offer on the home. Rhea Barrow (rhea@putyourrootsdown.com; 612-274-5998) of Root Down Realty has the $434,900 listing.