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With their children grown, soon-to-be empty nesters Charlie Fazio and Sallie Quammen decided to downsize. So they traded in their 1920s Dutch Colonial in Minneapolis for a 1950s rambler in St. Louis Park, situated on a parklike south-facing and sloping lot, with nearly half the space.

"When we first looked at it, we didn't think [the layout] would work for us. It was cut up into smaller rooms," Quammen said. "We were really attracted to the neighborhood. We went back and thought that we could make it work with some changes."

The husband-wife duo initially planned for a smaller remodel of their new house. But soon, they decided to renovate the entire place to accommodate their current and future needs.

"We started looking at things further and discovered issues and that we wanted it to be more energy-efficient and how much more work would it take to do that," Quammen said.

The couple brought in contractor Steve Roche of Showcase Renovations, who had worked with them on their Minneapolis house. They also recruited Sala Architects' Bryan Anderson, whom Roche had previously collaborated with on his own home in Isanti County.

"[Roche's] home was featured in a magazine where Steve and his wife downsized and Bryan handled the design of their house," Fazio said. "We liked what he had to say about downsizing. It was in line with what our interests were."

On Fazio and Quammen's home, the Sala team suggested a renovation that was a practice in sustainability, functionality and artful statements. The project was named an AIA Minnesota Home of the Month winner.

"What was fun about this project is we got to look at it holistically from the start," Anderson said, adding that while "it was extensive in its scope, it was relatively modest in its scale. We moved around a few walls, but not many."

Connecting to the outdoors

Walls were moved on two of the home's four bedrooms to create an owners' suite with an attached bathroom and walk-in closet as well as adding a powder room to the main floor.

As the project moved forward, Fazio and Quammen added another must-have to their list: a screened porch on the main level.

"The biggest challenge that they saw right away, and I would agree, is you have this backyard, but you can't access it right away," Anderson said.

Originally, the backyard was accessible only through a lower-level walkout, which made it inconvenient for toting drinks or food outside. The home had sliding doors for a future deck or porch addition, but the location — between the dining and living areas — would break the flow of the yard.

Instead, they added the screened porch, relatively small at 216 square feet, to the southwest corner accessible through a French door off the living room. Floating stairs would connect the porch to the backyard.

As for the original sliding doors, they were replaced with large windows to provide grander views of the backyard from the living room, dining room and also the kitchen, where a wall was knocked down to open up the house.

"It really transformed the house in the sense that the kitchen became part of the living space whereas before it was an isolated space," Anderson said. "In its existing state, the kitchen was limited to looking out of the front yard. Now it benefits from views of both the front and backyard."

A practice in sustainability

The renovation was also a practice in sustainability, implementing high-efficiency performance features and design trends.

The team preserved materials whenever possible. The roof was fairly new, so it wasn't replaced. They also kept and refinished the original oak flooring.

The windows were replaced with high-performance, triple-pane windows. The project provided a unique opportunity to add insulation to the exterior, too.

"We introduced a thermal break by adding continuous insulation, which is like adding a sweater (or a blanket) over the existing walls," Anderson said. "That happens in new construction but it's rare in renovation work to be as comprehensive as we were able to be here. It means a huge improvement in the overall performance of the house."

Upcycled materials were also used, when possible. Ash and elm sourced from Wood From the Hood, the local outfit that reclaims wood from discarded trees, was used to accent walls and frame windows.

Steel was woven into the home for both its sustainability and design features. A steel beam now accentuates the new open kitchen and steel posts and handrails can be found both indoors and out.

The couple's dogs, Ozzie and Sonic, especially enjoy a landing overlooking the yard that was created as part of the steel-framed floating stairs. While its function was to change the direction of the stairwell so it meets up with the lower-level walkout, the landing has become the spot where the dogs like to perch.

It's also the launching pad for Ozzie to show off his athletic abilities.

"Ozzie's favorite thing is the backyard when jumping off that cantilevered deck," Fazio said. "If you let Ozzie out from the porch, he runs down the stairs and leaps off the cantilevered deck. He's so sure he's going to get a squirrel."

Settling in

As they've settled into their new home, Fazio and Quammen appreciate the high-efficiency and thoughtful design of their renovated house, from the skylight above the stairwell to the steel and wood accents.

The couple also liked how the rooms are now multipurpose.

"When Bryan thinks about small spaces and downsizing, he often thinks 'Why have any room have only one purpose?' " Fazio said. "So one of the bedrooms in the house is used a little bit as an office but also has a daybed for when our granddaughter visits. There's another room with a Murphy bed in it that we also use for exercise and jigsaw puzzles. It doesn't have to be a guest room all the time."

They're equally happy about how their home now has unobstructed views of the backyard and a screen porch that is enveloped by trees.

"There are pines that surround the porch. We feel like we're in the trees when we sit out here," Fazio said.

About this project

What: A St. Louis Park rambler gets a whole-house remodel and a small porch addition.

Project size: 2,100-square-foot renovation plus a 210-square-foot addition.

Designing firm: Sala Architects.

Project team: Bryan Anderson, AIA; Marta Snow, AIA; Jessica Wilder.