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Beth Trautman, a designer and real estate agent, keeps an eye out for good fixer-upper candidates. She often finds diamonds-in-the-rough, polishes them and then finds a buyer.

But she fell in love with one of her makeover projects and decided to make it her home.

The house, built in 1903, is in Wayzata. When she found it about two years ago, it had been on the market for a while and was almost obscured behind an overgrown hedge. A builder had done some updating, but the house still lacked many of the amenities that buyers want.

"It needed work," Trautman said. But the house had its charms, including an old-fashoned front porch — and a can't-beat-it location just three blocks from Lake Minnetonka and a short walk to the quaint downtown.

Trautman, a Lakes Sotheby's agent who also owns her own design firm, Cottage Home Designs, also has an in-house construction expert — her husband, David Rusciano, a contractor.

"The plan was to redo it and sell it," Trautman said. But she was soon too smitten with the home's location to let it go. So they decided to turn the old house into a home for their family, which includes two teenage sons and two young adult children in college.

"It's so close to downtown," she said. "We love being able to walk everywhere."

Working with architect Max Windmiller of Windmiller Design Studio, Trautman and Rusciano transformed the home from top to bottom, updating antiquated systems and worn-out finishes, improving flow and function, all while still preserving its classic cottage aesthetic.

The big dig

One of the home's biggest shortcomings was that the basement was small, dark and had very low ceilings. They re-excavated the basement to increase the ceiling height from a little more than 6 feet to just over 8 feet.

"That was the most challenging — digging out that basement," said Trautman, whose teenage sons did the demolition.

"We had to shore up the house, and we were living there while all this was happening," she explained.

Two new windows brought much-needed light into the formerly dark space.

Upstairs, the layout had poor flow, and the staircase to the basement was very narrow.

A new addition on the side of the house increased the total square footage from about 3,000 to 4,000, adding space to rework the main-floor layout and relocate the basement staircase.

It also allowed for enough space on the lower level for an additional bedroom and bathroom, a game room and bar, as well as a second laundry room and an exercise room.

Relocating the basement staircase created a void under the staircase above, which Trautman used to create pullout drawer storage. The eye-catching little drawers under the stairs are useful for stashing small items.

There had been a powder room next to the refrigerator in the kitchen.

"That was strange," said Trautman. Luckily, they were able to relocate it and turn that space into a dog-friendly mudroom that can accommodate the family's two golden doodles. The new mudroom has an automatic dog door, activated by a chip in the animals' collars, so the dogs can go in and out as needed. There are also built-ins for dog food storage and drawers that create a feeding station.

A porch for all seasons

The front porch, while charming, needed a lot of work.

"It was falling off the house," Trautman said. "The city let us rebuild in the same spot."

In addition to footings to anchor it, the new porch has modern upgrades, including Phantom screens to keep bugs out and a custom gas fireplace.

Trautman and Rusciano also refreshed the home's exterior.

The house had been covered with vines, which were damaging the stucco. After Trautman and her sons pulled off all the vines, the house was sandblasted and restuccoed in deep gray.

The new addition and trim were painted white, and the old roof was replaced with a black metal one. New copper gas lanterns add vintage character, and the cupola on top of the garage is now illuminated.

"One of my favorite parts of the house is the lighted cupola," said Trautman.

The family lived in the house throughout the long construction process.

"Our friends tell us they could see us eating in our kitchen through the plastic that was keeping out the elements in the winter," said Trautman.

Now that the transformation is complete, she has no regrets.

"It probably would have been cheaper to tear down and rebuild," she said. "But I really like the charm. I like how it marries old and new."

Although the house has been reworked inside and out, it still has many of its original elements, including its doors, oak flooring (new flooring was stained to match), baseboards, crown molding, built-in buffet and wood-burning fireplace, all of which help the home retain its timeless vintage character.

"It captures the charm of 100 years ago," Trautman said, "with updates for today's lifestyle."

Kim Palmer has retired from the Star Tribune. To reach the new Homes editor, Nancy Ngo, e-mail