An architect and a designer made a compact house airy and smart

When it came to buying a home, Kent and Pam Greene had high standards and a modest budget. As architects, the Greenes wanted a light-filled, open home. But new jobs and a baby meant time and money were in somewhat short supply.

Another deficit: Home-improvement skills. "Just because you are an architect doesn't mean you know how to do it yourself," Kent says. So the remodeling became a sort of postgraduate tutorial through trial and error. "I had to learn how to do everything, and it's made me better at my job."

The Greenes had a budget of $130,000, and it took a year and a half to find the right house. "We were looking for something that would lend itself to modern design," Kent says.

After buying the house, the family had slightly more than $15,000 budgeted to spend on improvements.

So they used clean, simple materials in creative ways. For example, the cabinets are plywood. And the Greenes made bathroom light fixtures from ordinary copper plumbing pipes and fittings.

When the Greenes bought the house, it was divided into tiny rooms. The couple removed two windows, added more and larger windows, and took down interior walls to open up the house.

In the living room, they created a built-in display case to showcase art and conceal stereo equipment. Bright colors helped make an ordinary house special.

In the kitchen, a new island and more cabinets around the cooktop created more space for work and storage.