So they had a choice to make: Enhance the tiny kitchen at the rear, or keep the view of the garden offered by a kitchen window that spanned the width of the house, as well as some other favorite features.
"We had a great patio behind the house, where we had picnic tables, and above that a deck on the second floor outside our bedroom," Marianna Sullivan said.
Still, she did not enjoy working from the bedroom, the only place in the house that permitted a home office. Like many college professors, Michael and Marianna, who recently retired from the political science department at the College of New Jersey, often worked in a bedroom space that lacked enough room for books and research materials.
"Having room for more bookcases was very appealing," said Michael Sullivan, a political science and history professor at Drexel University.
It was a big decision, one they worked through after contacting a neighbor, architect Paul Macht, who showed the couple sketches of what could be done.
As a visual aid, Macht took them to his own contemporary house nearby.
"We saw his home, and that pretty much convinced us," Marianna said.
Now that the work is finished, the Sullivan house continues to look, from the front, like a classic mid-20th-century building.
It's not until one walks around to the back that the house reveals its dramatic addition, which added a total of 400 square feet.
Trees and shrubs approaching the house part for a small stone path that seems to pass under a window to create indoor space for a small garden.
In the 300-square-foot kitchen addition, an island was positioned where the back wall once ended, and an expanse of wood flooring now leads to the new rear window wall. (Some of the flagstone that made up the patio area claimed for the addition has been repurposed inside.)
A wooden table that seats six anchors the center of the new space. Marianna said it was purchased from a company that makes tables from doors. Its simple profile fits in with the sleek Scandinavian furniture that adorns the Sullivans' dining room.
In a corner facing the window - and affording what is still quite a nice view of the garden - is a large desk outfitted with a computer. A sewing machine as well as bookshelves also have been accommodated.
"I like the idea of having everything in one place, our desk, computer, bookshelves and whatever we need," Marianna said.
The eclectic quality of the room is accented by a small, carved Victorian rocking chair that Michael said is used by the couple's 2-year-old grandson and 5-year-old granddaughter.
The new kitchen area leads to the original living room/dining room. An open staircase rises to the second floor, where a 100-square-foot addition has replaced the deck.
Here stands a new bathroom, twice its previous size, complete with Jacuzzi tub.
The Sullivans love the changes to their house, which bring the opportunity for more family dinners with their married son and daughter.
Marianna said she does not regret giving up the old deck and patio.
"Sometimes I do think how nice they were, but it was our choice," she said, "and I like the office and the new kitchen space, even more."