Like most teenagers, 19-year-old Sarah Chmielewski loves having her own
bedroom, and being able to head there whenever she likes. But unlike most girls her
age, she couldn’t do that until last year. After 16 years in the Fernway neighborhood,
her parents, Teri and Ben Chmielewski, both realtors with Keller-Williams, moved
their family of four to a mid-century Cape Cod in the Mercer neighborhood, which
they completely renovated to meet their very particular wish list.
Sarah, who was born with cerebral palsy, lives with significant physical
disabilities. She is deaf, cannot speak or walk, and does not have typical use of
her arms and hands. Despite these limitations, she attends Shaker Heights High
School and can understand others, including her parents and her 22-year-old
brother, Nicholas, through their use of American Sign Language. And, now, since
her family’s move, she is thrilled to have the independence to direct her motorized
wheelchair throughout her bedroom – as well as the family kitchen, and the rest of
the first-floor living space – as she wishes.
When the Chmielewskis moved into their former Avalon Road home in
2000, they were drawn to the beauty of Shaker’s older homes and to its excellent
schooling options for both their children. Nicholas was five, just starting
kindergarten, and Sarah was two, and already beginning special education.
“We may not have been thinking ahead as well as we should have” when it
comes to the house, says Teri, but they were excited to live in the neighborhood,
and carrying toddler Sarah up and down the stairs of their traditional
four-level colonial was no problem.
As children do, though, Sarah grew, and Ben and Teri realized
it was not plausible to keep carrying Sarah throughout the day.
Moreover, she only had access to the living room, dining room, and
kitchen, and when she was taken up to bed, she didn’t have access to
any of the rest of the upstairs.
Sarah, they suspected, might like a little more freedom to move
about without help. And Ben was experiencing increasing back strain.
The Chmielewskis knew they needed a new living arrangement.
Ben and Teri had two ironclad requirements for their next family
home. First, they were dedicated to staying in Shaker Heights, having
put down deep roots in the community. Second, they needed a home
that would accommodate first-floor living. As Shaker Heights realtors
with extensive knowledge of the city’s historic heavy-on-the-stairs
housing stock, they both knew this would present, as Teri puts it, “a bit
of a challenge.”
The Chmielewskis wrote letters to the owners of every Shaker home
they thought might work for their family – whether the current owners
were selling or not – and continued to keep an eye on new listings. As luck
would have it, their present home soon came on the market, a 1954 two-story
Wimbledon Road Cape Cod with two first-floor bedrooms, a must-have for Sarah
and her parents.
The Chmielewskis had all along anticipated that the move would involve major
renovations to include the specific features they wanted for Sarah. And, despite the
home’s appealing bones, that’s exactly what they got.
SHAKER LIFE | SUMMER 2017 51