What do you do when tragedy strikes and your entire home—a sprawling space devoted to displaying cherished family photos and sentimental heirlooms—can now fit into a 7×10 space? The memories last, of course, but the rest must be re-created. And that’s exactly what Rick and Connie Pawlak did. Back in 2001, before this duo became a quartet with the addition of daughters Madison and Mackenzie, Rick and Connie put their heads together and came up with their dream home, a house that served them well for nearly 13 years. However, they eventually discovered that their growing family needed a little more, well, growing room. “When we first built the house, it was just Connie and I,” says Rick. “As you start adding little ones, though, the needs of the house change. So, that’s why we actually went through a remodel before the fire.”
The summer of 2015 saw the family settling into their newly remodeled home, testing out the design and getting comfortable. The remodel was barely complete—in fact, there were one or two things more that still needed to be done—when the home was completely destroyed by a fire over Labor Day weekend. Beginning in the basement, the fire tore through the whole home, but not before everyone made it to safety. Rather than let this event dominate their life, the family decided to rally, and with the support of their community, were able to completely rebuild.
Working from memory
Having just remodeled their home, Rick and Connie knew a thing or two about what they wanted, and a few small things that they thought should be adjusted. The blueprints may have been lost in the fire, but the home’s design lived on through memory and photos taken not long before the fire.
The main level of the home houses the foyer, kitchen and family room, among others, which were kept similar to the remodeled home.
Just across the room, located in what the owners refer to as “dead space,” is a one-of-a-kind fireplace. It’s a direct vent fireplace, a request that resulted in a three-month design process, but one that makes the fireplace fully functional. “I didn’t want one at first,” Connie declares. “After you have a house fire, a fireplace isn’t exactly a priority.” Now, though, both Rick and Connie agree that it’s the perfect fit for their living room.
The open design of the first floor allows the family to enjoy a fire, not just in the living room, but also in the nearby kitchen and dining room. “The dining room table is really there as a centerpiece,” says Rick, admitting that they usually only use the space for the holidays. The kitchen, though, sees quite a bit of use throughout the day as the girls spread out their homework on the oversized granite island and later at night when the family gathers for meals.
Custom cabinetry winds its way through the kitchen, with upper cabinetry ending right before the curve of windows and being replaced with a striking stone wall. Rick and Connie spent months looking for the perfect stone to incorporate into the design, sifting through the offerings from a variety of companies and stone suppliers before finding just what they were looking for at a Home Depot.
Easy entertaining in any season
Excepting the private rooms in the house (the girls’ bedrooms, the master suite and Rick’s office), this home truly was built for entertaining, with the crowds transitioning from the pool and pool house to the basement as the warmer months lead to harsher weather.
The pool house is the perfect size for a healthy-sized group to find shade or shelter from a summer storm. A pair of roller doors easily slides down, keeping out any unwanted rain while guests lounge on the cushioned furniture or fire up the snow cone machine for a sweet treat—with blueberry being the crowd favorite.
In cooler weather, all the outdoor furniture can easily be transferred to the pool house and the doors rolled down one final time before being locked up for the winter. The family migrates to the basement for the winter months, with plenty of entertaining space for everyone. “Kids automatically gravitate toward the old-style arcade game,” says Rick. “The adults go right to the football helmets.”
The helmets represent all 32 teams of the NFL, with both the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals taking up prime real estate on top of the case. “Our home’s in Cleveland and his job’s in Cincinnati,” says Connie, so this sports-loving family winds up rooting for both the Indians and the Reds, the Browns and the Bengals. “It gets kind of crazy when we play the Bengals…I just wear orange,” jokes Connie.
The basement offers plenty of additional amusements. The kids love playing Pac-Man, Asteroids and any of the other 60 games that are loaded onto the arcade game tucked into a far corner. People of all ages fall in love with Puffy, The Italian Stallion and Dracula, some of the fish swimming merrily around the 300-gallon saltwater tank.
After the fire, the owners tried to salvage as much as they could. While all but one piece of furniture (a small table now located in the master bedroom) was damaged beyond use, they were pleased to discover some papers and knickknacks, things like artwork from when the girls were little and the baseballs and footballs that fill up the shelves in Rick’s office.
Most of these things did suffer smoke damage and had to be stored in plastic casings to contain the smell, but that doesn’t stop the family from proudly displaying them. “Some people may think ‘just bury the past and don’t have anything to remind you of it’ but I think it’s very much a piece of our history now and it’s what made us who we are today,” says Rick. “I want the constant reminder of where we were and where we are now, and how lucky we are where we are now.”
Resources: Designer: Rick and Connie Pawlak; Architect: Brian Bigelow Draftec; Builder/contractor: Pappas Construction; Flooring: Porcelain tile, oak planks; Cabinetry: Jeff Beery, Beery Custom Woodworking; Kitchen/bathroom countertops: Granite; Kitchen/bathroom backsplash: Stainless steel and porcelain; Kitchen/bathroom sinks: Stainless steel and porcelain; Kitchen/bathroom faucets: Moen; Dishwasher: LG; Cooktop: GE; Refrigerator: LG; Oven: GE Profile; Furniture: Restoration Hardware; Lights: Whitmer’s Lighting; Restoration Hardware; West Ninth Vintage (Pennsylvania)