As many Canadian immigrants know – being born abroad means occasional trips to the motherland. For me, that place is Poland. It’s a really exciting and vibrant country that’s coming into its own. Situated smack-dab in the heart of Central Europe, Poland is in a great position to absorb the best of all things European. And like John Travolta‘s character Vincent Vega tells it in Pulp Fiction, “what makes Europe such a great place is those little differences.”
In large cities, the vast majority of people live in condos and apartments, and as is the norm in Europe, most of these are in four- or five-storey low-rise developments built around parks and children’s playgrounds. Everything is very community oriented. Because there isn’t a lot of room for clutter, possessions are kept to a minimum, functionality reigns supreme and good design is just a natural part of life.
I had the opportunity to visit the home of Zbyszek and Sylwia Kowalski who, with their two young boys Antek and Iwo, live in the Wilanów district of Warsaw. The district serves as the home to the historic Wilanów Palace (the Polish Versailles) which used to be the second home of various Polish kings. Zbyszek is a business consultant and speaker while Sylwia runs an advertising agency. I sat down with the woman of the house to get the scoop on their design choices.
HGTV: What’s the name of this neighbourhood?
Sylwia Kowalski: Nowy Wilanów (pronounced: novy vi’lanuv). This area was developed about six years ago.
HGTV: What makes it so special?
SK: It has wide open spaces and lots of greenery. The Wilanów park is really close by so we often go there for walks.
HGTV: What was the essential component that you wanted in a home?
SK: Safety was very important. We just wanted a nice and peaceful neighbourhood. The former Polish President lives nearby here so we kind of lucked out because things are always very quiet.
HGTV: How big is the space?
SK: It’s 100 square metres (about 1076 square feet). We have 3 bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and two bathrooms.
HGTV: What about extra storage space?
SK: The building doesn’t have any. You would have to rent a self-storage space outside but we’ve never needed to do that.
HGTV: Does the building have any amenities?
SK: There is a pool in a nearby building as well as fitness centre. Plus, you have all your typical little shops, a pharmacy and beauty salon.
HGTV: What’s planned for this community?
SK: They are in the process of building a new school and aqua park for kids.
HGTV: How much work did you have to do when you first moved in?
SK: Well, in Poland the norm is that when you purchase a new home it’s never finished. You basically buy it in a raw state, with only the windows and electrical outlets installed. The rest you always need to finish yourself. So there was quite a bit of work to be done but that’s just something everyone is used to.
HGTV: What kind of style did you want?
SK: I like modern, simple forms. Contrast is key. I really like when things stand out. We kind of have that going with our dark floors and light flower pots.
HGTV: What was the inspiration behind the design?
SK: We didn’t have a master plan or anything. We simply just walked into the furniture store and picked out things we liked. Zbyszek really wanted to have dark floors and I wanted to have a big fridge. The rest we kind of just picked together.
HGTV: Where is the furniture from?
SK: Pretty much everything is from IKEA. It’s really popular in Poland because you can just go in and buy whatever you need right away, there’s no waiting.
HGTV: Where did you get the idea for the wallpaper?
SK: The wallpaper was really motivated by the lime green sofas which didn’t really go well with anything we owned. We ended up with them as our white leather sofas didn’t last long after we had our first son – white sofas and energetic young boys just don’t get along. But I find that these photo-wallpapers are a really cool design tool and very inexpensive to change.
HGTV: What is your favourite place in the house?
SK: The bathroom. It’s nice and big. I also love the kitchen. I always wanted to have a big counter so you could sit on it. The boys like their room although they just like to hang out wherever we are.
HGTV: What about your art?
SK: The panorama paintings were purchased at the Jarmark Dominikański in the city of Gdańsk. It’s a three week long, one of a kind market, where all kinds of new and old things are sold. Jewelry is usually the most popular but you can also purchase great works of art from young artists at very reasonable prices.
And I purchased the painting of the fairytale musicians online on Allegro (the Polish version of eBay) and later tracked down the artist and commissioned a few more pieces.
HGTV: Is there a style that’s prevalent in Poland?
SK: People really live in the moment and that is often visible in the way they furnish their homes. Trends play a big factor. When people like something they just go for it. For instance, right now, brick walls, white kitchens and white floors are very popular.
By Filip Terlecki
Born in Warsaw and based in Toronto, Filip is a freelance journalist and screenwriter currently working for the National Geographic Channel Canada.