Zakopane Style

The Jaszczórówka wooden church constructed by Stanisław Witkiewicz in Zakopane

The Tratra mountains in Poland aren’t just beautiful nature, but as well an important epicenter of Polish culture. The origins of the Zakopane Style go back to the late 19th century, when the Arts and Crafts Movement was in full bloom. It was created by Stanisław Witkiewicz, who settled in Zakopane in 1890. The Zakopane Style was the first Polish national style that went beyond the framework of theoretical postulates and could be carried out in practice, not only in Zakopane, but also in many other places in Poland, particularly in the Austrian and Russian partition zones. Stanisław Witkiewicz came across this idea in 1898. The inspiration for the Zakopane Style was therefore more the Ruthenian Style, which the artist could have encountered in 1868–1872 during his studies in St. Petersburg. In 1886, after his first trip to Giewont, he wrote: “…the highlander hut is a higher sort of construction in which the practical features are decorated in an expression of certain aesthetic needs. This is less raw material than a fairly developed style from which one might evolve a new and independent type of building.”

The first home in the Zakopane Style was Zygmunt Gnatowski’s Koliba Villa, which Witkiewicz built in 1892–1894. Witkiewicz considered the highlander carpenters and woodcarvers to be co-creators of the architecture he designed. The Koliba Villa was meant to settle all doubts as to the possibility of reconciling folk architecture with the requirements of the more complex and refined demands of comfort and beauty. According to Stanisław Witkiewicz’s precepts, the Podhale hut was to be the model for the Zakopane Style villa, which the Polish artist sought to make the Polish national style. Furnishing the hut with stylish furniture and other everyday items of his own design was his point of departure. His main task was to use the characteristic attributes of folk furnishings, “artistically employing” the constructions themselves. Ornament was shifted to background, though in many cases it was an important element. Podhale folk ornament, much like that of other regions, was mainly limited to geometrical and plant motifs. In the Zakopane Style this repertoire was expanded with motifs of the flora of the Tatra Mountains.

Willa Koliba

Willa Koliba

Willa Koliba & Willa Oksza

The first attempts to use Podhale ornament in artistic crafts involved carving ornament on wooden furniture – chairs, beds, and a screen. Based on designs by Magdalena Butowt-Andrzejkowiczówna and adapted by Franciszek Neužil, this furniture was produced by the Professional School for the Wood Industry in Zakopane for Countess Róża Krasińska in the 1885/1886 academic year. Beginning in 1887, this decorative movement was promoted by the school and was called the Zakopane Style. Stanisław Witkiewicz was critical of this furniture, mainly for its construction “without regard for the shapes of the original highlander pieces.” The failed attempts of the Wood Carving School inclined him to adopt the “highland style” himself. In the course of five years the first villa furnishings in the Zakopane Style, some to his designs, emerged in the Koliba, Oksza, Zofiówka, and Pod Jedlami villas. Attempts were made to harmonize the furnishings with the villa architecture, while “every detail” was to be “covered with highlander ornament or given highlander shape” to fill the interiors, while also creating designs “that had never been seen in highlander huts.”

The Zakopane style dominated architecture in the Podhale region for many years. Although the cutoff date for buildings designed in the Zakopane Style of Architecture is usually held to be 1914, many new pensions, villas and highlander homes are built according to the architectural model devised by Witkiewicz to the present day. The museum of the Zakopane Style of Architecture located in the Villa Koliba provides visitors with information on the Zakopane style.

Willa Oksza

Willa Oksza

Willa Oksza (Witkacy’s paintings), store with local craftsmanship & Bachleda Resort Hotel.

All photos by Edward Kanarecki.

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