Zakopane style architecture is unusual in that it takes its name from a small village in the mountain region of Southern Poland, which was believed to have the power to cure many illnesses.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the notion that breathing “healthy” air could improve symptoms or even cure a variety of maladies became popular.
Zakopane became a destination of the prosperous health-tourism boom, with many people settling in the village in the hope that they would finally be cured of their illness. Faith in nature’s potential to heal was widespread.
In particular, patients suffering with tuberculosis were often advised that an agreeable climate might aid their recovery. Among them was artist Stanisław Witkiewicz.
Witkiewicz was a painter, writer, and art theorist who gained his knowledge at the Universities in St. Petersburg, Russia and Munich, Germany.
After his first visit to the village in 1886, he noticed that many houses built by wealthy new residents eschewed the traditional building style of the area, instead taking influence from the architecture of foreign mountain regions.
Witkiewicz did not like the imitation. He feared if the trend continued, the village would end up looking like a replica of a Swiss Alpine village.
He admired the traditional buildings and colorful local folk-art, and presented another idea for refreshing the architecture of the houses that was greatly accepted by the locals.
By blending Art Noveau style features with traditional construction and folk art, Witkiewicz created the first national style in Poland. He named the new architectural style after the village: Zakopane style.
In 1892 Witkiewicz designed the first house in the his style, which is located on the oldest street in the village, Kościeliska Street.
Villa Koliba, meaning shepherd’s shed, is a wooden house built for a wealthy Ukrainian named Zygmunt Gnatowski. Initially, he wanted a cottage similar to the ones in the village, but Witkiewicz convinced him Zakopane style was the right choice for him.
The house was constructed by local carpenters Maciej Gąsienica Józkowy and Józef Kasprus Stoch and was completed in 1894. During WWII the house was the seat of the German youth organization Hitler-Jugend. In the post-war era it served as an orphanage.
Later on, Koliba Villa was restored by the Tatra Museum, and since 1993 it has been open to the public as the Museum of the Zakopane Style.
The rooms include displays of household utensils and handcrafted furniture, decorated with ornaments in Zakopane style.
Witkiewicz designed several other charming houses in the village, but the loveliest and largest of them all is definitely Pod Jedlami (House Under the Firs). Today Pod Jedlami is in private ownership.
It was constructed in 1897 as the home of the “queen of lyrical poetry” Maria Pawlikowska Jasnorzewska and her husband Jan Pawlikowski.
Most popular among the houses is Villa Konstantynówka, which was once the property of Aniela Zagórska, cousin of the Polish-British writer Joseph Conrad.
The villa was also a residence of the famous author in 1914 and nowadays is one of the favorite restaurants in the area.
Other examples of Zakopane style are Villa Oksza, built between 1895 and 1896, that today houses a Gallery of 20th Century Art, and Villa Rialto, constructed between 1897 and 1898. It was the first medical center in the village, for people infected with tuberculosis.
Witkiewicz also designed churches and their interiors and furnishings in Zakopane style.
Fine examples are the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with its beautiful wood-carved altar, and the stone church of St. John the Baptist.
One of the altars in St. John the Baptist has an oil painting that represents the saint himself, however not with his face, but with the face of the painter – Witkiewicz.
During his promotion of Zakopane style, in 1904 Witkiewicz published Styl zakopiański. Zeszyt I. Pokój jadalny (The Zakopane Style. Book I. The Dining Room) and in 1911 Styl zakopiański. Zeszyt II. Ciesielstwo (The Zakopane Style. Book II. Carpentry).
He hoped that one day Zakopane style would become dominant in Poland.
However the instant popularity of the style in the area did not last long, but it definitely started a trend of decorative art influenced by folk tradition and the development of regional architecture.
Witkiewicz’s remarkable designs are still noticeable in the beautiful Zakopane and are often referred to as the original Polish style.