IN THE LIVING room of the FCH Apartment in Krakow, Poland — a private residential interior designed by the local firm Paradowski Studio — there’s an enormous floor-to-ceiling lacquered-wood bookcase. To an outsider, it looks like one you might find in any luxury home. And yet, to a Polish person, it’s liable to be repugnant, triggering unpleasant memories of the ubiquitous 1960s meblościanka wall units that helped partition out the tiny apartments of the Communist era. The provocation was intentional: Since founding Paradowski Studio in 2012, Zuza and Piotr Paradowski have built their practice around reclaiming and recontextualizing the decorative relics of their country’s past in an effort to forge a contemporary design vernacular that feels uniquely Polish. “We’re trying to challenge people,” Zuza says. “We want them to see these elements again after so many years and start to appreciate them in a new way.”
It seems to be working. Not only are the young couple’s services becoming highly sought-after in Poland, but they’re also gaining acclaim outside its borders, most recently earning a spot on Architectural Digest’s prestigious AD100 list in Europe. “They’re part of a new generation of designers who have absorbed the styles and innovations of centuries past and are now deftly remixing those ideas,” says AD’s global features director Sam Cochran.
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That approach is especially evident in the 2020 project that first put them in the spotlight: the PURO Hotel in Krakow, for which they took inspiration from the city’s typical prewar cafeterias and bistros. The interior features trendy custom furniture designed by the duo in chunky wood and wavy cut marble, midcentury-style sculptural wood paneling, custom floor tiles made with a Polish heritage manufacturer, and the pièce de résistance, a multidimensional ceramic art wall. “It’s very Polish,” says Piotr. He notes that during Communist times, when expensive bespoke craftsmanship was only permitted in public spaces, you could see similar wall installations in government buildings or hospitals.
Many of them were made by the late ceramic artist Bolesław Książek, whose work inspired the PURO wall; the designers sought out similar local makers to fabricate theirs. Access to Poland’s artisanal workshops — most of which were on the brink of closing when they founded Paradowski Studio a decade ago — was the main reason the duo decided to set up shop in Krakow after years of living abroad in India and Hong Kong (Piotr), and London and Antwerp (Zuza). “We wanted to use the craft that’s still here,” says Zuza, noting that for the majority of the artisans they collaborate with, “we started as their only customer. Now, the community is getting a new life.” The pair’s work has also helped nurture a new Polish appreciation for interior design, a largely nonexistent industry in the country before the early 2000s. “We’re teaching people that it’s not just the technical details that are important, but also the artistic vision,” Piotr says.
Now that they’ve made inroads at home, the pair are turning their attention abroad. For two recently completed projects in Germany and Italy and two in progress in London and Mallorca, they’re working with local craftspeople in those locations, while bringing their homegrown references with them. “Of course, we don’t want to make someone in Italy a Polish home,” says Zuza. But for Paradowski Studio, the magic lies in the mix.
Monica Khemsurov Writer
Monica Khemsurov is a design editor and creative strategist living between New York, Los Angeles, and Berlin.
PION Studio Photographer
PION Studio is a photographic practice founded by Basia Kuligowska and Przemysław Nieciecki in 2014. They work within the scope of still life, landscape, and architectural photography. With a profound eye for detail and light, PION creates original photography and video for various projects and clients.