Name: Robert & Wowa
Location: Krakow, Poland
Rent or own: Own
Size: 1600 sq/ft
Years lived in: 5
Robert and Wowa live on the top floor of a 19th-century building in the Kazimierz district of Krakow, the old Jewish district in the center of town that was rediscovered in the late 90s. They live in a building that once housed executives from the gas company next door, and the apartments are generously sized. "It's very spacey," says Robert, who speaks excellent, self-taught English with the kinds of endearing mistakes you hope nobody ever corrects.
Robert helps run the annual Krakow Jewish Culture Festival that's on now and Wowa is a lawyer who works out of an office downstairs. Before buying their spacious loft from the cash-strapped city of Krakow, which offered huge discounts to residents who were willing to fix up buildings on their own dime, they lived together for six years in a 250-square-foot apartment. "The good thing about our old place was that everything was in hand-reach," Robert says. "But we wanted more space and light."
Robert is from Western Poland and Wowa was born in Belarus, so the two men say their apartment doesn't look like your average Krakow flat, with its generations of memorabilia on the walls and bourgeois aesthetic. "We wanted something created by us," Robert says, "that had our personality." The renovation took seven months. They painted and varnished a pine floor red, put sliding Japanese doors between the bedroom and the living room and on built-in closet doors, installed a large comfortable bathroom and have kept furnishings to a minimum. "We tried doing that feng-shui whatever," Robert says, "but it got so complicated!"
In addition to the open living room, dining room and kitchen, they have two bedrooms (one which functions as a den when guests aren't visiting) and there's an upstairs level that is sparsely furnished for extra guests at the moment, but that they dream of turning into a winter garden -- if they can get permission from the historical society to put glass on the roof. They're not holding their breath, since requests to add extra windows that would allow them a view over the Old Town was rejected.
Before they began renovating, an interior designer friend proposed a semi-opaque glass bathroom wall and steel and glass sliding doors throughout, but they chose to install heavy, dark-stained classic wood doors to keep it feeling grounded and livable. "We wanted it to be modern," Robert says, "but we didn't want it to look like something you'd find in a magazine. That's why we decided to put in regular doors, and to paint the floor this crazy red."
- Kristin Hohenadel blogging from rue Vieille du Temple, Paris, France. If you have an idea for a European house tour, please write kristin @ apartmenttherapy . com