The Koliba villa, the first building erected to Stanisław Witkiewicz’s design in the Zakopane Style, is situated at Kościeliska Street, Zakopane’s oldest street with time-honoured houses and characteristic Tatra crofts at every step. In these surroundings we can better understand Stanisław Witkiewicz’s concept.
With the appearance of Swiss- or Tyrolese-styled architecture in Zakopane, alongside many other Polish health resorts, in the second half of the 19th century, Witkiewicz realized that in order to protect Podhale from buildings stylistically alien to the region, a style growing from the local building art should be wrought. Witkiewicz started a press campaign to promote the style. In his reports and articles, he appealed for the use of local motifs in the houses erected by the newcomers and visitors.
At this time, Zygmunt Gnatowski the owner of Jakimówka estate in Ukraine and collector enamoured of the culture of the Tatra Mountains felt an overwhelming desire to have a summerhouse built for him in Zakopane. At first, he was thinking of a cottage like those used by the Tatra people. However, Witkiewicz persuaded Gnatowski into having a house in the Zakopane Style erected instead. The Koliba (which name derives from koleba, a kind of shepherd’s shed) was built in 1892–93 by the local carpenters. The interiors were likewise stylishly arranged with furniture and household utensils as well as specially designed tile stoves, cornices, curtains, and even small cast elements such as door handles and outer elements of the locks.
Originally the Koliba villa looked different from what it does today. In 1901, Gnatowski had a huge wing added on the west, which transformed Witkiewicz’s original design by altering the mass of the building. In 1906 Zygmunt Gnatowski died in his native Jakimówka. He left no heirs, and the Koliba was sold. The ethnographic collection that Gnatowski had kept in an interior called the Tatra highlander’s chamber has found itself in the Tatra Museum in accordance with his will.
From then on, the Koliba changed owners several times. Unaware of its value, they were not concerned about its condition. In 1935, the Polish Rail Military Training Division purchased the building, intending to organize a pension here. In the course of repairs and adaptation, most of the original stoves were dismantled and the unique stylish floors changed. The same happened to the original decoration of the façade. New motifs, characteristic of Art Déco, were introduced inside.