In the case of Małgosia and Wojtek Żółtowsky, the question of whether the chicken or the egg came first is a complex one—in this case, the chicken being their passion for furniture making and the egg being their love for hotels. Fortunately, the question fades into glorious irrelevance thanks to the couple’s Galery69, which is part hotel, part gallery, and all artistic splendor. Set in northeastern Poland, by the Wulpinskie lakeside, in the neighborhood of Olsztyn where they both grew up, Galery69 embodies Małgosia and Wojtek’s love for nature. When not designing furniture with natural, raw materials, the couple spends their time in this idyllic lakeside region swimming, sailing, fishing, horse riding, and walking in the forests.
In fact, it is how their paths crossed. Małgosia reminisces, “We met by a lake. He sailed into my life on a yellow boat.” (An affinity for the poetic seems to underline everything they say and touch.) They’ve been together ever since. Shortly after meeting, they moved to Vienna where Małgosia learned German and Wojtek developed rather useful design skills working in the electronics arena. With a strong entrepreneurial and creative bent, the two have dabbled in many different fields, such as gardening and translating, though they’ve never stepped into an office. “Freedom above all!” being their motto.
What began as a hobby—building furniture—is now one of their main preoccupations. Małgosia is quick to pipe in: “It is still a hobby! You don’t decide to become a designer. Either you are one or you’re not. Unfortunately you can’t learn it. We have always tinkered with materials and transformed them.” It is perhaps the lack of formal training that has enabled the two to make their own rules. Citing both Nordic design (for its simplicity) and southern Italian (for its proportions) as inspirations, the two have refined a design style that meets right in the middle—in Poland.
We wanted to tie it in somehow with a gallery that we had always desired,” says Wojtek. Being perfectionists, they soon realized that once the hotel was built, they couldn’t entrust their precious creation to a stranger; so the couple decided to run it themselves. Like everything else, they’ve taken the big step of becoming hoteliers in stride.
In fact, the two have become a magnet for the Polish creative scene, with artists and designers flocking down to Galery69 from different parts of the country. But none of this attention has fazed the down-to-earth couple who cite their best “showing” as one where only four people were invited: Małgosia, Wojtek, and two artist friends. They set up the preview as one would when inviting a large group, including a table laden with a feast. Małgosia describes the event, which displayed her work along with the work of two artist friends: “We drank wine together, looked at every picture very carefully, and discussed it. And then we ate together in this empty room. And one of our friends, who is a big Polish artist, asked the other friend: Have you ever had such a wonderful preview? The friend replied: “No, never!” Perhaps therein lies the charm and magic of this unorthodox couple: their power to turn intimacy and creative energy into something unique and lasting.