If you’ve never stepped inside a sun-washed cottage in the French countryside, or explored the cobblestone streets of a quaint Eastern European village, it might be hard to explain what makes the Barrington home Karolina Dolecka and husband, Artur Szumilas, have created for their family so special.
Purchased in 2010 with plans to dismantle and rebuild from the studs up, the reinvented ranch is anything but perfect.
A new white tile kitchen floor has been distressed (by Dolecka, with a can of concrete paint she picked up at a hardware store) to mimic century-old farmhouses. A gleaming Viking range is flanked by custom cabinets built from reclaimed (and naturally flawed) barn wood. Even the Subzero refrigerator has its own unique veneer.
“It was a huge fridge and it was so boring and so perfect,” says Dolecka, who grew up outside Krakow, Poland about 50 miles from the village where Szumilas also spent much of his own childhood. “So I said to my daughter, ‘let’s do something cool’.”
Dolecka, who is half Polish and half Venezuelan, discovered a chalkboard-style, adhesive material online—converting her designer appliance into a one-of-a-kind piece of functional art.
“Now, every week, the kids just draw something special for us,” she explains, leading a tour of the charming Barrington property one summer afternoon. “I love seeing their pictures and words. There’s always something different.”
And “something different” is exactly what the couple was hoping for when they chose Barrington as the place where they would raise their family.
“The dream was simple,” says Dolecka. “We wanted to find great schools and a great community for our kids, with a country-style feeling.”
Dolecka and Szumilas already had a storybook romance and marriage. She was still a college student at Loyola when they first met in November 2004.
“I was working as a part-time insurance agent,” says Dolecka, explaining that while she grew up outside of Krakow, her husband was a U.S. citizen who divided his youth between Poland and the Chicago area. “He was a customer who had purchased liability insurance for his employees. We were both young and one of my coworkers had a birthday celebration and invited many friends—including Artur. I saw him and said ‘I know you!’ and that’s how it all started.”
Less than five months later, they were married. And by the time they discovered the Barrington property in 2010, they had three children—Sophia, who is now 11, along with the twins, Maria and Anthony, now 9. The youngest, Hannah, now 6, was a baby when the extensive renovation and expansion began.
“When we bought the house, we knew we’d have to remodel it. Originally it was just your typical small ranch with a separate garage. But I knew right away that I loved the potential of this place. It was a very brave, quick decision,” says Dolecka, explaining that her husband’s experience working in construction lessened the learning curve of such an ambitious project. “The vision was to bring in some Polish and European style from the reclaimed wood flooring to the wood beams in the ceiling. We brought in a lot of things from Europe because we wanted something different—something truly original—that would bring a small piece of Poland to Barrington.”
Today, the three-acre property is everything they wanted and more. Inside, the home has all the rustic elegance of a European farmhouse—down to rough-hewn timber window frames, multiple wood-burning fireplaces, custom light fixtures, and antiques in every room. Outside, the expansive grounds feel more like a summer vacation home than a suburban back yard, with multiple seating areas, hammocks, a volleyball area, baseball court, mini-zip line, trampoline, two playgrounds, outdoor fireplace, and a coop for 20 chickens.
“My favorite part of all is the kitchen. I love my kitchen. It’s small, but there’s something about it. I feel like I have a small piece of Europe when I look out my window to the garden,” says Dolecka. “I don’t like new stuff so even if something is new, it has to feel like it has some history to it. For example, our friends made our round table in the kitchen but the top was too perfect—the shine was too perfect— so I took the hammer and nails and tried to create scratches, and then I got out the white spray paint.”
Dolecka says those same European design touches can be found in the showroom of the business (Wellness for Eternity) she opened this summer in downtown Barrington.
“The essence of everything I do at work and at home is simplicity,” she adds. “Everything about this home is to show the children the simple life that we grew up with. These days, kids can have everything. It’s hard to teach them respect and values so this place allows us to show them a different style of living—more carefree and open to nature. Here, they can go out into the woods and build secret gardens, and that is my idea of perfect.”