It’s hard for Edyta Szlezak to explain the difference between her life as a child in rural Poland and the life she and husband Mario have built for their two daughters in Barrington.
Her world then was various shades of gray.
“The streets were gray … the buildings were gray,” explains Szlezak, an artist and interior designer who led the transformation of her family dream home on the northern edge of Barrington. “I grew up being so much more independent, doing grocery shopping for my parents when I was 5 years old. But I was also surrounded by nature, which is why I love living here.”
Her father immigrated to the U.S. when she was in the third grade, finding work, and one by one, bringing his family over to the Chicago area. Her mother went first, which meant that she and her sister were living in Poland with their grandmother. She remembers the packages sent from the United States with green bananas, and the anticipation of waiting for those bananas to ripen so they could enjoy the treat.
Perhaps it’s only apt then that today she has a gorgeous, artful centerpiece on her kitchen island filled with fruit and vegetables of all descriptions—apples, oranges, an avocado, and yes, bright yellow bananas.
She wanted to learn English but in Poland at that time, if you wanted to learn a second language, you learned Russian. So, it wasn’t until she and her sister finally made it to the Chicago area that she had the opportunity to study English, a language she speaks fluently today.
On the day that we meet, her 10-year-old daughter Lexi is just getting home from school at North Barrington Elementary. The oldest, 12-year-old Nicole, is still at Station Middle School. Szlezak says her children and her husband (also a native of Poland) are part of the dream she manifested all those years ago.
“I was always a big dreamer. The more you dream, the more of your dreams come true,” says Szlezak, who graduated from the Harrington College of Design and works as an interior designer and fine artist. “You work hard, and everything just falls into its place.”
When she and Mario were first married, they lived in a house in Addison, near where the rest of her family has settled. Their daughters were born there but Szlezak wanted to find a community where they could settle down and get that house she always imagined herself living in.
About five years ago, they found a fixer upper—a ranch on the northern edge of Barrington that had good bones but needed a complete overhaul. She relied on her design background and expertise to transform the property into a stylish, elegant retreat.
“We were looking for place with a better school district,” she says. “We wanted to be a little bit closer to nature, but not so far away from the city. We were lucky enough to fall in love with this property. I saw so much potential…
I already envisioned what I wanted to do with it … the layout and everything. It was a dream come true.”
The dated home was essentially taken apart and reassembled into a 21st century showplace. Ceilings were raised, a sagging sunporch was converted to a warm but stately formal dining room, and a relaxing, stylish outdoor living area was built at the back of the house.
For the girls, it’s a kids’ paradise. Their dad fashioned a zip line right in their own back yard. They swim in nearby Timber Lake and pick up frogs in the pond just outside their house. Szlezak and Mario send them to Poland every summer to learn their family’s native language and stay with relatives, giving the motorcycle-loving couple the chance to travel around Europe.
And when Szlezak isn’t designing or out exploring with the family, she is working on her life’s passion—paintings that depict experiences through texture, color, and symbolism. “I really discovered myself as an artist when I was going to college for my interior design degree,” she says, explaining that she is selling her work to those who admire it. “ I took a lot of art classes and I found it so therapeutic—just to find a peaceful place to myself.”
With so many goals already accomplished, it’s hard to know what’s next for Szlezak.
“I am so excited about what the future might bring. I have learned so much through this journey. Whatever success I achieve, I would not be able to do it without my family and the support of my husband. He lets me be me. He never told me don’t spend that much on canvases … he’s giving me a free reign to do what I love,” she says.
“If someone had handed all of this to me on a silver platter, I would not appreciate it as much. But by not giving up on your dreams, you’re just learning about yourself and what you can accomplish. Pretty much, the sky’s the limit.”
Follow Szlezak and her art on Instagram at @edytafineart or by visiting edytaszlezak.com.