From being Teachers to becoming Spacepioneers

The Koczan family at manor Bukówko

Words by Annika Kiehn, September 2020

Photos by Jan Rusek

Zofia Koczan and her husband once worked as teachers at Bukówko manor. For 20 years now they have been running the place as a hideaway for easy-going folk. Maybe their demanding work with children has helped them to broaden their ability to handle various kinds of difficult situations, which would benefit them in rather tough times in being a professional host AND to renovate a manor with your own hands at the same time. Since they started their adventure in 2000, they have come a long way of hard work and creating unforgetable moments for their guests.

Bukowko palace

Ask anybody, who has bought and renovated a manor, if they regret anything, the common answer is: „No.“ But, they add after a little pause: „I would never do it again.“

Zofia Koczan ponders over this question and smiles. She takes a moment to recall those nerve-wrecking days, when she and her husband underwent the renovation of the roof and the facade of their manor, the old palace of Bukówko, as they call it. „I remember, back then, thinking: What have we done?“ Should they have been more cautious when buying a house with the dimensions of 1700 squaremeters? Considering, that no one else took an interest in it.

Her smile proofes that she has overcome the doubts a long time ago. Instead she gave in to the fact that it was simply her calling to take care of this old house. 20 years ago she and her husband Zdzisław had bought the former residence of the German Family Heydebreck. From 1810 on hey were in charge of the estate since and its 1489 acres of land. In 1939 the place fell into ownership of todays Parsęta Basin River region of Western Poland.

Lost places and unspoiled nature add up to a wild romanticism the area holds – home to the married couple Koczan since 1988. Zofia Koczan has taken a seat in the entrance hall to tell their story of how the teacher couple have become private hotel owners. It is past eight o‘clock that evening and she is making quite an effort to focus. Her thoughts are partly occupied, mainly with the wellbeing of her guests: us, the South-Baltic-Manor-Project team. Having arrived from Lithuania, Germany, Denmark and partly Northern Poland in order to get to know the charm of the region of our partner association and to discuss the ongoing process of our major aim – to highlight the beauty and variety of the Baltic manorscape.

Zofia can easily handle my extra request to interview her. Having been a teacher for quite a while and a host for almost two decades, she knows how to deal with various demands with patience and kindness. However, being a host was never the plan, though.

The reason, why she and her husband Zdzisław came to Bukówko was in the need for space, she tells. Certainly, the proportions of a manor offer a feeling of freedom with its 4 meter something high ceilings and huge windows. Before Bukówko, the couple had lived in a small house in a village near her hometown Braniewo, located in the district of Masuria. „It wasn’t suitable for two adults, three children and a fourth on it’s way.“ So in 1988 they moved into their big flat in the manor, which had been turned into a school for 120 pupils. „The house held a climate of a school, but still everyone called it „the palace“, she remembers.

Back then, the 29-year old Zofia was happy for two reasons: She and Zdzisław had found work as teachers. Secondly, but more importantly, they had found a real home for themselves, which perfectly responded to their needs as a family. In the Communist era of the late 1980s, finding a flat was a complicated matter. Peoples‘ life was mostly dominated by the Government – where to work, what range they could achieve according to their willingness for compliancy with the authorities. Finding a nice place to live was considered luxury. People were used to being squeezed in the tiniest chambers and it was always a good idea to get married because then, after having been officially confirmed as a respectable union, one could hope for a prioritized position on the waiting list.

For the Koczans, having been married already, manor Bukówko turned out to be the perfect two-in-one-option. Three teacher-families living and working under the same roof. „It was a lovely time“, Zofia tells.

Despite their happiness, they were always short on money. When they could not afford a new tyre for their old car, a Fiat, they started to search for alternatives. It became the turning point in their life, heaving them into a self-employment-adventure. Zofia remembers: „My husband made up his mind to find a solution. One day, playing with our children and their wooden toys, it suddenly struck him: Why not build furniture out of wood?“ As a matter of fact, finding a flat was not the only disadvantage one had to endure as a citizen of the Communist regime. People had to endure tough restrictions on consumerist matters. You could not just enter a shop and get what you wanted. So you had more or less two options, to get the desired item: Either in asking for help by those, who could miraculously get them and would be willing to share it with you as an act of generosity or pity (or both). Or one had to handle the problem in the do-it-yourself-manner. The later turned out to be the most lasting decision for the couple Kosczan.

In 1990 Zdzisław was able to quit his job as a teacher and to start his own company as wood builder. People from all around asked for his furniture, which was hard to get in a rural region. It was ten years later that those skills were demanded at a grander level. In 2000 the municipality planed to close their school. The couple Koczan was confronted with a tough decision: To leave the manor. Or to buy it.

„We did not want to loose our home and the company was running well, so after thinking about it thoughtfully, we finally said: Let’s do it!“, Zofia says. With the help of friends they could afford to buy it – which had put them on top of a line of a longstanding history of ownership of Bukówko manor. Zofia finally also quit her job as a teacher to take care of her husbands‘ business. At first they planed to live in the manor and turn it into a showroom for the furniture he produced.

His skills went into every corner of the house, repairing stairs and windows. Over the course of time he assumes, he had built 60 wooden frames by himself. Even these days, Zdzisław likes it mostly, „when something in the house is done“. He grins. Zofia instead, likes to have visitors, as she says.

It was when his colleagues stayed overnight when she realized a hidden potenial of all the space they had to offer. „I felt that people enjoyed the familiar atmosphere in our house. So I thought: Why not share it with others?“ Until today, Zofia has evolved the manor into a hide away for everyone. Birthday parties or weddings are regularly held at Bukówko manor, which also means extra pay for their helpers from the village. Surrounded by a huge park and being close to the river Chotla and holding a rather practical interior, it also serves as a great stopover for Kayak-fans. Until today the couple Koczan holds a warm welcome for their guests. As part of the agrotourism concept, they want to share an easy-going lifestyle. They turned their former schoolhouse into a place, which is run by a down-to-earth-mentality and reflects the values of the family: dedication to work hard and a great pleasure in making others feel comfortable. Their great food certainly adds up to it.

Agroturystyka w Starym Pałacu

The manor of the 19th century is located near River Chotla, which is a great spot for fans of fishing. The house offer up to 50 beds, you can rent bikes and use the sauna, table tennis, a playground and a grill for your pleasure. You can even oven smoke fish and dry mushrooms. The community rooms in the basement hold a SAT-TV,  a cafeteria, conference hall and a kitchen. Campers are also welcome.  A great place for holding functions, weddings, birthday parties, family gatherings etc. Pets are also allowed to stay. The surrounding nature offers walking and bike routes.

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