A natural at bringing light and color to historic downtown villa
By Patsy Yang
Guergana Guermanoff first came to China in 1999 as an economic and trade official at the New Zealand embassy in Beijing. Little did she know at the time that this journey would mark the start of a long-term relationship with the country, its culture and people.
Guermanoff recently took her third post in China, this time as the consul general of New Zealand in Shanghai. Despite having only lived in the city for four months, Guermanoff says she already feels at home here with her family.
In Guermanoff’s current residence, a colonial-style garden villa built in the 1920s, one can imagine how easy it would be to settle in.
“I have three active children — an 11-year-old girl and twin boys at 8 years old. Having in the heart of Shanghai a grass space where they can play and enjoy themselves outdoors is very unique,’’ Guermanoff said.
“When we first moved in, there were lots of dark wood so I spruced it up with lots of color. I liked very much the flow of the house which was built with the focus toward outside.
“When you sit inside, you feel the connection with nature which is very important for us New Zealanders.”
The 365-square-meter, four-story villa in the center of the former French concession has been transformed into an inviting residence and home where Guermanoff can share her passion for art, decorating and good taste.
The spacious residence features modern furniture, old-Shanghai posters, contemporary artworks from emerging and established artists, and her personal collection of decorations.
“My interior style is light, open, almost minimalist yet this house is also somewhat bohemian chic,” she said. “I like interpreting old styles in a modern context. The older elements of the house are balanced with almost industrial modern features.”
Guermanoff has been creating an ambience that is relaxed and casual yet stylish and practical.
“With three children, a cat and an adopted dog, things have to work and be practical.”
“Bringing the natural light into the house, the connection with the garden as well as the curated collection of New Zealand art represent the essence of our country,’’ Guermanoff said.
“We call New Zealand a country of open spaces, open hearts, open minds.”
For Guermanoff, decorating is a way of setting the stage for her own life, and she loves to surround herself with beautiful things.
“I’ve been collecting pop art for five years ... I love to discover pop art on the streets and in the markets,’’ she said, adding that each of her pieces connect her with treasured personal experiences and memories.
A painting by Wu Guanzhong was the first serious artwork Guermanoff acquired after she began working as a diplomat.
Other works hung on the walls showcase the rich artistic traditions of New Zealand.
A carving by Takirirangi Smith depicts the Maori “demi-god” Maui-Tikitiki-a-Taranga.
Smith is a master carver of Ngati Kahungunu and Ngati Porou descent and has been teaching the art of carving for 25 years.
Traditionally, wood carving has played a critical role in Maori society. Carved pieces are meant to pay tribute to ancestral figures and help preserve the history and culture of the people.
Other artworks at Guermanoff’s residence include abstract paintings by James Ross, an artist known for his works depicting geometric shapes.
“It is a very busy family life but we love to spend time together on the balcony and we always try to have dinner together as a way to share and connect,’’ Guermanoff said.
Q: What’s the best thing about living in Shanghai?
A: It’s the energy and variety.
Q: How do you unwind?
A: By reading a variety of things from newspapers to books.
Q: Describe your home in three words.
A: Warm, safe and fun.
Q: What’s the first thing you do when you get home?
A: Say hello to the children and have a glass of New Zealand wine.
Q: What’s the view outside your window?
A: From my bedroom, the trees and a roofline of old houses which create a very peaceful view.