Nomadic homebody’s full house

Zana Lokmer has a home that could double as an art gallery. She talks to Sarah Lang about how her home, its treasures, and its view inspire her own art.

By Sarah Lang
Photography by Anna Briggs

Featured in Capital #51
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Wearing a grey beret, striped shirt, skinny pants, tall boots, and glasses with a flecked rim, Zana Lokmer has an eclectic personal style: there are lots of unusual elements, but together it works. That’s also true of the interior design of the home she shares with husband Stasa Lokmer, Matija (one of their two university-student sons), and pug Noba on a hilly street in Crofton Downs.

Down the zigzag steps is their flat-roofed, boxy house of red-stained timber, built in 1963. When Zana first saw the house, she saw potential. The couple embarked on a four-month renovation: kitchen, floors, wallpaper, and painting of interior walls (like the orange feature wall by the dining table). The red-brick interior wall stayed. They didn’t alter the open-plan layout of the kitchen, dining and lounge areas, which makes the small house feel bigger, as does that view.

She and Stasa often sit on the comfortable chairs next to the balcony to look out at the bush and listen to the trickle of the stream and the trilling of birds. “I feel like I’m living in the bush. This is my dream home because it lets me really connect with nature.” Steps lead down to a small, sun-soaked deck with outdoor furniture and barbecue. Zana also wakes up to that view from the master bedroom downstairs, where flowery wallpaper is the background for framed photos.

Zana, who looks younger than her 53 years, has a warm, colourful personality and a coffee-table book called Absolutely Beautiful Things: A Bright and Colourful Life. She creates as well as collects things. After her mandatory morning coffee, she climbs the zigzag steps to her studio off the street. There she uses acrylic paint to create paintings, and blue and white porcelain paints for small plates, bowls, cups and tiles; think faces, fish, swans, flowers, and faces that resemble Frida Kahlo’s (there’s a poster of Kahlo in her studio). It’s all what you’d call cheerful art. “I paint what I see around me, with all their tiny details.” To bolster her income, she also has a stationery range – cards, gift tags, notebooks – and works three days a week at homeware store Small Acorns on the corner of Blair and Wakefield streets. She credits her boss Amanda Holland for encouraging her to make art, then stocking it.

On one lounge wall, there’s very little white space between all the artworks – and even a ladder to display collectables. “I made some, brought some [from other countries], bought some. Nothing was expensive. I buy what I love and when it’s put together, it works.” Some she picked up at op shops, second-hand markets, vintage stores, and the NZ Art Show, where she’s also sold work. “I’m sad Unearthed Vintage and Retro on Cuba St closed.” Two of her favourite paintings are portraits of ladies: one by Amanda Johnston and one by her doctor friend Dubravka Jankovic. They hang over a delicate figurine of a Japanese woman. Does her husband share her taste in art? “He likes what I like.” When I ask if that’s for the sake of marital harmony, she simply grins.

Zana enjoys cooking, and friends often come round for Sunday lunch. The kitchen is minimalist, apart from tree-patterned wallpaper that serves as a splashback, and two of her painted tiles on the wall. Zana, who collects china, shows me an aqua cabinet filled with exquisite tea cups and saucers, many with flower patterns. Yes, she drinks from them – “Otherwise what’s the point?” Above the cabinet is one of her own paintings, which depicts one of her blue-painted tiles. She also collects brooches and bangles. “I started collecting when I was young, when I had nothing.” She doesn’t want to go into detail about her refugee past.

After the Bosnian War began in 1992, she left for Harere, Zimbabwe in 1992 with Stasa and Matija. She’s also lived in Australia, where she studied at Sydney’s International School of Colour and Design before working as an interior stylist for four years. Eight years ago, the family moved to Wellington for Stasa’s IT job. Soon, his next job will take them to Cologne, Germany. She’ll enjoy being closer to her parents and brother in Europe, but sons Matija and Luka will stay in New Zealand. She’ll miss them and Wellington. “It’s got everything you could want from a big city, in a compact space, plus nature, safety, and warm people.”

Zana is sad to leave her dream home. But as a nomad, she enjoys the adventure of living in different countries. And as a homebody, she must fill each home with her treasures. Choosing a favourite would be like choosing a favourite child. “I love them all.”

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