Cynthia Zamaria has a passion for reviving forgotten homes and gardens.
The Toronto home and garden creative advocates for a trendless approach to home decor that embraces vintage and preloved pieces with a story. Whether it’s a milk glass vase found at an antique market or hand-me-down heirlooms from family or friends, timeless doesn’t mean boring, said Zamaria.
“Items older than we are or have been in the hands of others are often of great quality and character,” she said. “Integrated thoughtfully, patinated pieces contribute to the individuality of the space. There’s nothing old-fashioned about it. A sexy tension blossoms in an interior where there’s a hot mash-up of styles. It shows creative confidence. It’s timeless yet very au courant.”
Zamaria recently published her first book, “House + Flower,” sharing how she blends flowers from the garden and the character of vintage and artisanal objects to create a soulful home.
The former communications executive turned decorator and floral designer is a self-described serial home renovator who recently renovated a semi-detached home in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood with her husband, Graham Loughton, shared with their three children. It’s the seventh home they’ve lived in and reimagined together.
Along with some gentle renovations of the century-old home, creating a connection to the garden outside their back door was a key part of making the house a home.
For Zamaria, the two spaces are symbiotic. An old shed was revived with black paint to create a dramatic backdrop for a cutting garden, and they built raised beds to fill with a variety of spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, alliums and shade-loving perennials that are used for Zamaria’s styling gigs and for the family to enjoy.
The shed is now a flower studio filled with things she loves, including shelves displaying stacks of vintage floral bowls, antique vases, rustic pots collected over time from antique markets, shops and thrift stores and flower-arranging supplies.
Collect what you crush on, said Zamaria, who likes to scour antique markets with Loughton. They keep an eye out for vintage china, paintings and wooden boxes that Loughton loves to use to store treasures — each of their children has one of these found boxes filled with mementos.
They recently brought home a 17th-century monastery table found on Facebook Marketplace — now used as a kitchen island — originally from a place not far from where Loughton grew up in England.
While the thrill of the hunt is exhilarating, it’s not just about acquiring a great piece. Shopping for vintage and preloved pieces is a great way to counter the “sameness” out there.
It’s easy not to be seduced by the new and novel, noted Zamaria. “I’m not anti-trend. I love trends, and I love looking at what’s new and what’s out there. That’s what keeps us fresh, experimenting and looking at things differently. I think it becomes a problem when we feel that we need to follow those trends.”
Become a treasure hunter, she said.
“Always be on the lookout and enjoy the thrill of the hunt. There are so many places to find antique and vintage finds to add to your home: shop hand-me-downs from friends and relatives. Keep your eyes open for curbside gems left on the side of the road on garbage day. Thrift stores, tag sales, fairs, vintage markets and stores are all brimming with second-hand pieces. And online community hubs like Facebook Marketplace or Kijiji are never-ending resources full of possibility.”
Zamaria’s and Loughton’s favourite markets include Parkdale Hall on Queen Street West in Toronto, Hamilton Antique Mall, the antique markets in Aberfoyle, Orono and Waterford and Franni’s Attic in Port Rowan, Ont.
Among her tips: think about how you can use things differently. Buy pieces that have flexibility, are multi-purpose and can evolve and grow with you.
An antique cupboard the couple named the Magic Cupboard was one of the first pieces they bought together more than 25 years ago. It has functioned as many things, from a pantry, china cabinet and closet to its current use as a vertical bar.
Mix old with new to keep your home from looking like a time capsule. Place an heirloom side table beside a modern sofa. Add a sleek print to a vintage gallery wall. Place a modern vase filled with flowers in front of an aging gilded mirror, Zamaria recommended.
Don’t overlook a piece just because the colour or material isn’t what you love, she said. “I can’t tell you how many pieces of second-hand furniture we have repainted or recovered. Look for a shape you love and don’t be afraid to reimagine it. Older items tend to be of such great quality that it’s a shame to buy something new of lesser quality when a few simple upgrades would make all the difference.
“Above all, please yourself. Your home is yours, so fill it with treasures that have meaning to you.
“If you love something, embrace it and celebrate it. As long as you feel good when you walk in the door is what matters.”