House + Flower, An Interview with Cynthia Zamaria

NOTE: Our book review contributor recently chatted with Cynthia Zamaria. Here is their conversation, condensed for length. Unless otherwise noted, all images are (c) Cynthia Zamaria

Left: Cynthia Zamaria (c) Ben Loughton; Right: House + Flower cover (c) Cynthia Zamaria

I was fortunate to receive a copy of House+ Flower, by design maven Cynthia Zamaria. With her husband Graham Loughton, she lives her passion “rescuing” and renovating older homes of faded glory.

Cynthia’s style is positively intriguing. Spare, but not minimalist. Elegant but not one ounce of excess. Light and dark surfaces play off one another.

How did she do that? I wanted to know how can I make her design philosophy work for ME? I called her up. Here is the Q and A. I hope you are as energized and inspired as I am.

MAN: On your website (yes, I’ve been studying THAT, as well!), there is one block that caught my eye: the sunflowers were swaying when the other images were static!

CZ: I wanted the dance of the garden to come to life for my visitors. I created my site on the website-building app called Wix. It’s very user-friendly.

MAN: I am crazy about your hair. This has nothing to do with the homes and gardens but is artistic. Tell me about it.

CZ: I’ve had my hair short for such a long time that I don’t think about it, but I guess my “plume” has become my signature look. It’s another form of creativity and expression for me. Just as with our spaces, our personal style tells our story. During Covid, Graham and I learned how to shave the sides and keep the plume.

MAN: In the book, you call yourself a “Recreational Decorator,” and write that you do it for fun, with an insatiable passion.

CZ:    Unravelling the potential of a home brings me incredible joy. I treat the home as someone, not something. Homes have souls, and I approach design as a meaningful undertaking. We’ve written “personaes” for the homes. We are the keepers of the house versus housekeepers.

Cynthia Zamaria daffodils
From House + Flower

MAN: On page 52, there is a full-page photograph showcasing an urn of narcissus which have “gone over.” I paused, looked at each blossom and the drooping leaves, and smiled back at the picture.

CZ:    Well, there is much more to a flower bulb, and every phase of its being is beautiful to me … even in decay.

MAN: You talk about the four main elements of your design process, with techniques borrowed from floral design: form, filler, focal point, and supporting cast. Can you expand on this process?

CZ: Yes, it’s what works for us:

  • Form is the shape or architectural direction of the room/space.
  • Filler is the backdrop, weaving the space together, like paint or wallpaper.
  • The focal point is the star of the show, something standout and unexpected for each room.
  • Supporting cast means adding texture and layers, and visual interest details.

MAN: You also offered a simplified list of the items and materials you use time and again, home after home. It’s a great “short list” to keep front and center when working on a home “rescue.”

You do You

CZ:    This is from a chapter in the book that talks about my design ethos, “You Do You.” The message is to follow your heart, please yourself, and live with the things that make you happy. For me, it’s a blend of

  • Treasures and Trash
  • Old and New
  • Big Box and Boutique
  • Inside and Out
artwork House + Flower
From House + Flower

MAN: I was intrigued by several paintings, particularly the one with the woman with a cigarette. It appeared to be so very 1950s, even “paint by number-ish”?

CZ: Oh yes! Those are contemporary paintings done by a local artist, Janet Hill of Stratford, Ontario; we have collected those over the years. We pair them with flea market pieces.

MAN: They made me grin, and I suppose this goes with the idea of whimsy and not taking yourself too seriously?

CZ: Yes!! You should feel free to have fun at home. It’s your most intimate space, and it should make you smile.

garden shed House + Flower
From House + Flower

MAN: Tell me about the flowers you are growing.

CZ:  We downsized from more than 100 acres to our current city home, which has a 20-x-80 foot backyard shade garden. We clarified our objective for the new garden at the Leuty home this way:

The objective for all our gardens is that all that is planted must be good to cut. I use what I grow for editorial styling projects, fresh displays for our home, and arrangements for special events. “Every inch of the garden has to earn its keep.”

Cynthia Zamaria, House + Flower

We plant many spring bulbs that thrive before the trees’ leaves fill in. I’ve evolved my floral recipes and appreciate shade-loving perennials like astilbes, meadow rue, anemones, and ferns. We have a small sunny patch in our front yard. Each year we plant something different – this year, it was dahlias. In the past, we’ve grown broom corn, sunflowers, and amaranth.

Find and Follow:
Cynthia Zamaria on Instagram

ORDER: House + Flower (Canada customers)
House + Flower (U.S. customers)

Mary Ann Newcomer

Scribe-Scout-Speaker A daughter of the American west, with great grandparents who homesteaded in Idaho, I tagged along with my grandmother and grandfather as they gardened in the tiny town of Latah, Washington, just across the Idaho state line. I have developed a fierce passion for all things GARDEN. I grow, scout, and write about gardens. My expertise is in the Intermountain West, but I have written for Rocky Mountain Gardening, Country Gardens, MaryJane’s Farm, Fine Gardening, Leaf Magazine, the American Gardener, and newspapers across the region. I’ve designed public, private, and commercial landscapes, and gardens for flower shows. I love encouraging gardeners to get down and dirty. When not tending to my garden, I volunteer my time weeding or planting or doing garden design work at the Idaho Botanical Garden in Boise.

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