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Photography by Cynthia Zamaria | Exterior Paint Colors, Kendall Charcoal and Black by Benjamin Moore; Lanterns, Hinkley

Between the exposed-brick kitchen walls and the knotty pine floors, Cynthia Zamaria’s most recent house in Ontario’s Port Dover was 5,000 square feet of 1800s charm. So when we learned that the designer and author of House + Flower decided to leave the place she once described to us as a “romantic dream” for an 1,800-square-foot, semidetached property closer to downtown Toronto, we knew she’d have a really good reason—and she did. “It’s where our kids’ roots are,” shares Zamaria. With her youngest, Theo (15), still in high school; her middle child, Ruby (20), often traveling back and forth between home and college; and her eldest, Ben (22), wanting to be closer to his girlfriend, downsizing in the name of location was an easy choice to make. “It’s really the people who fill a home that makes it special,” she attests. 

Photography by Janet Kimber | Tufted Chair, CB2; Chandelier, Hangout Lighting; Ottoman, Article; Sofa, Cisco Home
Photography by Janet Kimber | Range, Bertazzoni; Hanging Rail, DeVol Kitchens.
Photography by Janet Kimber | Thrifted Lamps and Plaster Garden Urns, Facebook Marketplace; Vintage and Antique Art Frames.

Renting the house before officially buying it gave Zamaria the opportunity to figure out what renovations would be absolutely necessary (mainly installing new windows and redoing the floors). After the major upgrades were out of the way, she dove into the experimentation phase. “I’m really affected by the seasons,” she says, so the living room has experienced the most transformations: First, she painted it a crisp white, then, when winter came around, dark green. Now it’s back to white. “Thank goodness my husband is very patient and accommodating,” Zamaria says with a laugh. 

Photography by Cynthia Zamaria | Custom Cabinets, Darbishire Cabinets; Paint (on cabinet), Oxford White by Benjamin Moore.
Photography by Janet Kimber
Photography by Janet Kimber | Pendant Lights, Wayfair; Faucet, Newport Brass

The kitchen is a reflection of her personal design evolution. While Zamaria opted for more traditional Shaker cabinets and marble and butcher block counters in their last kitchen, she stepped out of her comfort zone in this galley space with a stonewood worktop and glossy white cupboards. “When our cabinetmaker came into this house and I shared my vision with him, he was very surprised,” she notes. Her logic for selecting such minimalist fronts? They wouldn’t overpower the swirly, timber-like quartzite. (The primary bathroom boasts another trompe l’oeil moment: black and white porcelain tile that only looks like marble.)

Photography by Janet Kimber | Mirror, Amazon; Faucet, Nicolazzi
Photography by Janet Kimber

Outfitting both sides of the galley kitchen with sinks has proved to be a game changer when Zamaria and her family are entertaining. “You can have a couple people in there cooking at the same time,” she says. A long brass rod from DeVol holds their most-used pots and pans, while Zamaria’s husband crafted a smaller version to go across the window so they can show off their collection of vintage tongs, mini pitchers, and measuring spoons. Elsewhere, Zamaria has embraced equally casual methods of displaying small treasures, like posting pages torn out from old books to the wall with tape and slipping notes and cards from friends into the edges of an antique mirror.

Photography by Cynthia Zamaria
Photography by Cynthia Zamaria

While her house technically shares a wall with her neighbor’s place, the only spot this was ever really noticeable was in the entry—a glass partition is the only thing separating the two porches. The neighbors had been kind enough to put a blind on their side, but for an extra layer of privacy, Zamaria covered the panes with peel-and-stick wallpaper. During the cooler months, her overwintering geraniums, perched high on wood stumps she sourced on Facebook Marketplace, call the makeshift mudroom home.

Photography by Janet Kimber | Paint (on wall and trim), Peale Green by Benjamin Moore; Wallpaper, Walls Need Love
Photography by Cynthia Zamaria | Bed, Rove Concepts; Nightstand Stump, AIMHandmade via Etsy; Smart Ceiling Fan, Roboto. 
Photography by Janet Kimber | Floor Lamp, Amazon; Print, Janet Hill Studio.

With its low ceiling and complete lack of closets, the primary bedroom called for some clever hacks. As a solution for clothes storage, Zamaria purchased IKEA kitchen cabinets (she reveals “they’re bigger and sturdier” than the standard wardrobes) and painted them the same color as the walls so they appear custom. To complete the rest of the space, she and her husband bought the lowest king-size bed frame they could find and extra-small side tables. “We just have the necessary things,” she says.

Photography by Cynthia Zamaria

Even though they’ve downsized significantly from their country home, Zamaria still has a separate shed to stow her vast collection of vases and baskets, along with her father’s old toolbox. And who said shelving was just for the indoors? Zamaria and her husband installed ledges along their backyard fence to create what she calls a “flower wall,” too. “It’s a dramatic but simple way to display clay pots,” she notes. From time to time, her kids can be coerced into lending a hand with the landscaping. After all, says Zamaria, “it’s in their blood.”

Photography by Janet Kimber