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How to Mix Modern and Antique Furniture, According to a Leading Design Expert

Designer Cynthia Zamaria stands behind a large butcher block counter top island surrounded by flowers, fruits and antiques
Robin Stubbert

Author and designer Cynthia Zamaria knows how to find the perfect mix of modern and antique design elements. She and her husband Graham Loughton have renovated seven in-need-of-love homes, artfully styling them with beloved antique collections and curated modern pieces.

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“Filling your home with things of meaning that tell your story is the best design advice for any style of decorating,” says Cynthia. “The most important thing is to make your home yours. As long as you love it, it is a success.”

She further explores the meaning of home in her first book, House + Flower: Reviving Forgotten Homes and Gardens, while also showcasing her finely tuned ability to strike the balance between new and old, boutique and high street. In a timely counterbalance to minimalism (without going full maximalist), Zamaria’s rooms are beautifully “layered with life”.

“Home is a feeling more than it is a place — it’s an emotional envelope that safely holds us and all we hold dear,” says Cynthia. “Our home is always evolving, it is my creative outlet – home is art we live in.”

We asked Cynthia how people can play with the mix of modern and antique furniture, accessories and art in their homes.

Related: Transform Your Home Like Pamela Anderson

A chic living room designed by Cynthia Zamaria featuring a blue velvet couch and an art wall mixing modern and antique pieces

Robin Stubbert

Remix New and Old

“You’re not living in a museum, so I always suggest a strong dose of new with the old to keep your space from looking like a time capsule. It’s the tension between antique and contemporary that brings interest to your space.”

Some of her tips? A weathered side table beside a modern sofa, a sleek print on a vintage gallery wall or a modern vase filled with flowers in front of an aging gilded mirror.

Related: Meet Amy Hall: The Founder of Goldilocks Goods and Pro Beeswax-Wrap Maker

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A beautiful dining room designed by Cynthia Zamaria featuring aA chic living room designed by Cynthia Zamaria featuring a mix of modern and antique pieces

Robin Stubbert

Finding the “Good Stuff”

“I always say collect what you crush on. Scour flea markets, garage sales and online second-hand platforms for treasures you truly love – and will use.

“If you love it, it’s good; if it makes your heart sing, it’s good. If you’d be sad if it didn’t come home with you, it’s good. That’s all that really matters.”

Cynthia and her husband visited plenty of antique markets when they were dating 25 years ago. But it would take hours to research their finds, in history books and on “kludgy” websites.

“Nowadays, you can check on the spot on your phone when you see an item of interest at a market or sale. This means you can quickly assess its value or provenance and make sure you are getting a fair deal.

“I continue to be amazed at how you can find antique items of very high quality and craft for great prices.”

Related: A Travel Lover’s Guide to Decorating With Souvenirs: Try These 10 Smart Ideas

A chic bar shelf designed by Cynthia Zamaria featuring a modern black and white photo portrait and an antique oil painting in a gold gilded frame

Robin Stubbert

Funny Bones

“As an individual and in my design work, I try not to take myself too seriously. Although I can be very exacting (sometimes to the point of being annoying) when it comes to decorating our home, my family keeps me in check and laughing, and reminds me why any of this matters.”

Cynthia enjoys infusing her work with a sense of playfulness. That can mean painting walls strawberry ice cream pink and the ceiling shiny gold, or placing a taxidermy rooster named Gerrard on a kitchen shelf.

“Home is where our needs are satisfied. And, we all need to laugh and smile more. I think it is important not to get caught up in imaginary protocols of how a home should behave. Home is a reflection of you and your beautiful spirit and personality. Have fun with her!”

Related: This Easy Mushroom Lamp DIY is the Trendiest Way to Update Your Room

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Magnolia branches in two antique brass vases against a brick and green wall designed by Cynthia Zamaria

Cynthia Zamaria

Colour Commitments

Cynthia and her husband have re-painted their home numerous times and encourages everyone to experiment with paint.

After all, she says, what’s the worst that can happen?

“You can always paint over it! A home is a place that is truly yours — it’s where you can please yourself and experiment. … If you don’t like it, you can repaint it — but if you never try, you won’t know the magic you might have created.

“For instance, the walls in our current living room, which is featured in the book, were originally a shade of white. Then we wanted a moodier feel and painted them a gorgeous rich green. We loved the look, especially in winter. But after a while I craved a lighter palette, and it is now back to a creamy-white hue. Nothing that a weekend and some pizza can’t resolve!”

Related: Embrace the Pastel Home Decor Trend: 5 Expert Tips to Remember

Antique blue and white vase with a green branch sits on a mantle in front of antique gold framed mirror and art designed by Cynthia Zamaria

Cynthia Zamaria

Small Beginnings

When you’re planning your mix of modern and antique, Cynthia suggests getting started with smaller, readily available antique items.

“We’re always on the hunt for antique vases because flowers always need a special home. We also can’t pass up pretty vintage plates, jugs, glassware, chunky dinnerware, and tarnished silver … and we have a soft spot for vintage portraits with hefty, gilded frames.

“These kinds of pieces are easily integrated into your pre-existing home collection and can become purposeful elements of your everyday decor. If you want to incorporate more substantial furniture pieces, a statement chair with great lines and hand-worn wood or an old side table with character can instantly create interesting focal points in your decorating recipe.”

Find Cynthia Zamaria’s book House + Flower: Reviving Forgotten Homes and Gardens at Chapters Indigo, Amazon Canada, independent bookstores and her website cynthiazamaria.com.

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A chic living room designed by Cynthia Zamaria featuring antique charis and an art wall mixing modern and antique pieces

Robin Stubbert

Images courtesy of Robin Stubbert and Cynthia Zamaria. 



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