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A backyard office with French countryside flair

By Iris Benaroia| Photography by Cynthia Zamaria and Graham Loughton
A backyard office with French countryside flair

Who: Cynthia Zamaria, a floral and interior designer, her husband Graham Loughton, a market research consultant, and their kids: Ben, 21, Ruby, 19, and Theo, 14 Where: The Beaches


Cynthia and Graham have lived in the Beaches for the last 20 years. In January 2017, they moved into their latest home, a century-old brick semi three minutes’ walk from Kew Beach. A few months before the pandemic started, their landlords—who had decided to move permanently to Spain—offered them the property in a private sale, and they snatched it up.

They spent the first few months of the pandemic bingeing the Spanish crime drama Money Heist on Netflix before deciding to embark on something more productive. Graham grew up with agriculture: his dad was a horticultural research scientist and is a member of Ontario’s Agricultural Hall of Fame; his mom studied horticulture at university and was a passionate home gardener. Plus, Cynthia and Graham had planted their own flower gardens at previous vacation homes near Peterborough and in Port Dover.

So the family decided on a deluxe DIY backyard overhaul. The yard was long, grassy and patchy, and at the back there was a nine-by-10-foot orange-wood garden shed that the couple was using for storage. The idea was to divvy up the space nearest to the house into four raised flower and vegetable beds; at the back of the property, Cynthia wanted to turn the shed into a three-season workspace.

A backyard office with French countryside flair
Here’s what the backyard looked like before their quarantine reno

Cynthia and Graham brought their expert hand to the backyard, recruiting their three kids for the job (including 14-year-old Theo, who got the family glued to Money Heist). Everything was repurposed: the family repainted the existing structure, added some garden paraphernalia to make it look pretty and moved old pavers to her new office’s doorstep. “There were things like old pots and furniture we cobbled together, dismantled, cleaned up and reused,” Cynthia says.

A backyard office with French countryside flair
And here’s a peek inside the shed
A backyard office with French countryside flair
An early plan for the backyard flower beds

With five pairs of hands at work, the makeover took them all of six weeks. The resulting space is enchanting, night or day, and inspired Cynthia to work on her first book, House and Flower, which will be out in January. “I’m chronicling the properties we’ve had, and taking lessons from our renovations about saving homes and abandoned gardens,” she says. Most days, she spends a few hours on her hands and knees in the garden, then goes to her backyard sanctuary to write. “I put Prince on the old stereo and get into the flow.”


Cynthia and Graham revived the shed’s exterior with buckets of charcoal and black paint from Benjamin Moore, and white paint kept things fresh inside. The bronze lion door knocker used to be on the front door of a former residence in Port Dover. “I always loved its patina and character,” says Cynthia:

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A backyard office with French countryside flair
A backyard office with French countryside flair

 

The antique baker’s cabinet has been in the family for years. “It was a baby-change table, a dresser in our kids’ rooms, a foyer table, and now it’s my writing desk,” says Cynthia. The concrete floor was fine as is, so the couple left it alone:

A backyard office with French countryside flair

 

Graham made the solid shelves on the left out of floor joists, leftover from an interior renovation. Cynthia uses the pots and vases for her photo styling work. “One garbage day, I was lucky to find a large number of clay pots on the side of the road. I’m always on the lookout for items that are weathered, well-loved and deserve a second chance,” she says:

A backyard office with French countryside flair

 

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On the other end of the room, they put up IKEA shelves to store a collection of fun props from thrift stores. “I like to surround myself with the tools of the trade in a way that’s pleasing to my eye,” she says:

A backyard office with French countryside flair

 

For the backyard, Cynthia wanted a mix of hues, textures, shapes and smells. “I like to use herbs like rosemary and lemon thyme so you get a gorgeous scent when you brush by them,” she says. They used wood taken from a deck in the yard for the four raised flower beds. In the fall, Cynthia planted 700 bulbs, including daffodils, tulips and alliums:

A backyard office with French countryside flair

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