Is there anything better than sliding into a bed laden with good quality sheets? At the end of the day, I can't wait to stretch out under my fresh, soft covers and nestle my face into a good cotton-covered pillow. We spend a third of our lives in bed so quality sheets are key, but how do you get quality for your money? There's no doubt that most consumers believe the higher the thread count, the better the quality, but this isn't entirely true. With the help and expertise of Joanna Goodman, owner of Au Lit Fine Linens, we expose the truth about thread count and what it takes to find quality bed sheets.
Simply put, thread count is the number of threads woven into one square inch of fabric. This number is based on the threads woven horizontally ("weft") and vertically ("warp"). Extra threads can also be woven into the weft threads to increase the thread count. These added threads are called "picks" and are added in the overall count, which is how some sheets end up having thread counts in the thousands. This is why the idea that high counts equal better quality isn't really accurate. Consider this: Joanna says most weavers will say the maximum number of threads that can be woven into one square inch of fabric is 500 to 600. Though the number is arguable and, according to Joanna, "depends on the mill you deal with," it gives you an idea of where the line is between single-ply, unpicked weaves and ones that add threads here and there to bump up the count.
Joanna lists three things to look for on the label: if it's Egyptian cotton, where it's woven and, lastly, the thread count. While thread count is a bit misunderstood, the buzz around Egyptian cotton is true. "The very best cotton in the world is grown in Egypt. So Egyptian cotton will be of a better quality," Joanna says. She also recommends pima cotton, which is grown in America, "though not quite as exceptional as Egyptian." When it comes to weaving, however, she swears by the Italians as being the "master weavers of the world" due to their "long tradition of weaving" and use of the best Egyptian cotton. Be sure the label says 100% or pure Egyptian cotton though, otherwise it may only contain a small percentage of the good stuff. As for the thread count, look for a minimum of 200. From there, it's all about preference!
Joanna's one key piece of advice is to watch out for extremely low priced, high thread count sheet sets. A complete sheet set with a high thread count for $100 or less is probably not the dream bargain you think it is. As Joanna believes, "you always get what you pay for." The price tag for bed linens will vary depending on the sheet size and what items you're buying, such as a duvet cover, sheet sets, or pillowcases. "A superior quality 200 thread count queen set (including flat, fitted, two pillowcases), made of Egyptian cotton and woven in Europe, could retail reasonably for about $150-$250," says Joanna.
After going through the quality checklist, go with what feels best for you. If you're looking for a durable linen, Joanna recommends any percale from thread count 200 to 800. Percale is any cotton woven with a 200 thread count or higher and will be more durable than a cotton satin of the same thread count. It's also less likely to pill than cotton satin because it has a denser weave. Love the feel of a cotton button down shirt? Joanna advises a crisp, dense 200 thread count percale. Prefer a silkier sheet? Go for a 300 to 600 cotton satin. If you want lighter sheets, Joanna says, a 400 thread count sheet can be soft and light, while an 800 percale would be soft and dense. The higher the thread count, the more likely multiple-ply thread is used or picks are added, making the fabric denser and heavier.
Now you know that quality is not just about the number, so don't let numbers rule your bed! Remember what to look for on the label and be wary of too-low prices for supposedly high quality items. Beyond that, go with what you prefer. Get a good feel of the sheets before buying. Whether you're unzipping the packaging or lying down on a display bed, make sure the fabric feels good against your skin and soon you'll be having sweet dreams!
Find out how to keep your new linens crisp and clean with our tips to whiter-than-white sheets.
How to: Create accent walls
Looking to create an impact in your space? For an easy and inexpensive way to add a bit of drama to any room, consider creating a feature wall with an accent paint colour. Perfect for highlighting a focal point such as a fireplace or shelving unit, an accent wall commands the eye’s attention.
We checked in with five paint companies to get expert advice on where to feature an accent wall and what colour combinations pair well together.
Photography courtesy of Benjamin Moore
Go dark for drama
Using a vibrant colour on an accent wall is bold, but if you want a touch of drama in your space, go for a dark navy, charcoal or even black. A dark colour looks great against surrounding light walls and crates a space around a room’s focal point, like the fireplace in the photo above.
"When we choose the colours for a room, we try to use a dark colour to add drama,” says Benjamin Moore colour and style expert Sophie Bergeron. “In this case, black and blue walls work well together to add both drama and a sense of airiness. The blue (Gossamer Blue 2123-40) is very fresh and light while the black (Black Satin 2131-10) sets the tone for a more modern setting."
Photography by Stacey Brandford
Switch it up with colour blocking
Not all accent walls have to be a solid hue – get creative with colour blocking by adding a striped wall or a graphic pattern.
“These stripes feature the room’s soft hue alternating with an energetic pop of colour,” says Bev Bell, Beauti-Tone colour expert. “The combination creates a dramatic accent wall with a more cohesive and harmonious feel than if the wall was painted one solid accent colour.”
Photography courtesy of Farrow & Ball
Try a custom wallpaper
For an accent wall with a bit more character, try a graphic wallpaper pattern. Some paint companies like Farrow & Ball custom make their papers using their own paint colours, so you can co-ordinate with the surrounding walls in the room.
“The accent wall has encouraged a more adventurous approach to decorating, providing an opportunity to indulge in colour and pattern without the commitment of covering a whole room,” says Sarah Cole, Director at Farrow & Ball. “Try one of Farrow & Ball’s traditional damask paper designs such as Silvergate or St. Antoine in a contemporary colourway for a modern twist on a classic pattern. For a more contemporary design, try Lotus or Bamboo (shown above) for a really striking accent.”
Photography courtesy of PARA Paints
Use an accent wall to define a living space
Accent colours are great for creating a defined area in a multi-functional space (think open-concept loft or studio apartment). Paint a little nook to create a home office or an inset wall to define your sleeping space like in the image above.
“This bright, bold accent colour (Fresh Berries’ P5079-63) directs the eye to the main focus of the room – the bed,” says PARA Paints Senior Brand Manager Garry Belfall. “Used as a vibrant contrast to the more neutral base colour (Every Girl’s Dream’ P5219-14) as seen on the other walls, Fresh Berries perfectly complements this room and creates a bold, beach-themed oasis where you can escape from reality.”
Photography courtesy of CIL
Add a pop of colour to a black and white room.
Add some life to a neutral room with a bold colour that commands attention. Black-and-white is a timeless colour combination, but adding a vibrant hue gives it a modern edge.
“Cinnabar 50YR 32/460 from CIL is a trendy orange that, when paired with stark white and a graphic black-and white-print, is super modern,” says Alison Goodman, CIL Brand Manager. “When you’re dealing with a predominantly black-and-white colour scheme, a feature wall and its splash of colour is a must-have.”
Image: Nicole Cohen
After a series of nips and tucks, a derelict brownstone in Brooklyn, N.Y., reaches its full potential – and then some.
Four years ago, Nicole and Jordan Stein made the trip from the maelstrom of midtown Manhattan to a quiet, leafy street in Brooklyn that, compared with the city, felt downright pastoral. They had come to tour a brownstone as part of an estate sale, and immediately saw its potential despite certain drawbacks.
“I definitely had some trepidation because the house was in extremely rough shape,” says Nicole, who designs fine jewellery she sells through her online Etsy shop, ByNicoleAlexis. Conversely, Jordan, a Montreal-born business consultant and entrepreneur, was confident it could be brought back to life – after all, he had watched his parents successfully transform a beat-up Vermont ranch when he was younger.
“Our goal was to marry classic architecture with a modern aesthetic,” says Nicole, who wanted the interior envelope to look original to the house. Though the idea of gutting the space and blasting out the walls was brought up, it didn’t get far. “We bought a brownstone, not a condo,” says Nicole cheekily. “Sure, we have a narrow hallway and a tiny powder room, and yes, it’s a little quirky, but it’s true to the original home.” So the small rooms remained intact and were slowly brought back to code over the course of a year under their contractor’s exacting eye.
Next up? Christine Dovey, a designer based in Oakville, Ont., who has remotely kitted out homes (via email) from America to Norway, stepped in to apply her signature style: ravishing rooms with traditional architectural details in a modern palette of black and white with bursts of pink; spaces in which provocative contemporary artwork often sits alongside antique furnishings.
To deliver an authentic period look, Christine suggested the homeowners invest in crown mouldings. “Nicole wanted something that looked like it was there originally, so we went with big plaster mouldings as a splurge on the living room ceiling but regular crown throughout,” says Christine. Making sure the interior looked more downtown than Downton, the designer balanced the historic architectural elements with what she calls “a mixed bag of edgy yet elegant furnishings.”
In need of some hand holding a little closer to home, Nicole also worked with local designer Natalie Kraiem, who helped achieve the look by choosing key pieces including the rugs and living room artwork.
The sculptural replace in the eat-in area of this Brooklyn, N.Y., brownstone was in such rough shape, it had to be removed and rebuilt. Above it, the enormous antique filigree mirror that belonged to the previous owners lends romance to the space. “We loved it so much we negotiated it as part of the sale of the house,” says homeowner Nicole Stein.
Dripping with crystal beads, the antique brass basket chandelier was a splurge, but Nicole insists it’s a forever piece. “I’m crazy about it too,” says designer Christine Dovey. “I love how it contrasts the rough-hewn wooden table.” The bespoke kitchen peninsula, with its marble waterfall edge, was also pricey, but Nicole had the fabricator use the scraps to make luxurious window ledges. “Everyone comments on them,” she says.
A blend of vintage- and modern-look furnishings gives the formal living room an eclectic, collected feel. Sculptural retro Alky chairs are a fun contrast to the stiff-backed caned settee. Heavyweight-cotton curtains draw the eye up to the 11-foot- high ceiling. They were originally placeholders, but looked so fabulous that Nicole decided to keep them – proving that you don’t always need to spend a mint on custom drapery.
Inspired by the iconoclastic Mexican painter, Frida is a punchy print that presides over this area of the living room, where a brass Sputnik lamp, oversized mirror and sculptural fireplace surround offer exciting diversions.
Wild! This spotted antelope-print runner gives an unexpected punch, introducing a graphic pattern into the front hall. “It’s classic but edgy,” says Christine.
Show-stopping architectural details on the ceiling of the living room’s media area are period appropriate but were non-existent when the couple bought the brownstone. Nicole tracked down a plaster restoration specialist in Long Island, N.Y., and sent Christine samples to narrow down the options. The installation took a week and was definitely a splurge. “It’s a real art. There is literally someone there with a cotton swab and a fine blade forming everything by hand,” says Nicole.
Two styles combine to create this gorgeous farmhouse retreat.
Designer Viki Mansell blends contemporary and rustic styles with tons of texture and original artwork to create a fabulous farmhouse retreat.
Viki Mansell has an indisputable take on artwork in the home: “You can have beautiful design, but if you have a ghastly piece of art, that’s all anyone will look at.” It’s a conviction reflected in her two Toronto home furnishing stores, Absolutely and Absolutely North, which, in addition to offering furniture and decorative accessories, feature a range of artwork, from photographs and paintings to lithographs and drawings. “Most people are confident when picking out paint colours and furniture,” says Viki, “but few train their eyes for buying art – especially when it’s for a farmhouse.” The farmhouse referred to here belongs to one of Viki’s clients, an avid art collector, who enlisted the designer to transform a turn-of-the-century rural property into a picture-perfect retreat.
Situated north of Toronto, the 3,600-square-foot brick house was definitely in need of some serious loving care, but fortunately, its original floor plan required little finessing. So while the space was gutted to remedy old electrical, insufficient insulation and dated finishes, the staircase remained in its original position, and wherever possible, other features – such as the hardwood flooring upstairs, all the interior doors and the tongue-and-groove ceilings in the kitchen and dining room – were kept intact. Viki replaced the downstairs flooring, which couldn’t be saved, with butternut planks sourced and prepared by an arborist. The only structural changes were the addition of a fireplace flanked by French doors in the living room and the repositioning of an upstairs wall. “We siphoned off square footage from one of the three bedrooms to increase the size of the second-floor bathroom,” says Viki.
Once renovated, the house was ready to receive its artistic flourishes. “My vision was to maintain the farmhouse’s structural integrity while infusing it with a modern rustic overlay,” says Viki. This vision was inspired by the home’s setting. “The palette was drawn from the surrounding countryside, so we highlighted the neutral walls with furnishings in caramel, burnt orange and maple red.”
Viki’s choice of furniture amplifies the contemporary mood. “Comfort was a priority, but the furniture is tailored – there’s no overstuffing or rolled arms, just the simplicity of the lines,” she says. It’s a simplicity that extends to the windows on the main level, which were purposely left unadorned. “The homeowner didn’t want window coverings to distract from the beautiful views outside and the artwork on the walls.” It’s apparent that art is an essential design element, as it’s displayed everywhere from the dining and living rooms to less expected spots like above the bathtub and in the mud room. “While the artwork would look great anywhere, it truly complements this space,” says Viki. “It belongs here.” There’s no debating that.
“In the living room, I wanted to create a convivial sitting area focused on the fireplace,” says designer Viki Mansell.
The bucolic surroundings inspired Viki’s approach to the farmhouse’s palette and design.
Custom made from butternut, the living room sideboard features a black powder-coated steel base that ties in with the TV and the interior door, which Viki had painted black.
A 19th-century carpenter’s bench is used as a console and styled with modern pieces like a Tizio task lamp and Rothko poster in the mud room.
The kitchen, featuring rift-cut oak veneer-fronted cabinets, limestone countertops and a hand-applied plaster backsplash, has a simple charm belying its luxury.
In the dining room, a wooden trestle table combined with Italian leather chairs and a graphic light fixture capture the contemporary farmhouse aesthetic.
The living room’s slate-fronted fireplace encapsulates Viki’s take on turn of the century meets contemporary. “The mantel has a pared-back design, yet it’s crafted from 19th-century pilasters,” she says. The lithograph above the fireplace is by Spanish artist Antoni Tàpies.
A bathtub surround and vanity made of 150-year-old pine warm up the all-white second-floor bathroom.
The antique rug was the jumping-off point for the master bedroom. “I wanted the room to be cozy, so I chose a warm red fabric for the headboard and bedskirt,” says Viki.
A mix of textures lends interest to the upstairs hallway; the art by Ian Gray adds colour.