Two styles combine to create this gorgeous farmhouse retreat.
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.
A wooden dresser transforms into an ultra-stylish statement piece.
Put your DIY skills to the test with these simple and stylish IKEA furniture transformations.
Style at Home's talented design team puts their own unique spin on IKEA's VITTSJÖ nesting-style coffee table with three personality-packed rooms to match.
Discover how all three looks came together and how you can create the same look in your home.
We created a customized office desk for this cozy home office nook.
Using IKEA's ALEX desktop you can create the same look at home.
A simple DIY project dramatically transforms a regular wooden dresser into a luxe piece of furniture on a budget.
Using IKEA's TARVA three-drawer chest get this look at home.
Glam up a plain pendant light with a coat of gold spray paint.
Using IKEA's HEKTAR pendant light get the step-by-step instructions here.
Add some stylish storage to your space with this gorgeous do-it-yourself cabinet featured in our high/low: chic dressing room.
Using IKEA's SEKTION wall cabinet get the step-by-step instructions here.
Create your own free-standing island like the one featured in our Parisian-style kitchen. This budget-friendly accessory can be customized to suit your style while adding an extra prep area to any size space.
Using IKEA's KARPALUND base get the step-by-step instructions here.
Buying guide: The truth about thread count
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.
What is thread count, really?
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.
What to look for when buying sheets
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!
What to avoid when buying sheets
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.
What do you prefer?
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.
Give your home decor a spruce up with these easy and budget-friendly decorating tips.
Revamping your home decor needn’t always be a major project and you don’t always have to spend a king’s ransom to do it. Here are 25 ways to give your rooms a fresh look in record time, without breaking a sweat – or your budget.
1 Update lampshades with new ones in more contemporary shapes or simply fresh white shades.
2 Paint is the classic makeover potion. Instead of repainting a whole room, just paint one wall in a focal colour or paint a contrasting rectangle over a sofa to use as a “gallery” space. You can also paint the insides of bookshelves in an unexpected colour or paint your ceiling a lighter version of the wall colour. Update your kitchen with paint or any other space in your home.
3 Update your window dressings. IKEA and other home stores have reams of readymade draperies you can hem to the right size (or leave to puddle on the floor), or you can make your own from sheets or lengths of designer outlet fabric. Hang from an attractive new curtain rod, also available in stock sizes.
4 Pull a room together by choosing two contrast colours – black and white, say, or white and one bright colour – and use them as a repeating theme throughout, such as a row of yellow and white pillows on a sofa, or robin’s egg blue walls and all-white furnishings.
5 A simple but effective tip: Edit your accessories. Too much of a good thing is too much. Try taking all your home decor accessories and putting them in a box, then putting them back one by one where they’ll have the most impact.
6 Take down all your paintings and other art and move them around to different walls or different rooms. It’ll be like seeing them for the first time.
7 A classic display scheme ever since Victorian times: Create a gallery wall of family photos and other small pictures in matching (or contrasting) frames, arranged in a collage on a large wall such as a stairwell or hallway. (For best results, first create a plan by arranging them on the floor till you find the right composition and “balance.”) The art of arrangement is always stylish.
8 Inexpensive frame mouldings from the box store can transform a plain wall or hallway into an instant paneled look. Paint the mouldings in a contrasting shade or white.
9 Replace overhead lighting with thrift-store (or box store) chandeliers. (Note: it’s recommended to hire a professional electrician to install them.) A dated-looking chandelier can be painted white. You can also add extra crystal drops, available at lighting stores.
10 Peruse Craigslist, eBay or freecycle.org regularly for finds. It’s amazing what shows up at a bargain or even free – but like any good flea market shopper, be sure to check regularly, as good things go fast.
11 Carpet stores often have remnants of high-end carpet at rock-bottom prices that make a great area rug. The store may bind the edges for you, or you can do it yourself with carpet binding tape and some tidy hand-sewing.
12 Some paint stores sell mixed paint for much less than custom-mixed paint because the colour was off or it was returned to the store. Great if you’re willing to experiment on the colour.
13 Re-tile kitchen backsplashes. Most backsplashes require only a few square feet of tile, so you can treat yourself to a fancy style or use plain porcelain tile for most of the surface. Then intersperse a few hand-painted or high-end tiles as accents.
14 Small details make all the difference: Beautiful coasters, interesting desk frames, a small but exquisite crystal vase filled with fresh flowers.
15 Buy a half-dozen four-inch terra cotta pots and paint in a trio of coordinating colours. Plant with herbs and line the pots up on a kitchen windowsill.
16 Big box stores have come a long way in terms of cheap and chic bathroom accessories and stylish storage options. For a fraction of what you’d pay in a high-end bath boutique, you can often get pretty designs in wood or china, or sleek modern accents.
17 A trick made famous by Woody Allen in Annie Hall: Change the lightbulb in your bedroom lamp with a pink one for a rosy, romantic glow. Or opt for a pink lampshade, which can produce something of the same effect.
18 Replace the drawer and cabinet pulls in your kitchen, bath, bedroom, or on a furniture piece. Inexpensive stylish options can be found at Lee Valley, Summerhill Hardware, IKEA or other big box stores, or you can scour a thrift shop or antique store for vintage ones.
19 Replace your bathroom shower curtain and curtain hooks, for an instant freshener for even the most dingy bathroom. Create a sparkling bathroom makeover.
20 You can now buy ready-made slipcovers that with a few judicious tucks, fit much better than the wrinkly versions of yore. Or, for a little more investment, have loose-fitting slipcovers made.
21 Replacing an ugly old faucet with a new one is a relatively simple DIY project. Many big box store styles are designed for home installers and include all the fittings and instructions in the box.
22 Purchase an inexpensive but attractive frame, or rescue an old one from an antique store or your parents’ attic. Paint flat white and attach small rings to the upper corners. Place hooks on the wall to correspond and hang. Hang a couple of vintage plates or smaller framed pictures artfully inside, or leave the framed space as-is, for an artful and simple focal point.
23 Maximize light in a darker room by hanging a framed mirror directly opposite the window.
24 Take a walk in the park, woods or beach and pick up interesting (and free) seasonal accents for your home. A tray filled with pinecones, a tall vase of dried pampas grass stalks, or a bowl of colourful pebbles, beach glass or shells all make eye-catching home decor accessories.
25 Spruce up your entrance by painting your front door a cheerful colour. Pair it with a new lighting fixture, mailbox and house numbers - all available at the box store.