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.
Refined eclectic condo design
Designer Olivia Hnatyshin has a case of the blues... but in the best way possible.
The living room's custom sofa was one of Olivia's first investment pieces. “It fits four or five people comfortably,” she says, “so it’s perfect on movie nights.” Whether it’s a cocktail party or a casual get-together, the young designer loves to host.
Another enterprising effort was accommodating her childhood piano – which Olivia’s parents threatened to give away if she didn’t take. “It’s just one big, non-functional piece of furniture,” she says. “Creating a vignette around it with a tufted bench and pretty artwork helped distract from the fact that I have a huge, clunky black piano in my hall.” And she’s glad it’s there: The stylish setting encourages her to play it whenever there’s a spare moment in her busy life.
“Sometimes if you go literal with a certain theme, it works,” says Olivia, who typically mixes styles and eras, but in her entryway stuck to a strong Chinese influence, from the Foo dogs to the faux bamboo mirror and console. The leopard-print stool is actually Olivia’s old piano bench updated with fresh fabric.
The pagoda chair Olivia’s sitting in is one of her favourite pieces in the home. “It’s like my spirit animal,” she says. It was a steal at $90 and already upholstered in a fabric she loves.
Olivia didn’t change much about the builder-grade white kitchen, apart from adding a portable island as extra counter space for cooking and entertaining. “Where do I draw the line when I know this isn’t my forever space?” Olivia asked herself. For her, it proved to be the kitchen.
“Turquoise has been my favourite colour since I was little,” says Olivia. “I’m always drawn to it.” This is evidenced in the array of toss cushions on display on the living room sofa.
“Bedrooms should be a little more moody,” says Olivia of the reason hers is imbued with deeper blues than the rest of the condo. The room’s starting point was the Schumacher fabric on the lumbar cushion – the wallpaper and bedding fell easily into place after that. Above the bed, the gallery of small plates provides an unexpected spin on the traditional. Some are extras from Olivia’s own dish set, others are from her mom and the light blue one in the centre is a hand-me-down from Olivia’s paternal grandmother.
The armoire in the living room was a $300 antiques store score and acts as Olivia's media unit, where she tucks the TV out of sight when not in use. The artwork flanking it is also a creative moneysaver: framed coaster souvenirs from a trip to New York City. She also incorporated refinished vintage furniture, such as the sidechairs flanking the living room armoire.
The living room is awash in watery blues that are amplified in glass details for an airy, ethereal effect.
Modern backyard with all the amenities
This once-boring backyard is now a multi-functional retreat, complete with lounging and eating areas, an outdoor kitchen and an expansive pool.
While the exterior of the house is more traditional in style, the homeowners wanted a contemporary backyard that would accommodate both family life (they have two tween-aged children) and their love of entertaining. The large-scale project that took eight months to complete involved turning the 100-by-245-foot lot into a multi-functional retreat. Fortuitously providing areas for sitting, eating and lounging, its terraced design was in response to an odd architectural quirk of the house. “It didn’t have a great relationship to the yard, because the main floor is elevated six feet above grade, which is unusual,” says David. “So all this landscaping and all these terraces were really a way to gracefully bring you down to the pool elevation and connect the house back to the yard.”
Boasting a covered outdoor kitchen and dining area, a built-in hot tub, several lounge spaces (including one with a massive firepit) and a substantial pool, the backyard now serves as a true sanctuary. (A new 1,650-square-foot amenities building at the back of the property houses a Ping-Pong room, a spa-like bathroom and a three-car garage.) Says David: “We joke that when the family goes on vacation, it’s nice for them to come back home because their house is often more luxurious than the places where they stay!”
The backyard's terraced design provides a graceful descent from the house's elevated main floor to the pool level below. The staggered floating concrete steps create an organic look.
A charcoal-stained fir pergola features a glass canopy to allow for alfresco dining even on rainy days. "The detailing of the pergola is a response to the fact that the house is more traditional," says architect David Battersby.
The lounge area on the upper terrace is defined by a massive coffee table-cum-gas-firepit and a cozy resin wicker sectional. A concrete wall lends privacy.
The covered outdoor kitchen, which is outfitted with a TV and barbecue, boasts a large range hood that provides proper ventilation.
A row of resin wicker loungers enhances the pool area's luxurious country club vibe.
Ipe decks at either end of the 20-by-60-foot concrete pool make for comfortable spots to relax. "It's much nicer to sit on a wooden deck than on concrete," says David.
A wooden screen allows for an intimate sitting area on the lower terrace. "Because the terraces are elevated, we installed these privacy screens so there were no overlook issues with the neighbours," says David. A "Bloodgood" Japanese maple offers height, while plantings like golden Japanese forest grass and 'Firefly' heather offer a variation of texture and colour.
Image: Stacey Brandford / Styling: Ann Marie Favot
Industrial chic meets California cool in a Toronto interior that puts comfort above all else.
"I love being in the house barefoot,” says Lynne McEachern of her west-end Toronto home. “The rugs are plush to walk on, the sofas are comfy to cuddle up on and our bed is hard to get out of in the morning.” Lynne and her husband, Hamid Arabzadeh, purchased their 3,400- square-foot turn-of-the-century house 11 years ago after transplanting from Boston. The Canadian couple – she grew up in Halifax, he’s from Montreal – work in the tech industry and their careers have taken them all over the world, including London, where they met. When it came time to settle back in Canada, they decided to try out Toronto. “We liked the layout of the city, which reminded us of London, with all the great neighbourhoods,” she says.
When the couple found this house, they loved its trendy location as well as its open plan and move-in-ready status – the space had been given a distinctive loft-style look, featuring cherrywood, slate and concrete by its previous owner. “In Boston, we had just completed a painful two-year reno and really didn’t want to go through the process again,” says Lynne.
But after living in this home for 10 years, the couple – who now share the house with their twin eight-year-old sons, Aidan and Camden – craved a change, wanting to give the dark, masculine interior a fresh pick-me-up. “We had made a few updates over the years,” says Lynne. “We tweaked the kitchen, updated part of the basement, added a room upstairs and built a new garage. But then, the house needed more light and a look that better reflected our California coastal style.”
To achieve an airy, beachy feel that still honoured the home’s loft-like urban character, the couple hired designer Jacquelyn Clark. As former editor of Style Me Pretty Living (the design arm of the popular wedding website Style Me Pretty) and the writer of her own lifestyle blog called Lark & Linen, Jacquelyn has gained a solid reputation for her savvy design sense. “I trusted her eye,” says Lynne. “I was familiar with her blog, and I like how she’s curated her look.”
Jacquelyn brightened the space by refinishing certain architectural details, such as bleaching the floors and painting the dark wood ceilings white, while leaving other features – the big beams, exposed brick and wrought-iron railing – striking a beautiful balance between coastal and industrial. “I wanted to showcase the existing structure,” she explains. “The hardwood and exposed brick add a bit of warmth.”
Jacquelyn employed a neutral palette throughout the house, with a few hits of watery blue to achieve that coastal look, while clean-lined furnishings offer calming consistency and deliver comfort. “The more modern furniture plays off all the rustic architectural details,” says Jacquelyn. “They’re a young, busy family, and I really just wanted to create a space that felt simple, elegant and timeless.” The barefoot-friendly comfort is an added bonus.
A cozy sectional defines this Toronto home’s family room and offers ample space for the family who lives here to cuddle up and watch TV. A Berber-style rug and patterned indigo toss cushions offer exotic flavour. “I love that well-travelled look,” says homeowner Lynne McEachern.
“Originally, a four-by-eight-foot mirror hung from the ceiling and separated the entryway from the living room,” says designer Jacquelyn Clark. “But we removed it to open up the space.” Encaustic-look porcelain tiles, which supplanted dark green slate that had seen better days, are low-maintenance and durable in this high-traffic area.
White-painted walls throughout the main floor brighten the space and strike a gallery-like setting. “I wanted a blank slate so we could collect and showcase art,” says Lynne. The original too-yellow oak floors were bleached for a lighter look.
The couple had already upgraded the kitchen by spray-painting the cherrywood cabinetry white. This update — called refacing — can save up to half of the cost of replacing them, and it's fairly easy to do: You keep the original cabinet boxes and change the drawer fronts, doors and hardware. “If it’s a custom kitchen to begin with, you have to go to a custom cabinetmaker or kitchen company,” says Jacquelyn. “They will gather all the measurements and build doors to fit the existing boxes.” If the kitchen has standard-sized cabinet boxes, replacement doors may be found at big-box stores.
Note: Refacing is only recommended is the cabinets are in good condition. “If they’re solid wood and in good shape, refacing not only cuts down on cost but also saves on the inconvenience and waste. If you’re not sure about the quality, ask your contractor, ” says Jacquelyn. But, if you're changing the layout of your kitchen, it may be easier (and possibly more cost-effective) to opt for new cabinets. “Using the same boxes...is called retro fitting a kitchen, and I’m always hesitant to do that,” says Jacquelyn. “It’s often not worth the cost of a contractor’s time to figure it all out. And when something inevitably breaks, you’ll have to replace certain pieces anyway.”
In the case of this industrial loft, Jacquelyn swapped the existing cabinetry doors (which had seen better days) for a Shaker profile similar to the original and incorporated chrome pulls. Furthermore, the slate countertops were replaced with black soapstone and a grey back-painted glass backsplash was installed.
Lynne wanted dining chairs that were comfortable and offered a light, airy feel. “But I didn’t want to spend a ridiculous amount of money, because dining chairs often end up getting ruined,” she says. These ones were scored online from a New York store called France & Søn and required a road trip. “The store didn’t ship to Canada,” says Jacquelyn. “So we had the chairs shipped to Buffalo, rented a van and picked them up from there. It was still more cost-effective than buying something similar here!”
The master bathroom’s vanity takes advantage of the space’s relatively small footprint: The sink is placed to one side to increase counter space, and opting for drawers instead of cupboards maximizes storage. “The tall mirror covering half the wall emphasizes the ceiling height and makes an unexpected statement,” adds Jacquelyn.
With its contemporary plush wingback chairs, the master bedroom’s sitting area is a perfect place for the couple to unwind in the evenings. The area is petite, so furniture serves double duty, like the dresser that also holds the TV.
The double-height master bedroom was brightened by painting the dark wood ceiling and beams a sophisticated greyish white. Watery blue elements and simple, clean-lined furnishings give the space a serene, subdued look that enhances its grandeur.