This Toronto dwelling, with its book-laden walls and cozy corners, is a reader's dream.
Easygoing, trusting and super stylish: These homeowners were downright dream clients for designer Robyn Rider, whom they hired to revamp their newly purchased three-bedroom dwelling in downtown Toronto. The protege of the designer who’d transformed their previous house, Robyn was the prime candidate to deliver an updated look to these downsizing lawyers’ home.
“They have great taste and great pieces to work with,” says Robyn – plus, lots of books. Though the homeowners significantly reduced their large book collection, the remaining titles were more than substantial, including legal references, favourite reads, hardcover sets and prized heirlooms. It’s only fitting, then, that the only directive Robyn was given was to accommodate this veritable library, which ended up dictating much of the main floor’s design.
Robyn added floor-to-ceiling bookcases throughout the entire main level to achieve the perfect marriage of library and living space. This is especially evident in the dining room, which she designed as a place to not only eat meals and host dinner parties but also to lounge by the fire with a good book. To that effect, a cozy armchair by the fireplace is accompanied by a reading lamp and footstool, and the banquette at the round urn-based dining table is extra-deep and extra-comfy. “I wanted to create an intimate area that could accommodate guests, but where the homeowners wouldn’t feel ridiculous when it’s just the two of them,” says Robyn.
While the central kitchen marks a bit of a departure from the scholarly look, it still feels like a seamless part of the open-concept living area. “I used cabinets featuring the same profile and colour as the millwork in the adjacent dining and living rooms,” says Robyn. Integrated and panelled appliances as well as cabinetry with footed toe kicks lend the space a furnished feel, while oversized lantern-style pendant lights above the island are the kind you might find over a formal dining table, further blending the lines between the cooking zone and the rest of the home.
After all, the kitchen leads right into the living room, which returns to books. “I didn’t even try to organize or colour code them,” says Robyn of her approach to keeping the look cohesive. “It would have felt too contrived.” (Plus, the husband is pretty particular about organizing things by subject.) So, to temper the mismatched assortment, Robyn created a serene envelope of white millwork and cream walls, which she used throughout the main level. “We could afford to be quieter with the paint palette considering the books and the bold textiles,” she explains, noting examples like the traditional multi-hued heirloom needlepoint rug and contemporary zigzag-patterned armchairs. “The homeowners definitely didn’t need to be convinced to use colour,” says Robyn. “It actually took some convincing to leave the walls neutral!”
Once Robyn finessed the final details of the newly designed house, the homeowners unpacked and arranged their last tomes onto the shelves, ready to begin their new chapter.
French doors – which lead to a backyard oasis that borders a ravine – let a tremendous amount of light into the living room of this Toronto house designed by Robyn Rider. Because of the kitchen’s proximity to this space, it was decorated with statement pieces, such as oversized lantern-style pendant lights, to unify the areas.
Black soapstone counter- tops break up the white kitchen cabinetry that would have otherwise looked too clinical in this cozy space. Even though it’s quite high maintenance, soapstone adds warmth and lustre. “It’s an extra layer of luxury,” says Robyn.
The first space you see when you walk through the front door is the powder room. It sets the tone for the punchy greens and bold prints used throughout the rest of the house.
The library-inspired living room features clever design details, such as space-saving pull-out shelves in place of side tables. “I was channelling British townhouse style, in which everything has a purpose,” says Robyn.
Reminding Robyn (pictured right) of gardens in Provence, the table base, an oversized urn, was the jumping-off point for the dining room’s palette. “I love its intense green colour,” says the designer, “and I just went with it!” The homeowners also love the extra-deep banquette. Robyn used a bold botanical print on the Roman shades to blur the border between indoors and out, imparting a lively and verdant atmosphere.
A dining area and reading nook rolled into one, this room sees a lot of action. The bookcases, lined with selections and collections most meaningful to the homeowners, lend an old-world vibe that is punched up by the fresh armchair fabric.
A serene departure from the rest of the house, the main guest room is soft yet sophisticated. The antique settee is a family heirloom that Robyn had reupholstered with a contemporary centre stripe design. From there, Robyn layered in more powder blue and cream elements into the space but brought in dove grey to counter the femininity. “Powder blue on its own can border on prissy,” she explains.
Photography by Stacey Brandford
Take your bathroom from drab to fab with these easy decorating ideas!
Bathroom and kitchen renovations are known to give homeowners the biggest returns on their investment when they sell. But whether you’re doing a big renovation or just looking for ways to update your current bathroom and whether you intend to sell or not, these ideas for beautifying your bathroom will pay big returns in your overall satisfaction with your home. And you don’t have to have a $50,000 budget to do it. These affordable upgrades will add some serious style to your home without breaking the bank!
Renewal Divinity Small Mirror
What a difference something as simple as a mirror can make. The right one can transform the look of your bathroom and give it an updated, more stylish feel in an instant. The frame is made from hammered aluminum combined with beveled glass and can be hung vertically or horizontally, depending on your preference and the shape of the space you’re working in. Renewal Divinity Small Mirror, Wayfair, $380.46.
Flush Mount Bathroom Lighting Fixture
When renovating, it’s important to consider your lighting options for the type of space you have. So before you head to the lighting store, figure out whether it’d be best to go with flush mount, track lighting or sconces. No matter what you choose, illuminate your bathroom with a stunning light fixture that ties your bathroom’s whole look together and adds an appealing amount of sparkle and shine! Boasting a shiny chrome finish and a laser-cut inspired design on the lamp shade, this flush mounted lighting fixture will bring effortless elegance to your bathroom and is a simple way to take the look of the entire space from drab to fab! Flush Mount Bathroom Lighting Fixture, Multi Luminaire, $349.
Aroura Tile White and Gold Wallpaper
If you’ve always loved the look of wallpaper but have shied away from using it in the bathroom, it’s time to reconsider. Wallpaper has come a long way and today, there are lots of options on the market, many of which are suitable for moisture-rich environments. This gorgeous wallpaper has a mosaic pattern that mimics the look of tile and has a washable finish for easy clean-up. Aroura Tile White and Gold Wallpaper, Graham & Brown, $50/roll.
Metro Basket Weave White and Cobalt Porcelain Mosaic Tile
Flip through the pages of your favourite design magazine and you’re sure to see plenty of bathrooms boasting this contrasting basket weave tile to dramatic effect. Get the look for yourself with these tiles – but may we suggest opting for the white and cobalt colour combo as a subtle alternative to black and white? The rich cobalt will add a decidedly chic and unexpected look to your bathroom. Metro Basket Weave White and Cobalt Porcelain Mosaic Tile, Home Depot, $7.98 each.
Gleaming Brass Bath Collection
Upping the style quotient in your bathroom doesn’t get any easier than this! Swap out your existing vanity vessels for these truly chic options. The full set includes a soap dispenser, tumbler and tray, all in a beautiful brass finish. Gleaming Brass Bath Collection, Anthropologie, $22-$36.
Dot Medallion Shower Curtain
Looking for a quick and easy bathroom update that won’t break the bank? How about a new shower curtain? This 100% cotton curtain is made in India and features a modern medallion motif in a soothing colour palette of watercolour inspired shades of blue and grey. With this one simple addition to your bathroom, you’ll add an air of tranquility that will turn your bathroom into the oasis you always dreamed of. Dot Medallion Shower Curtain, West Elm, $29.99.
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.
A fresh seaside-chic lake house
This cozy lake house in Port Carling, Ont., boasts a fresh seaside-chic vibe while paying homage to old-school Muskoka.
Nestled on the south shore of Lake Rosseau in Port Carlin, Ont., this 6,800-square-foot six-bedroom house is decorated the way one would dress when visiting: in a crisp Polo Ralph Lauren Oxford shirt and comfortable, well-worn chinos paired with Sperry Top-Siders. It's a timeless look that's coastal, casual and effortlessly chic with a neutral palette at its core.
"The homeowners wanted to capture that warm, windswept lake house aesthetic but with a relaxed, cozy Muskoka feel for their young family of four," says Cory DeFrancisco of Mukoka Living Interiors, who designed and built the home from scratch, finishing in 2013.
Like a friendly smile and a firm handshake, the entryway makes a confident and inviting introduction to the home.
"A lot of old cottages have those tunnelling hallways in their guest cottage or service quarters, and this beadboard wall treatment references that," says builder and designer Cory DeFrancisco.
This small boathouse sunroom is literally right on Ontario's Lake Rosseau: On windy days, you can feel waves crashing up through the floorboards.
"We took up 90 percent of the wall with windows," says Cory of the gorgeous great room, where the ceiling's oak beams guide your eye directly to the view. "The overstuffed sofas are insanely comfortable," he adds. "They're slipcovered in high-quality Belgian linen that gets softer with each wash.
Though the spacious kitchen is crisp, white and polished, simple details, such as the grain of the reclaimed-oak floors and the texture of the brush strokes on the hand-painted cabinetry, keep it humble and homey. "It's a new take on a traditional cottage kitchen, with all the modern amenities," says Cory.
A big weathered farmhouse table paired with slipcovered seating and sophisticated lighting that doesn't block the view equals a dining room with easy elegance. But the best feature of this space is that, with the doors open, you really feel like you're eating alfresco.
Even though this home is grand, the family who lives here wanted an overall feeling of togetherness, so Cory kept it largely open concept.
The west-facing Muskoka room, with wall-to-wall windows, is so bright that it can pull off the charcoal walls. "The darkness acts as an anchor, while the light that shines in highlights the furnishings," explains Cory. The modular sectional is meant for the outdoors (so go ahead, get it wet) and can be reconfigured when company comes to create multiple sitting areas.
The whole master bedroom is very generous, but its sleeping area is quite small. In it, you'll find only an upholstered bed, two small side tables and a 180-degree view of the water.
The large window behidn the free-standing bathtub overlooks a garden and granite. "It's hard to make boulders sound nice," says Cory with a laugh, "but it's a beautiful view."
"All of those elements are, I think, what makes it feel authentic to Muskoka. There's nothing ornate in the whole place," says Cory. And just 35 feet away, in the boathouse, the look is much the same. The palette is almost all white and the dress code is bathing suits - after all, the lake's right there. Take one step out the door, and jump right in. The water's perfect.