House tour: Timeless and modern Christmas
At Style at Home senior style editor Ann Marie Favot's midtown Toronto house, Christmas is lovingly created by hand with both budget and elegance in mind.
It’s hard not to get carried away when hosting a holiday feast: formal table settings, complete with chargers and centrepieces, party favours and place cards, oh my! Trees are decorated to the nines, gifts are wrapped so beautifully you never want to open them and glittering decorations capture everyone’s eye, whichever way they happen to glance. This time of year, over the top can be an understatement, and inhibitions about spending seem to soar out the window.
But Style at Home’s senior style editor, Ann Marie Favot, has found that fine holiday balance. She hosts some of the most elegant affairs featuring personalized menus, signature drinks, two trees and gold and blue accents – everywhere. Yet the look is refined, the decor tasteful and the price tag minimal. After all, savvy Annie does a lot of it by hand and on a budget. It’s no Christmas miracle that it all looks so beautiful.
A small faux tree in the entryway sets the party’s tone for arriving guests. What does it say? The pretty champagne-coloured ice bucket holding the tree: “This is a somewhat formal affair.” The luxe sheepskin it’s set upon: “But we’ll make sure you feel comfortable while you’re here.” The ornaments hung from the tree with ribbon instead of the wire they came with: “Extra handmade effort went into this event.” All in all, it says, “This is Christmas. And a chic one at that.”
Make a statement on your staircase – especially if it’s in the entryway. Here’s an easy way to do so that looks glitzy and expensive but costs very little in terms of time and money: Suspend a multi-stringed beaded garland along your banister using white ribbon. Wire together trios of ornaments and attach them to the ribbon. Tuck in gilded leaves for extra flourish and – voila! You’re the queen of Christmas crafts.
Here lies proof that a topper isn’t the most essential element for a decorated tree. On Annie’s evergreen, the perfectly coordinated ornaments stand for themselves, and a topper would have just drawn onlookers’ eyes away from those efforts. So put away that oversized star or handcrafted Christmas angel, and leave your treetop au naturel. It has a humble country look that complements Annie’s contemporary space. Don’t be afraid to switch out your everyday decor for the seasonal stuff, says Annie. Here, she simply removed a piece of artwork from her gallery wall and replaced it with a gold metal wreath hung from a pretty blue ribbon. She didn’t need to make a new hole in her wall, and her holiday decorations seem to seamlessly blend in with what’s always been there, for a look that’s festive but far from over the top.
When homeowner and Style at Home senior style editor Ann Marie Favot hosts a dinner for family or friends, Christmastime or not, she likes to keep everyone's glasses full. But ducking in and out of the kitchen means she misses out on her guests' anecdotes and punchlines, so she creates a bar station in the room where the action happens. On her dining room console, Annie used a simple gold tray to corral her bar elements, then she selected a signature drink to serve guests. "To be honest, I chose this cocktail because it matched my palette," she says.
Last Christmas’s boxwood wreaths dried out over the course of the year and, at first, Annie considered tossing them out. But, ever the inventive decorista, she had an idea: She could turn misfortune into fortune by spray-painting the browning wreaths gold – a quick trick that both prevents them from crumbling and also reinforces her holiday colour palette.
The dining table is beautifully set with an air of formality at a casual price. Craft store gift tags were turned into place cards with the wave of a gold pen, while menus were made from plain card stock with the courses handwritten on each and a decorative label placed at the top. It’s a personal touch that doesn’t require spending a fortune at the printer’s.
From the gifts to the tabletop decor, the beautiful blue and gold colour palette is reinforced right down to the napkins.
Cohesion is key to constructing a grouping of stylishly wrapped presents. Annie chose four coordinating papers in solid colours and subtle patterns, and created easy cards and toppers to make them stand out. Instead of buying pricey gift tags, she personalized plain white craft store ones with simple stickers, or placed sticky name tag labels directly on the gift wrap. She also played with layers of ribbon and twine on each gift in addition to using traditional bows.
Christmas crackers are often as pretty as they are fun to pop open, so why hide them away until the big dinner? Instead of filling a bowl with shimmery Christmas ornaments or rustic pinecones, Annie used gold crackers for an uncomplicated festive display. The bonus? With space at a premium during the holidays, it’s nice to be able to store stuff in plain sight without having it look like clutter.
It’s all in the details. Sure, this pretty toss cushion wasn’t brought out exclusively for Santa. But we love how Annie’s blue, white and gold Christmas scheme echoes her home’s everyday palette, right down to the smallest notion – like a gold zipper on a custom blue and white toss cushion.
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.
Add these tasty thumbprint cookies to your holiday baking list! Credits: Maya Visnyei
Try this decadently delicious spin on the traditional thumbprint cookie.
Offering a twist on a classic is something that comes up a lot in the Style at Home offices, but it’s never been as yummy as this. Our take on these traditional holiday cookies replaces the usual jam with three of our favourite sweet spreads – pure genius, if we do say so ourselves.
1 Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2 In a large bowl, beat the butter with the icing sugar until fluffy; beat in the vanilla.
3 In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, ginger and salt; stir into the butter mixture just until the ingredients are combined and come together to form a dough.
4 Shape the dough into thirty-six 1" balls.*
5 Arrange 1" apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Press your thumb into the centre of each ball, leaving an indentation; pinch together any cracks around the edges.
6 Bake until the edges of the cookies are golden, about 12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 3 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely.
7 When the cookies are cool, spoon a scant 1 teaspoon of filling into the well of each one.
*To roll the cookies in nuts, whisk 2 egg whites with 1 teaspoon water until frothy; place finely chopped nuts (such as pistachios, walnuts or hazelnuts) in a bowl. Using a fork, dip each dough ball into the egg mixture, then into the nuts to coat. Place on the prepared baking sheets and continue with the recipe as directed. To dust with cocoa or cinnamon, roll the dough balls into either cinnamon or cocoa powder, shaking off any excess. Place on the prepared baking sheets and continue with the recipe as directed.
Makes: 3 dozen cookies
Bright and cheerful townhouse
Designer Orsi Panos gives this townhouse a colourful facelift on a modest budget.
"Bright and cheerful." That’s what the owner of this townhouse in Courtice, Ont., was searching for in a new home. Since her previous abode was older, larger and surrounded by mature trees, she was struck by this 1,400-square-foot space with large windows, a well-designed layout and plentiful natural light. However, at 10 years old, the home’s decor was dated, and its cheap builder-grade finishes weren’t holding up – aesthetically or otherwise.
"We kept some family heirlooms that meant a lot to her," Orsi explains. "And her extensive art collection was pared down to what looked great in the space." When shopping for new pieces, "the focus was on keeping things bright, fun and cheerful," says Orsi. "That’s when all the yellow accents came in. Yellow is the ultimate sunny hue." Gold and brass accessories also provide a warm glow, while a generous selection of other accent colours gives the entire place a vibrant, happy persona. "The homeowner is such a busy and interesting person – her home is now a true reflection of that."
A navy sectional complements the colourful gallery wall in the living room. The artwork is a pared-down selection of the homeowner’s vast collection.
The ikat-patterned fabric on the living room armchair was chosen for its complementary yellow, navy and grey colour scheme. The black bookcase has a grey interior and houses the TV and treasured books and objets. Designer Orsi Panos turned the book spines inward so their multi-hued jackets wouldn’t overwhelm the already colourful space.
Small accessories, like candlesticks on the mantel, help blend the rest of the decor with shades of gold and black, tying the whole room together.
"We started the project almost from the first day she looked at the house in 2014," says designer Orsi Panos. And as soon as the homeowner, a retired teacher, took possession, the makeover began. Since the existing floor plan was wonderfully functional, no major construction or structural changes were necessary. "We did what was needed to update the finishes," says Orsi.
"The homeowner and I fell in love with this bold floral fabric for the banquette, so we decided to let it be the star of the kitchen’s eat-in area," says Orsi. The dining chairs, which she had refinished, were part of an old set.
Yellow chevron-patterned drapery brings a hit of bright, happy colour to the home’s living room. Because the space is an atypical size, Orsi opted to layer two rugs rather than splurge on a custom one.
Orsi helped the homeowner edit her belongings down to what would work in the new house – with less square footage, she definitely needed fewer possessions overall and wanted a fresh start.
The kitchen’s backsplash, countertops and floor remained the same, but new white Shaker-style cabinet doors give the space a major facelift.