Drab kitchen goes bold in black and white
A Toronto couple with a shared vision cooks up an ambitious renovation plan for their outdated kitchen and backyard.
They say a renovation can lead to a separation, but that couldn’t be further from the truth for this Toronto couple. “We agree on absolutely everything design-wise,” says Melissa Evans-Lee, marketing director of Bayview Village Shopping Centre, about her media CEO hubby, John Lee. “Sometimes I think we share a brain.” The pair’s united vision for the three-bedroom Victorian fixer-upper they purchased in the city’s west end in 2006 was clear – and ambitious.
Over the course of a decade, every room was redone, but it all began with the kitchen, a priority for these foodies and skilled home chefs. A total gut job liberated the 135-square-foot pass-through cooking space from its decrepit pale yellow-painted wooden cabinetry, dark green linoleum flooring and outdated basic appliances. The original window and radiator were left intact, lending old-world character to newly installed budget-friendly modern finishes in white. Oh, and the walls were painted black. When asked about the bold choice, Melissa laughs. “Is it? We didn’t get the memo,” adding that nearly every wall in the house was painted a dark colour, from charcoal to navy. Black also spills out to the backyard for an extra dose of drama.
Thanks to a generous helping of black paint and a good dose of stainless steel, Melissa Evans-Lee and John Lee’s Toronto kitchen oozes sophistication. Tidy open storage and the large original window mask its modest proportions.
“I’m a very visual person, so I like to have everything on display,” says Melissa with regard to the plenitude of open storage. But she does admit that keeping everything orderly requires a certain personality type (“Can you say OCD?” she says with a laugh). Everyday dishes and oft-used ingredients are kept in sight on floating shelves and in the island’s open base, while overflow is hidden away in a small pantry. Black and white accessories throughout look fancy and offer function.
“I think saying dark walls make a room feel dim or small is a complete fallacy,” says Melissa. “Black adds something really amazing to the mix: drama.” Case in point is this group of picture ledges she uses to display her best-loved cookbooks, which rivals some of the most affecting art walls.
Potted herbs enliven the kitchen’s dramatic black and white scheme and also add a nature-inspired feel that helps create a connection between the indoors and out.
Whether dining on buffet-style tacos or a four-course meal, guests enjoy interior-calibre comfort on vintage Bertoia chairs and the newly built-in banquette, which Melissa cleverly cushioned using dog beds and indoor toss cushions. “Everything is movable,” she says. “These chairs can easily go in the dining room, the toss cushions in the den.”
Choice furnishings and accessories (in a chic black and white scheme that matches the interior) create an integrated outdoor dining space – “it’s oven to patio table in about five steps,” says Melissa – that plays host to dinners à deux and mingling guests alike.
Tucked into a corner of the backyard, this stone patio outfitted with vintage metal seating and a hand-me-down coffee table is a serene spot for lazing around with a book under the pleasant shade of two mature trees. Low-maintenance potted ferns add fluffy texture.
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.
Fresh feminine bathroom style
Giving your bathroom serious wow factor is as easy as one, two, three.
Saturated teal walls + whimsical wall hanging + polished brass fixtures
Damask wallpaper + ornate mirror + modern white vanity
Chippendale mirror + marble wainscotting + wall-mounted faucet
Deco-print wallpaper + frameless mirror + black topped washstand
Nature-inspired walls + decorative ladder + frosted sconces
Bold “tie-dyed” wallpaper + sculptural brass sconces + floating marble sink
9 ways to revamp your bathroom without undergoing a large-scale renovation.
According to designer Robin Siegerman, principal of Sieguzi Kitchen & Home Inc. and author of Renovation Bootcamp: Kitchens, bathroom renovations can be surprisingly expensive for the (generally) smaller size of the room, because so much of the expense is hidden in the walls, such as electrical and plumbing. But if your bathroom is in relatively good shape but uninspired from a design standpoint – often the case with condo units, for example – there’s much you can do to give it a spiffier look, with little or no professional help. Here are a few tips.
Replacing an ugly bathroom faucet with a pretty one has become a relatively simple do-it-yourself task, with many faucets now sold in kits that include all the fittings and complete instructions. Make sure you have the right type for the number of hole openings in the sink.
There are companies that will come in and reface your countertop with a ¼-inch veneer of granite, for the look of solid granite at a fraction of the cost. Alternatively, you can have a boring or worn laminate counter refaced with new laminate—there are ones on the market now that closely mimic stone, wood or other natural finishes, or go for something more fanciful if you like.
Replace a boring plate-glass mirror with a framed version you can hang like art. Scoop up an ornate frame at an antique store (or pick out a nice one at a framer’s) and have the framer make it into a mirror for you. Attractive framed mirrors in every style from Victorian to modern can also be found at thrift stores, antique markets and home stores.
If your bathtub or shower is tiled inside the enclosure but stops at the edge, and you can find matching tile, have it extended (or do it yourself, with new ceramic tile mounting kits available at box stores) the rest of the way around the bathroom to the 48” mark, like wainscoting. The advantage to doing this is more than aesthetic; it makes your bathroom much easier to clean, since you can wash the walls at the same time you do the floors.
Many bathrooms are cursed with a single light fixture directly above the mirror, which creates unflattering shadows. If you don’t want to have side sconces wired in, look for a fixture with two lights side by side, which will at least direct the light a little more to either side of your face.
If your bathroom floor is ugly, cover it with a small pure-wool area rug. Unlike synthetics, wool is moisture and mildew resistant, resists dirt (and can be cleaned relatively easily), and if you choose an Oriental or Persian style, adds a touch of class. If it gets very wet, hang it up to dry.
It’s amazing what a beautiful bathroom wall colour will do to add interest to the plainest room, and a small room takes only a day or so to paint. Be careful choosing colour, though: some blues and greens can be cold and unkind to skin tones, while too bright a colour may be overwhelming in a small room like a bath. At the very worst, if you choose a colour and don’t like the effect, it’s easy to paint over again.
Making your own shower curtain is an easy job, even if you’re not a sewer. Measure the shower opening and purchase a few yards of beautiful fabric from a fabric outlet store. Finish the edges with iron-on hemming tape and sew curtain rings along the top. Buy a plastic curtain liner from a bath shop, and hang.
Think scale with bath accessories, but don’t think you have to display only small things. One beautiful vase or piece of artwork (a sealed print is best if your bath gets very steamy) can have fabulous impact in a small space.