Image by: Donna Griffith | Styling: Christine Hanlon
Hushed tones and plenty of natural light make for a dreamy retreat
When these newlyweds ditched their condo for a house — as so many do — they set their sights upon Toronto’s leafy Summerhill neighbourhood , which they admired for its older homes. The couple found a 2,290-square-foot four-bedroom semi built in the 1930s that fit the bill in terms of age and locale, but it hadn’t been touched since the ’80s.
“It was so dark,” says one of the homeowners, referring to the interior, which was coated in dowdy browns and suffering from tiny rooms and windows, as well as a gloomy kitchen partitioned from the rest of the house. “We needed more light and a large kitchen for my husband, who loves to cook,” she says. Simply put, the house was hardly what you’d call a love nest. So the homeowners enlisted Croma Design’s Ryan Martin and Amy Kent to give their starter house a style transfusion.
“We wanted to create a classically inspired backdrop with clean-lined furnishings and art,” says Amy. The homeowners didn’t want to go too stark or too stuffy, so they settled on a transitional look with bold lashes of black and modern furnishings boasting traditional details. And, of course, they addressed the cramped spaces and lack of light.
To that end, the designers reworked the layout, removing the powder room, relocating the kitchen and expanding the windows at the front and back of the house. “We opened everything up so the light emanating from the new windows and existing skylight would stretch further,” says Ryan.
As for the finer details, near-black accents add striking drama against the palette of soothing greys, blues, browns and whites. “The colours in this home are very subtle, tone-on-tone and easy to live with,” says Amy. “We wanted the house to make an impact as a whole – not for any particular wall or accent to stand out above the rest.”
Whether the homeowners are upstairs lounging in the relaxed media room or downstairs sipping tea in the more formal living area, there is indeed a clear sense of cohesion, which is a hallmark of this home — and what makes it a far cry from its gloomy beginnings.
A dynamic explosion of hexagonal and subway tiles gives the third-floor bathroom edge. The contrasting grout as well as the blackened metal fittings, chair rail and sconces look sharp against the white backdrop.
Watery blues and greys lend a serene painterly feel to the tranquil second-floor family room.
The long and linear print of birch trees (with hand-applied copper leaf) echoes the shape of the low-slung sofa, which is clean-lined to suit the quiet space.
“I loved being able to customize the house to our needs,” says one of the homeowners. “My husband really loves the new kitchen.”
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.
Image: Michael Nangreaves / Produced: Christine Hanlon & Morgan Lindsay
Can you tell which moody sitting room serves high or low end decor?
We designed a moody true-to-trends sitting room on both a high tea and a cup of joe budget — see if you can tell the difference.
1 Tree, Elte, $695; 2 Chandelier, Elte, $2,545; 3 Wallpaper, Thibaut at Kravet Canada, $560; 4 Etagere, Art Shoppe, $1,998; 5 Sofa, Urban Barn, $2,999; 6 Lumbar cushions, CB2, $258; 7 Coffee table, Art Shoppe, $3,899; 8 Rug, Elte, $8,505; 9 Armchair, Elte, $2,745; 10 Side table, Barrymore Furniture, $920.
1 Tree, Crown Flora Studio, $295; 2 Chandelier, Elte, $2,085; 3 Wallpaper, Thibaut at Kravet Canada, $358; 4 Etagere, HomeSense, $1,299; 5 Sofa, IKEA, $2,199; 6 Lumbar cushion covers, Inserts, H&M Home, $13 each, $7 each; 7 Coffee table, Elte, $1,895; 8 Rug, Elte, $5,165; 9 Armchair, HomeSense, $500; 10 Side table, Universal Lamp, $395.
Our favourite piece in the room is also the most timeless piece — a brown leather sofa. And so, we've rounded up the best options on the market, at every price point. Flip through the slideshow below to check out our hand-selected picks.
Polyfoam-filled full-grain Seglora leather Stockholm in natural, IKEA, $2,199.
Hamilton leather sofa in mocha, West Elm, $2,799.
Polyfoam- and down-filled waxed top-grain leather Diego in ox tan, Urban Barn, $2,999.
Polyfoam and down-filled full-grain leather Trevor in camel, Crate and Barrel, $5,999.
Foam- and polyfiber-filled top-grain Italian Brompton leather Belgian Track Arm in chestnut, Restoration Hardware, $5,995 US.
Give your study space an update before it's time to head back to class!
Give your study space an update with these stylish decor accessories.
Help put the student in your household on the track to a year of straight As with a study space that’s organized and super functional. With any luck, they’ll head off to do their homework without you having to breathe a word! We’ve rounded up 8 great items that will add both style and substance to any study space.
1 Polar Bear Faux-Fur Wingback Chair
Who said studying had to be boring? Inject a little excitement into homework time with this faux polar bear fur chair. It has an adjustable seat height and rolls on casters. Plus, because it’s so soft and fully cushioned, it’s super comfy for those all-nighters! Polar Bear Faux-Fur Wingback Chair, PB Teen, $414.
2 Belkin Valet Charge Dock for Apple Watch + iPhone
If Jr. has an iPhone and Apple Watch, he’ll need to keep them charged and ready to go for school the next day. This streamlined charger duo from Belkin charges both devices simultaneously and eliminates unsightly cords. Available in silver and rose gold. Belkin Valet Charge Dock for Apple Watch + iPhone, Apple, $144.95.
3 Gumball Desk Lamp
As its name suggests, this stylish desk lamp is inspired by a gumball machine, which gives it a mid-century modern appeal. Made from metal and brought to an uber shiny finish, this desk lamp will not only provide a hint of style to a modern student’s desk but add excellent task lighting as well. Gumball Desk Lamp, Urban Outfitters, $49.
4 Colour Pop Office Accessories
Getting homework done is so much easier in a space that makes you smile. Help your studious child get (and stay!) motivated with these chic desk accessories that will not only keep her work space organized, but will look great doing it! Set includes an accessory tray, a ‘bits + bobs’ tray, a single letter tray, grip grass, pen cup, ruler, stapler and tape dispenser. Colour Pop Office Accessories, West Elm, starting at $5.
5 Magnetic Message Board
Sometimes kids need a little inspiration to get the creative juices flowing and they shouldn’t have to look too far to get it. This magnet board features the message ‘Life is wonderful’ and provides the perfect spot to keep and refer back to things that inspire. Or, use it as a place for reminders about things just need to get done! Magnetic Message Board, Indigo, $79.50.
6 Klimpen Table with Drawers
If it’s time to update the desk in your son or daughter’s room, look to IKEA for stylish but inexpensive options. Available in black, white and a chic black and white combo, this desk is small but functional and comes with a palatable price tag for parents! Klimpen Table with Drawers, IKEA, $158.50.
7 Riley Bean Bag Chair
When it’s time to take a break from studying or just move to someplace more comfortable to read, this bean bag chair is just the spot. With a durable polyester cover, it’s up to the challenge of taking whatever your kids can throw at it! Riley Bean Bag Chair, Wayfair.ca, $173.99.
8 Geometric Cast-Metal Bookends
The organizer’s mantra ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ is especially applicable to most kids’ rooms. Tools to keep things where they’re meant to be (meaning they’re easier to find), makes mornings before school easier and less stressful for everyone! These gorgeous bookends are crafted from polished cast brass and will help your student keep their books in one easy-to-find spot! Geometric Cast-Metal Bookends, RH Teen, $69 US.