History and tradition are a big part of how this homeowner decorates for the season. Credits: Robin Stubbert; Styling by Tara Ballantyne
History and tradition are a big part of how this homeowner decorates – and they’re key to how her family celebrates the holidays, too.
It goes without saying that the most memorable family holidays are steeped in nostalgia – blending traditions from past generations with new ones – but they become all the more meaningful when the home itself already has stories to tell. That’s the case in the southern Ontario home Jennifer Jarmuszewski shares with her husband, Colin Todd, and two children, Julia, 9, and Benjamin, 7. The entryway and formal living and dining rooms of their 3,500-square-foot new-build house are decorated in a classic holiday style that perfectly complements the home’s elegant interior, accentuating the art and antiques Jennifer has been collecting most of her life.
To pull together the everyday design of the home and marry her traditional taste with the needs of a young family, Jennifer sought the help of designer Alison Habermehl of Habermehl Design Group. “Luckily I came on board early in the building stage, so we were able to customize the design,” says Alison. “We raised the main-floor doorways and added transoms over them, as well as selected finishes that better suited Jennifer’s style.” The addition of applied mouldings to the entryway and dining room, for example, gives the home architectural distinction, while glass door knobs used throughout are small details that create luxe sparkle.
When it came time to select furnishings, a lot of inspiration was pulled from Jennifer’s belongings. “She has many fine collections,” says Alison, referring to the antique chairs, bird and Staffordshire dog figurines, as well as antique boxes.“To make them all work within the traditional and sophisticated design scheme, I kept like pieces together to avoid a look that’s too precious or cluttered.”
One collection even inspired the dining room’s colour scheme, which matches Jennifer’s treasury of Flow Blue dinnerware (blurred blue and white transferware popular in the 19th century). “I can perfectly remember buying one of the dishes while visiting my grandmother,” says Jennifer. “So many of my pieces are tied to specific memories.”
The blue theme that started with the dinnerware carries through to holiday time. Vibrant blue dishes get layered onto the dinner table alongside beloved Waterford crystal and Wedgwood china. “It’s so lovely to see beautiful crystal and china getting used in a young family home,” says Alison. The tablescape is amplified with green and metallic accents to keep the look modern. Fresh greenery set in one of Jennifer’s antique bowls serves as a striking non-traditional centrepiece, matching the simple evergreen accents elsewhere – an effective way to bring Christmas cheer (and glorious aromas) into the home.
Of course, the same could be said for the Christmas tree, which glitters with blue and silver ornaments that share space with treasured kid-crafted trinkets. “The ones created by my children are my favourites,” says Jennifer. “They’re so fun to pull out every year as the kids get older. They love looking back at what they’ve made.” It’s just another example of how Jennifer’s stunning collections are rooted in time-honoured traditions the whole family will cherish for many Christmases to come.
Homeowner Jennifer Jarmuszewski’s prized collection of rare antique blue transferware – the inspiration for the dining room’s moody blue colour scheme – is prominently displayed in a custom-built hutch with a fresh green-painted interior that makes the plates pop. Simple evergreen wreaths and sprigs on the table add a refined holiday touch to the ultra-elegant space.
Helping decorate the tree is a holiday ritual that Jennifer’s kids, Julia and Benjamin Jarmuszewski, cherish. Glittery blue and silver ornaments mingle with avian-themed ones (inspired by the settee’s bird-print fabric) and, of course, kid-made treasures. But a family favourite is a hinged box ornament with the words “Christmas Wishes” on it. “Before we hang it, we each add a written wish for the coming year,” says Jennifer.
This spot in the dining room was too small for a sideboard, so an antique dresser was used instead. It serves as an ersatz bar, which is convenient for topping up drinks at dinner.
Though they’re newer pieces, the ornate concrete console and architectural reclaimed wood mirror lend the entryway an old-world look that suits the home’s elegance. The voluminous magnolia-leaf garland offers a luxe touch for the holidays.
Jennifer’s Flow Blue dishware – coveted antique transferware with blurred blue and white motifs – makes an eclectic tablescape when mixed with more contemporary gold-detailed plates and green scalloped ones. Adorned with name tags secured to pretty mercury-glass ornaments, each place setting offers a memento guests can take home.
The living room’s slender, curvaceous settee is offset by the geometric gallery wall of small engraved wood artwork grouped above – another example of Jennifer’s passion for collecting. Every time she makes the trip to Stratford, Ont., she can’t resist popping into artist Gerard Brender à Brandis’s studio to purchase another piece to add to the display.
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 delicious truffles to your holiday baking list.
These delicious truffle temptations are as tasty as they are pretty.
During the holidays, sometimes the chances of receiving a gift are directly related to the desirability of the gift itself. For example, when you whip up a batch of these delicious truffles – ostensibly for your co-workers, say – you’ll find they’re so good that you’ll have eaten them all before your officemates ever receive them. Or, in other words, one for you, three for me....
1 Fill a medium saucepan one-third full of water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Place the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl; set aside. While the water is coming to a simmer, place the cream in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Remove the cream from the heat and pour over the chocolate, stirring to combine.
2 Place the heatproof bowl over the saucepan of simmering water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl. Gently stir the chocolate mixture with a spoon until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth; remove from the heat. Line a 9" square baking pan with parchment paper, allowing the edges to hang over the sides of the pan. Pour the chocolate mixture into the pan, spreading it evenly.
3 Mentally divide the chocolate into quarters. Top each quarter with a different topping; swirl each quarter with the tip of a knife to slightly incorporate the topping. Place the pan in the refrigerator and chill until the chocolate is set, at least 2 hours.
4 Remove the pan from the fridge and let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. Lift the parchment paper out of the pan, moving the chocolate slab onto a cutting board.
5 Dust the pieces with cocoa powder before serving. The truffles can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
6 Using a sharp thin knife, cut the slab into 36 equal pieces.
*Note: To make the sugared herbs, place 2 sprigs fresh thyme and 2 sprigs fresh rosemary on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet; brush with 2 tablespoons egg white. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup superfine sugar and let stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour to dry before using.
Serves 36 truffles.
How to clean your oven
Everything you need to know about getting this in-demand appliance clean – and keeping it that way.
The holidays are a busy time for your oven, whether you’re making a turkey, gingerbread cookies, salt-dough ornaments or all of the above. Winning results require a clean appliance, as built-up grime can affect foods’ flavour or, worse, lead to fires. Repeated heat will burn spills and splatters in place, so make a habit of wiping them after each use, once the oven has totally cooled (a sprinkle of salt will loosen the mess while the appliance is cooling). For a deep clean , make a paste by adding water to baking soda, and apply it generously to the oven’s interior using a clean cloth; leave overnight. Wipe the surface using a damp cloth and scrape off large stuck-on bits with a spatula. If any grime remains, generously spray on white vinegar – it will react with the baking soda to work the dirt off – and wipe clean.
KNOW YOUR OVEN
Get to know your oven’s built-in cleaning function (or lack thereof) before getting started.
Self-cleaning: In an isolated cycle, extreme heat turns grime into ash to be wiped off with a damp cloth. Racks must be removed (and cleaned separately); commercial cleaners are prohibited.
Continuous cleaning: A chemical coating on the walls dissolves splatters during cooking. Avoid commercial cleaners (they may strip off the coating).
None: It can handle both homemade and commercial cleaning solutions.
Your oven racks work hard and, every so often, they could use a bubble bath – literally. Start by lining your bathtub with old towels to protect it. Place the racks on top and submerge them in hot water; mix in several generous squirts of dish soap. Let stand overnight to loosen dirt before wiping clean with a soft sponge.
Behind closed doors
Grease-carrying steam can get in between the door’s interior and exterior glass panes. Cleaning this requires taking the door apart, so check your warranty to see if this service is covered or call in a pro.
Expert tip: “Keep a baking sheet on the bottom rack of your oven to catch spillage. Then simply remove, clean and replace it.” -Natalia Bronstein, Team Leader, Aspenclean.
Dos and Don'ts:
Do: Be patient. Allowing cleaning solutions to sit for the full recommended length of time will minimize your scrubbing effort.
Don't: Get any water or cleaning solution on the door gasket, as it damages easily.