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 farmhouse kitchen designed by Carol Reed Interior Design
Executive editor Suzanne Moutis loves great organizing ideas. Here, she shares innovative solutions for storing your stuff.
1 Glass-fronted cabinetry gives a sneak peek at the delicate glassware inside while keeping it safe from breakage and dust.
2 Open shelving smartly fills in the empty space on each side of the range hood, and offers access to everyday crockery and oft-used serving pieces.
3 Designating a spot beside the range for essential cooks’ tools means they’re always within reach. A ladle here, a sprig of parsley there and just the right amount of flour or salt equals perfect meals every time.
4 An out-of-the-way corner in the kitchen island could have become simply dead space, but in this kitchen it’s turned into a cubby with shelves to hold both prized cookbooks and other essentials.
5 Pot drawers are a must in today’s kitchens, no matter what the style. Their deep configuration makes them ideal for storing everything from the aforementioned pots and pans to large bags of flour, mixing bowls, oversized serveware and more.
TIP: When you’ve got the luxury of having as much space as this kitchen, it’s great to take advantage and design an island that accommodates stools so you can be connected to the kids or company while you’re cooking.
The 10 dirtiest things in your house
Keep your house healthy and clean by learning how to eradicate germs.
What are the 10 dirtiest, grimiest, germiest, stinkiest, grossest things in your home? We spoke to cleaning expert Anne, from Toronto-based Homestead Maid to get the lowdown on the most common, worst-offending messes in Canadian homes.
Here's the thing: Not all these trouble spots are obvious. In fact, many look clean. The good news is it doesn't take a lot of elbow grease – or harsh chemical cleaners – to ensure they truly are clean.
Here's what to look out for and how to get it squeaky clean.
"When it comes to dirt and germs, first and foremost are the actual rags, sponges and scrub brushes you clean with," says Anne. Cleaning 411: • Run sponges through the dishwasher, or microwave them on high for a couple of minutes. • Nylon and stainless-steel scouring pads and brushes can go in the dishwasher. • Rinse, wring out and hang dry kitchen rags after use; launder them either every couple days or when they begin to smell. • Always toss rags into the laundry after they've been used to mop up spills from raw meat.
Don't just clean the toilet bowl and seat. The real mess is usually on the rim, toilet base and surrounding floor. "Especially when you have small children – or men – in the household," says Anne. Cleaning 411: • Always wipe down the toilet rim and base when cleaning the toilet. • Wipe or mop the floor around the toilet base as needed or at least weekly.
"All kinds of food debris gets caught in the drain and causes bad smells," says Anne. Left to build up too long, clogs can develop. Cleaning 411: • Pour a cup of baking soda down the drain followed by a cup of white vinegar, let sit for a minute, then pour a kettle of boiling water down the drain, for an inexpensive, eco-friendly once-a-week disinfecting/deodorizing treatment.
If you leave it dirty, you risk your pet ingesting spoiled food. You may also attract ants, roaches or mice. Cleaning 411: • Promptly wipe up spilled food or water. • Wash bowls regularly. • Protect flooring by placing bowls on a washable placemat or charger plate.
After all, where does kitty step right after she's done her business in her loo? Cleaning 411: • Vacuum, then wipe down/mop with vinegar and hot water. • Alternatively, lay a washable car mat by the litter box. Wash with hot water and dish detergent as needed.
"This actually depends on how vigilantly people in the home wash their hands," says Anne. Cleaning 411: • If you have small kids, wipe down knobs as needed or weekly (use a rag and hot soapy water or wet wipes). • Otherwise, wipe down knobs whenever you clean your baseboards (more frequently on bathroom doorknobs).
"In fact, everything you touch during and after changing baby and before hand-washing needs to be cleaned," says Anne. PRO TIP: Don't use harsh anti-bacterial cleaners in the nursery. Regular wet wipes – yes, the same ones you use during diaper changes! – are perfect for nursery spot-cleaning. Cleaning 411: • Wipe down the diaper pail exterior with a wet wipe, daily. • Clean the interior as per manufacturer instructions, or with hot soapy water as needed.
"People forget to clean the inside of the microwave, so it gets pretty dirty," says Anne. Cleaning 411: • Clean the interior surfaces with hot soapy water and a sponge (a nylon scrubber is also fine, but never use a harsh metal scouring pad); rinse and wipe dry. • If there's crusty food residue, run the microwave with a bowl of water or wet dishcloth for a couple of minutes. Steam softens dry food residue so it can be wiped clean.
Especially near the toilet. "It's the pee factor again," says Anne. Cleaning 411: • Hot vinegar-y water with a rag will clean and deodorize.
We tread on them daily, right? Cleaning 411: • Protect your floors (and children's health) by always removing shoes at the door to avoid trekking in dirt, pollution (yes, lead dust can travel in on shoes!), and germs. • Sweep or vacuum as required or at least weekly. • Mop up spills immediately, spot-clean dirty spots. • DON'T go overboard with harsh cleaning chemicals, says Anne. "A lot of flooring surfaces are very sensitive and hot water mixed with vinegar is safest for the finish. And always really wring out the mop so it's damp, not soaking wet," says Anne.
Industrial loft design with luxe details and an edgy appeal
Brimming with luxurious materials and industrial swagger, an edgy-meets-elegant makeover sees the union of two lofts.
In sitcoms, there’s always the jokester perpetually getting locked out of his apartment in the hallway wearing socks – or worse, far less. In real life, however, hallway humour is not so funny. Take this husband and wife who had to go out to the corridor every time they needed something from next door. They own (and inhabit) adjacent lofts in Toronto’s historic Merchandise Building. Commensurate with early 20th-century Chicago-style architecture, the building has hefty bones, high ceilings and factory windows – enthralling features that meant moving elsewhere to gain more space was out of the question. “Besides, the idea was always to merge the two units,” says the husband, joking, “but in the meantime, we had the best guest suite in the city.”
After owning the lofts for three years, the professional pair, who has a four-year-old daughter and six-year-old son, finally decided to fuse the 1,763- and 1,372-square-foot spaces. To bring the project from concept to fruition, they collaborated with Croma Design’s savvy Ryan Martin and Amy Kent. Building restrictions only allowed for a small opening between the suites, which was achieved by removing the kitchen and a small laundry closet from one unit, as well as reconfiguring the master bedroom. But it worked out perfectly. “It resulted in two separate zones: one for the family to relax in, the other for entertaining,” explains Amy. Toys are relegated to the family room in one unit, while in the other, the slick living room with its stand-out hot-rolled-steel fireplace is enjoyed when the adults are entertaining.
In the living room of this Toronto loft designed by Ryan Martin and Amy Kent of Croma Design, a standout fireplace surround made from 12 feet of hot-rolled steel creates architectural drama. Modern furnishings, hits of brass and pared-back artwork establish a look that’s at once livable and luxurious.
The dining room’s existing bar niche was updated with a Caesarstone-topped cabinet and upper shelves. An artistic take on utilitarian fluorescents over the dining table, the light fixture offers striking sculptural presence – but no harshness. “It uses LED bulbs, so it emits a warm glow,” says Amy.
The loft’s decor is all about sharp contrast and cohesion, exemplified in the long steel shelves that echo the steel-based dining table, as well as the doors of the nine-foot-long sideboard, which are the same as the ones used for the kitchen cabinetry.
The living room’s custom bookcases were so tall the contractor had to build them off-site and stack them here in components – but the extra effort was worth it. They’re a huge improvement from the cluttered stand-alones that once lived in the loft.
The weight of the kitchen’s darkness is balanced by the light and airy envelope around it, from the white surrounding walls and ceiling to the glass pendant lights. The island is equipped with open shelves to store cookbooks, which offer a hint of colour.
“We chose Caesarstone countertops because they’re durable and easy to maintain, which is great for this family, who is constantly trying out new recipes from their many cookbooks,” says Amy.