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Image: Stacey Brandford / Styling: Christine Hanlon
Nest maker, know thyself. Here’s how one designer used self-reflection and simplicity to do up her Toronto Victorian.
“There are thousands of inspiring ideas out there,” says designer Melanie Hay, referring to the wellspring of online home decor images, blogs and shops. “You can literally research for months. But in the end, the best design is born of self-discovery. The more you understand who you are and how you live, the better the odds that the rooms you create will be rooms that you love.”
Melanie should know. When she and her husband, Andrew, an entrepreneur, purchased a tall, narrow Victorian in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood about four years ago, they were two people without a plan – but with about 3,000 square feet of empty space. Needless to say, to a designer like Melanie, this blank canvas meant instant inspiration overload. “My mind was swimming with decorating schemes,” she recalls. “Deep down, though, I knew Andrew and I are nesters, and when we walked in the door, we would want to come home to a space that echoes our life stories.” This is where her approach to decorating the house started.
But it was not as easy as it sounds. “From the beginning, I had to acknowledge that Andrew and I don’t share the same taste,” she says. Melanie loves white; Andrew prefers dark wood. Something had to give. The house already had the towering black doors and high-gloss black banister they both liked, so the couple let these details inspire the look. “Plus, we already owned a black and white rug, a round table with a dark top and a black leather Eames chair, so why not use them?” adds Melanie. Red- and peach-painted walls were redone in shades of light and shadow. Such was the start of what is now the home’s signature black and white colour scheme.
And a little self-reflection went a long way when it came to deciding what to hang on the walls. “Although we appreciate fine art, personal mementoes that connect us to our families matter more,” says Melanie. This realization became the inspiration for the dining room gallery wall. Gathering a few favourite prints, posters and paintings, the designer created a dynamic visual mash-up. The result is a sophisticated yet personal design element. One added bonus? It was totally budget-friendly. “I paired gold-framed heirloom pieces with newer prints in inexpensive white frames to unite the random collection,” explains Melanie. And since not many are forever pieces, she adds or subtracts on a whim. “There are a lot of nail holes in that wall!” she says with a laugh.
In many ways, this ever-evolving approach is a reflection of Melanie’s creativity. “Unlike the homes I design for clients, which are done in one sweep, my house changes constantly. I’ve become incredibly good at moving furniture, which must drive Andrew crazy. This house will never be truly finished,” she says. “And if it ever is, I’ll probably just start over!”
Homeowner and designer Melanie Hay paired her husband’s steel-topped dining table with chairs she bought on Craigslist. “I’ve reupholstered the seats two times already,” she says. Right now, they bear a sophisticated charcoal linen that accentuates the dark walls and striped rug.
“It’s been a bedside table, an end table and a catch- all,” says Melanie of the bar cart she purchased years ago. “Finally, it’s a bar!” The cart is low, however, and the home’s ceilings are very high. To draw the eye upward, she added a painting and a wall-mounted metal stag bust above it.
Melanie scoured big-box stores for large-scale artwork to act as stand-ins for the forever pieces that will eventually accent her living room. That way, she doesn’t have to live with blank walls while she searches for the perfect investments.
The house was built in the early 1900s, but its contemporary fireplace mantel and furnishings achieve an eclectic mix that feels right at home in the space. “If you can’t afford to do a house all at once,” advises Melanie, “then do one room at a time. That way you can afford to invest in key pieces.”
“Decorating one room completely and then carrying that look to the next allows you to really establish a cohesive aesthetic throughout the house,” says Melanie, who started with the living room and finished with the master bedroom, which echoes the rest of the home’s light-meets-dark and modern-meets-traditional themes.
Celeb home tour: Kirsten Dunst's SoHo penthouse
Step inside Kirsten Dunst's two-bedroom penthouse apartment atop an iconic New York loft building in SoHo.
Dream of living in a trendy New York loft among some of Lady Fame's hottest celebrities, but just not sure you can make the commitment? Lucky for you, Kirsten Dunst's penthouse loft is up for rent. For $12,500 a month, you can stay in this two-bedoom, one-and-a-half bathroom apartment and bask in Dunst's modern-meets-antique decor.
- Comes fully or partially furnished
- 2 bedrooms
- 1.5 bathrooms
- Renovated master ensuite
- Library/sitting room
- Large open-concept layout
Want to know more? Check out the listing here.
Being the penthouse, Dunst's apartment offers a fabulous view of the Hudson River. And how wonderfully quirky is the tall ship hanging from the ceiling?
Extremely large windows around the entire living room enhance this top floor view.
A sliding wall separates the living space from a light-filled nook. Its floor-to-ceiling bookshelves make it the perfect spot to curl up with your favourite read.
The bookshelves are filled with an assortment of books and framed art.
The loft offers a generously sized kitchen, considering it's New York. The modern additions of the marble countertops and Wolf and Subzero appliances are warmed up with darker cabinetry and brass pendant lights (love!).
Have sweet dreams in this spacious boudoir, in a luxuriously sized king bed with plenty of room to spare.
Enjoy an escape from the city in this brand new ensuite, with room enough to fit a freestanding vintage tub and separate shower.
Situated on Canal Street, this loft has been home to noteable actors and rockstars alike, including Casey Affleck, Michael Stipe and Gus Van Sant.
A crisp and calm all-white bedroom is a dream in itself
These stylish master suites will have you inspired to redecorate your own space.
With a textured blush pink wall and storage ottoman this dreamy suite is anything but dull. The elegance continues through glass bedside tables and beautiful bedding, making anyone sleeping here feel calm and relaxed. See other white interiors here.
Give your bedroom a rustic feel with stylish wooden accessories. The wooden bench and wall art add texture to this space, keeping it warm and inviting. Get the look here.
A dreamy all-white room is guaranteed to look calm and crisp especially with light-grey accents, like throw pillows. We love the way the natural light in this room helps transform it into a bright, peaceful sanctuary. See the rest of the house here.
Offsetting patterns can take a while to perfect, but this bright, colourful room makes it look simple. Matching a patterned quilt on the bed with a printed navy rug pulls all the colours of the room together to create a natural palette that will leave you with sweet dreams. See the rest of the house here.
Textured walls are the key to this earth-toned room. Create your own spa-like master suite by mixing calming neutrals, like bedding and accessories. See the rest of the house here.
With such a lush view it's only natural that this bedroom be decorated with simple and chic accessories. This helps keep your eyes focused on the beautiful scenery without busy distractions. See the rest of the house here.
Decorating a large master suite doesn't need to feel intimidating. Pick a few key pieces to focus on and this will instantly become an effortless task. A large area rug easily breaks up the space while chandeliers keep the otherwise low-key room bright and inviting. See the rest of the house here.
Patterned throw pillows (which also accent the bed skirt) are the perfect way to brighten up a grey room. Light accents in this room keep the bed as the main focal point. See the rest of the house here.
Adding colour to a master suite doesn't have to be a daunting task. Hang a bold piece of artwork or above the bed, not only will it act as the perfect faux headboard, it can be replaced each time you want to add a new hue to your space. Get the look here.
An all-white bedroom can look clean and fresh but adding accents of grey or black will add some instant sophistication. In this room, the dark curtains, sofa and deep throw pillows are what truly creates a sleek look. See the rest of the house here.
Hints of colour are a great addition to any room, but this dreamy suite takes colour to the next level. Dark blue engulfs the room, creating the feeling of a royal suite. This room might have you considering what colour to try in your master bedroom. See the rest of the house here.
It's the perfect combination of a neutral palette and creative decor accessories that make this loft's master suit so dreamy. See the rest of the house here.
If there are large windows in your master suite, why not incorporate them into your decor. This bedroom's arched windows, delicately framed by neutral drapes, act as pieces of wall art. See the rest of the house here.
Draw attention to a glamorous bed with a dark wall colour that doubles as a large faux headboard. See the rest of the house here.
There is nothing dark and gloomy about this room. Instead, it has a polished and chic elegance that will leave you quickly craving a darker space of your own. See other dark bedrooms here.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.