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: Nicole Cohen
After a series of nips and tucks, a derelict brownstone in Brooklyn, N.Y., reaches its full potential – and then some.
Four years ago, Nicole and Jordan Stein made the trip from the maelstrom of midtown Manhattan to a quiet, leafy street in Brooklyn that, compared with the city, felt downright pastoral. They had come to tour a brownstone as part of an estate sale, and immediately saw its potential despite certain drawbacks.
“I definitely had some trepidation because the house was in extremely rough shape,” says Nicole, who designs fine jewellery she sells through her online Etsy shop, ByNicoleAlexis. Conversely, Jordan, a Montreal-born business consultant and entrepreneur, was confident it could be brought back to life – after all, he had watched his parents successfully transform a beat-up Vermont ranch when he was younger.
“Our goal was to marry classic architecture with a modern aesthetic,” says Nicole, who wanted the interior envelope to look original to the house. Though the idea of gutting the space and blasting out the walls was brought up, it didn’t get far. “We bought a brownstone, not a condo,” says Nicole cheekily. “Sure, we have a narrow hallway and a tiny powder room, and yes, it’s a little quirky, but it’s true to the original home.” So the small rooms remained intact and were slowly brought back to code over the course of a year under their contractor’s exacting eye.
Next up? Christine Dovey, a designer based in Oakville, Ont., who has remotely kitted out homes (via email) from America to Norway, stepped in to apply her signature style: ravishing rooms with traditional architectural details in a modern palette of black and white with bursts of pink; spaces in which provocative contemporary artwork often sits alongside antique furnishings.
To deliver an authentic period look, Christine suggested the homeowners invest in crown mouldings. “Nicole wanted something that looked like it was there originally, so we went with big plaster mouldings as a splurge on the living room ceiling but regular crown throughout,” says Christine. Making sure the interior looked more downtown than Downton, the designer balanced the historic architectural elements with what she calls “a mixed bag of edgy yet elegant furnishings.”
In need of some hand holding a little closer to home, Nicole also worked with local designer Natalie Kraiem, who helped achieve the look by choosing key pieces including the rugs and living room artwork.
The sculptural replace in the eat-in area of this Brooklyn, N.Y., brownstone was in such rough shape, it had to be removed and rebuilt. Above it, the enormous antique filigree mirror that belonged to the previous owners lends romance to the space. “We loved it so much we negotiated it as part of the sale of the house,” says homeowner Nicole Stein.
Dripping with crystal beads, the antique brass basket chandelier was a splurge, but Nicole insists it’s a forever piece. “I’m crazy about it too,” says designer Christine Dovey. “I love how it contrasts the rough-hewn wooden table.” The bespoke kitchen peninsula, with its marble waterfall edge, was also pricey, but Nicole had the fabricator use the scraps to make luxurious window ledges. “Everyone comments on them,” she says.
A blend of vintage- and modern-look furnishings gives the formal living room an eclectic, collected feel. Sculptural retro Alky chairs are a fun contrast to the stiff-backed caned settee. Heavyweight-cotton curtains draw the eye up to the 11-foot- high ceiling. They were originally placeholders, but looked so fabulous that Nicole decided to keep them – proving that you don’t always need to spend a mint on custom drapery.
Inspired by the iconoclastic Mexican painter, Frida is a punchy print that presides over this area of the living room, where a brass Sputnik lamp, oversized mirror and sculptural fireplace surround offer exciting diversions.
Wild! This spotted antelope-print runner gives an unexpected punch, introducing a graphic pattern into the front hall. “It’s classic but edgy,” says Christine.
Show-stopping architectural details on the ceiling of the living room’s media area are period appropriate but were non-existent when the couple bought the brownstone. Nicole tracked down a plaster restoration specialist in Long Island, N.Y., and sent Christine samples to narrow down the options. The installation took a week and was definitely a splurge. “It’s a real art. There is literally someone there with a cotton swab and a fine blade forming everything by hand,” says Nicole.
(Photo by: Joe Kim | Recipe & Food Styling: Tanya Eng)
End your Sunday nights with a classic Canadian treat — maple butter tart pie.
Try your hand at this divine recipe, which takes the nationally revered butter tart and makes it even better by turning it into a whole decadent pie, subtly flavoured with our next favourite thing, maple syrup. What does that mean for your final course of the day? As large a portion as you desire and more of that sugary, buttery filling in every single bite. Oh, Canada!
1 In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and lard, and pulse to a fine crumble.
2 Add the egg and water. Process the mixture to a loose, crumbly meal.
3 Work the pastry into a 1"-thick round disc, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry into a ¼"-thick and 12"-round disc.
4 Roll the pastry around a rolling pin.
5 Unroll over a 9-½" springform pan.
6 Work the pastry into the edges of the pan, forming a loose, wavy crust. Chill for 10 minutes.
7 To blind bake the pastry shell, line the pastry with parchment paper and cover the bottom with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes in an oven preheated to 350ºF; remove the parchment paper and pie weights.
8 To make the filling, whisk together the maple syrup, sugar, melted butter, eggs and vinegar in a bowl.
9 Pour the mixture into the baked shell and place the pie on a baking sheet.
10 Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour on the centre rack of the oven. The pie is done when the top is golden brown but the centre is still wobbly. Let cool before serving.
Serves 8 to 10.
(This recipe was originally featured in our October 2014 issue.)
This radiant living room is layered with fresh prints reminiscent of the beach.
Designer Robyn Rider’s use of juicy prints and vivid hues ensures there’s never a dull moment in this Palm Beach-inspired Victorian home.
Much like people, houses have personalities. Some homes – let’s call them the introverts – conjure up cool elegance. Others are like peacocks: a bold bunch of extroverts boasting pattern and colour. The latter describes this 2,400-square-foot four-bedroom Victorian semi in Toronto’s Summerhill neighbourhood. Designed by Robyn Rider of Robyn Madeline Interiors, the cheery home – with its eye-catching prints in blue and white and fresh coral and green accents – takes its cues from Palm Beach, Fla., which is meaningful to the young family of three living here. “We’ve been visiting Palm Beach for the last 15 years,” says one of the homeowners. Not just bold and bright, the design has all the hallmarks of that eclectic coastal style, from the crisp white walls to the mix of natural materials, such as linen and bamboo, as well as quirky touches like the artichoke lamp and chinoiserie plant pots.
It’s exactly what the homeowners wanted. They first spotted Robyn’s work on Instagram and immediately connected with her style, exemplified in her gallery of lively rooms filled with florals, stripes and Greek key motifs that delightfully pop against neutral backdrops. “Robyn’s tastes are very similar to ours,” says the husband, who admits he prefers a brighter palette than his wife does – “I know, it’s opposite of the norm,” he adds with a laugh. But luckily, she didn’t need much convincing, and the couple called on the designer to start as soon as possible.
When Robyn arrived on the scene, the architect and contractor had already removed a structural wall that had split the back of the house into two skinny, awkward rooms. The new layout allowed for an open-flow kitchen with an eat-in area, a petite powder room and a comfy family room (not shown). The wall that divides the back of the house from the front (with its living room and entryway) stayed intact, and the kitchen’s added Dutch door, painted a snappy navy blue, connects the two areas.
Such separation is surprising, considering the trend is to leave no wall standing, keeping a communal space as open as possible. But this family needed function, says Robyn. The homeowners requested the Dutch door (split horizontally, so the top half can open while the bottom stays fixed) to keep their one-year-old daughter contained. “It’s much nicer than an unsightly baby gate,” says Robyn.
This division also allows the house to have two moods: more formal in the front (think eclectic parlour) and relaxed and kid-friendly at the back (from the eat-in area’s hard-wearing 12-foot-long banquette to the slipcovered sofa in the family room). What joins the two spaces, though, is the joyful palette. “It’s the first thing you notice when you walk in the house,” says Robyn, referring to the living room and its floral-patterned armchairs.
But she made sure to use pattern sparingly, so the scheme can be easily switched up should the homeowners tire of it. “The room’s foil is decidedly neutral. Reupholster the chairs and change the toss cushions, and you have a whole new look,” says Robyn.
Tastes evolve, after all, and what’s important in a home is that it speaks to its inhabitants. And Robyn is sure that, like her, these homeowners will always gravitate to rooms that aren’t stuffy. Last year, they hosted a boisterous party during the NHL playoffs: “We had people all over: on the sofa in the family room, on the eat-in area’s banquette, at the kitchen island and in the backyard – you can see the TV from there,” recalls one of the homeowners, who says it was truly memorable for everyone in attendance. Happy houses have that effect on people.
“White kitchens never go out of style,” says one of the homeowners of the choice to go classic with crown moulding, Caesarstone countertops and a Calacatta marble subway tile backsplash. A Dutch door, made out of two custom ones, divides the front of the house from the back.
In the radiant living room of this Toronto Victorian, designer Robyn Rider layered fresh prints that bring to mind the beach. The bold botanical armchair fabric takes centre stage, while the rug and drapery’s subtle patterns play supporting roles. “Too much pattern can make a space feel cluttered and less sophisticated,” warns Robyn.
A lively tableau under the living room’s original stained glass window features the glitz and glamour associated with Hollywood Regency decor, including a gilded artichoke table lamp, a lacquered desk, a retro bamboo chair and a chinoiserie pot.
“It’s a small space, so it can take it,” says Robyn of going for drama in the petite powder room.
“Blue and white is one of my favourite colour combinations,” says Robyn (pictured). “It’s so fresh and happy.”