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: 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.
Image by: Tracey Ayton / Design: Kerrisdale Design
Get the inside scoop on the year's most popular design trends.
Every year brings with it hot new trends and this year’s design trends are sure to get you excited about making some changes at home. Whether you’re thinking about something small scale like painting your powder room in one of the year’s hottest shades or going bigger with beautiful architectural features, these ideas from designers are sure to inspire!
Credit: Amber Interiors
1 "I think that a top design trend will be spaces that are more relaxed and casual with nothing too fussy or sparkly. Call it a restrained and tailored boho aesthetic; think Amber Interiors. Linen or velvet seating (in performance fabrics, of course), a mixture of woods and textures and nothing matching or contrived. Worn, antique area rugs, handmade block print fabrics and a real plant or two add to the layered yet edited feel and give a home soul." - Interior Designer, Vanessa Francis.
Photography: Tracey Ayton / Design: Kerrisdale Design
2 "Look for interior finishings to take centre stage in 2017. While decorative elements like furniture and wallpaper have traditionally set the trends, increasing attention is being paid to the bones of a house. Applied mouldings, interior doors, archways and window casings are becoming more elaborate as homeowners discover that architectural features can make bold statements too." - Blogger and Designer, Jennifer Flores.
3 "Today, forest green has made a comeback and is seen mixed with deep woods and black hardware and punches of brass to make it pop. Go bold and paint a powder room green. Pair with an antique chest turned-vanity and some brass pulls and brass faucet." - Interior Designer, Tara Fingold.
Photography: Stacey Brandford / Design: Jessica Claire Interiors
4 "My favourite design for 2017 is wallpaper that mimics a wall mural. There are some incredible designs on the market where wallcoverings depict designs like large scale florals or hand painted landscapes. The dramatic impact is pretty incredible, and I love how it adds a bit of a handmade influence to any room." - Designer, Lisa Canning.
Credit: Colette Grand Cafe
5 "One top design trend is to introduce unconventional design elements into our homes. Whether your inspiration is a sensational bar shelf suspended from the ceiling at Colette, the stunning floor to ceiling glass walls at The Chase Toronto, or the metal trim detail between floor tiles at most commercial spaces, 2017 is the year for innovative ideas so why not be inspired by our favourite restaurants or the beautifully designed stores as we shop for the holidays?" - Blogger and Decorator, Tim Lam.
6 "Loft-inspired design has been around for few decades but we're seeing a resurgence of this trend with the black steel factory door. The large black grid of these elegant beauties are not only attractive but they provide great sight lines to the outdoors, further forging the relationship between indoor and outdoor living. They can easily elevate any modern or traditional home whether as a patio door, room divider or shower door. With this much versatility, it's easy to see why the black steel factory door is expected to be a big winner in 2017!" - Designer, Andrea Haraldsen.
Photography: Michael Graydon / Design: Sam Sacks Design
7 "Give way to lighter woods! We’re seeing a move towards a blonder, natural looking wood from floor to ceiling. Wider plank hardwood with an oiled/ matte finish is a great choice in creating visual interest and providing a neutral backdrop for furniture and other interior elements. Natural, rift cut oak is a great option for cabinetry, pairing well with walnut and darker woods and even painted finishes. Light wood is extremely versatile and a great way to add warmth and texture throughout a home without it feeling overpowering or heavy." - Interior Designer, Nyla Free.
25 ways to decorate with paint
These tips and tricks on how to decorate with paint will breathe new life into a dull, tired home.
Update your home's interior and exterior using a fresh coat of paint to decorate. Bring energy and optimism, create a calming, relaxed atmosphere and renew old furniture using paint colours, finishes and accents .
1 Establish a more intimate space by painting the ceiling a darker colour, creating the illusion of a lower ceiling.
2 Soften an awkwardly angled wall or room by painting it one solid colour.
3 For a modern effect try painting the walls and trim the same colour. Use a flat paint for the walls and a semi-gloss for the trim.
4 Make a tight space seem larger and airier by painting the ceiling a lighter version of the hue painted on the room’s walls or white.
5 Paint your front door a statement colour that stands out from the rest of the house. Try a gorgeous historical blue or a radiant ruby red - not something you see every day.
6 A home's exterior plays a large part in how the world, or at least neighbours and visitors, see you. Revitalize your home with a fresh coat of paint every three to six years.
7 If you want to invigorate your home's exterior without painting the entire exterior, freshen up the trim. White or rich neutrals, depending on the house's exterior colour, can easily update the look of your house.
8 Shutters and porch gables are the perfect place to express a love for colour and decorate with paint.
9 If you really want to set a mood in a room, then use different paint hues to create an energetic or relaxed atmosphere or to warm up or cool down a space.
10 Ash purples, bronzed greens and lacquer reds reflect a feminine classicism, inspired by needlework, appliqués and period furniture, that is back in style.
11 Conjure up images of rural life with wonderfully rustic plum, teal and red clay tones.
12 If you have a lot of dark wood furniture add an exotic, Middle Eastern influence by painting the walls a deep, rich purple or blue.
13 Expressing your individuality in your paint colour choices can result in more unexpected pairings of colour, pattern and design styles.
14 If you’re colour shy, go with all-white walls. The absence of colour is as effective as the presence of colour.
15 Use a variety of neutral shades and have fun mixing several textures in your rooms to keep things interesting.
16 When choosing a bold colour be sure to tie it into the whole scheme of the room.
17 Contemporary paint effects like stencils and colour washes create interest and surprise. Think of these effects as unframed artwork adorning your walls.
18 Use lightly washed stripes to create a sophisticated French country look (especially if you use blue, yellow or white hues). This is a subtle technique that adds texture and sheen to a room.
19 Create a fun mural, like clouds or the night sky, on the ceiling. This is a great way to decorate with paint in a child's room, nursery or family room.
20 Fresco is a wonderful painting technique that can help hide surface imperfections. It gives a soft, mottled look that adds depth and interest to your walls.
21 Add a splash of colour to neutral walls by selecting zones on a wall or ceiling and painting them a different, often contrasting, colour from the main wall. This technique is known as colour blocking.
Accents & accessories
22 Feature a wall at one end of a hallway by painting it a contrasting, dramatic colour; that will serve to visually bring it forward.
23 Give chairs, dressers, drawers, tables and desks a new lease on life with a new colour or coat of paint. You’ll be surprised how quickly that old, ugly chair becomes your new favorite accent piece.
24 Get in touch with you inner Pollock by applying dripped and splattered paint to an article of furniture. Make sure the piece is painted a solid colour (preferably white or black) before you start throwing different paint shade onto it.
25 Make the kitchen pop by bringing in a bold colour. Paint the backsplash or the cabinetry a bright colour that you love (and can live with).