Rustic-meets-refined condo design
Blogger and decorator Tim Lam adds his signature style to this 800-square-foot condo in Waterloo, Ont.
“Never underestimate the power of paint and fabric,” says decorator Tim Lam of the caned barrel-back chairs he upgraded from garage sale finds to favourite pieces in the living room. On the flip side, the sophisticated sofa is a Sarah Richardson original found on Kijiji that needed only a quick cleaning.
Where Chris is a little bit country, Tim is all city. “Chris likes rustic simplicity, and I gravitate to more polished and refined spaces,” says Tim. And who better to steer you in the right decorative direction than the one you love?
Tim insisted that the kitchen’s brown cabinetry, brown granite countertop and blue glass backsplash, which homeowner Chris Gabriel inherited with the condo, had to go. Though upgrading the countertop, replacing the marble backsplash, updating the faucet to a showpiece and adding the slide-in range was a bit of a splurge, the couple cut costs by simply repainting the existing cabinetry and applying a DIY barnboard treatment to the peninsula’s base.
Though country charm isn’t exactly in Tim’s wheelhouse, he wanted to indulge Chris’s style throughout the space – and that’s especially visible in the dining room, which doubles as an office. “That door is hands-down my favourite piece in the room,” says Tim, who found it at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore for around $100. “And I got it just like that – I didn’t have to refinish it or anything.” He did, however, tape Alanna Cavanagh’s silk-screened artwork in the window to hide the stuff inside (which includes pantry and office staples).
The sideboard in the living room offers a nod to one of Chris’s desired elements: natural wood. Above it, the gallery wall displays artwork and travel mementoes the couple has amassed over time, including a quirky cuckoo clock that references the couple’s shared affinity for birds.
The bedroom’s soothing grey, yellow and white palette allowed Tim to play with pattern, from diamonds to stripes to polka dots. Asian-inspired elements like the faux bamboo nightstands and pagoda-shaped table lamps add elegance to the geometric look.
A tiny cheater ensuite with doors leading to both the living area and the bedroom left little wall space, so Tim had the bedroom door replaced with a wall, which now accommodates artwork and a towel bar. The builder-basic vanity was cleverly customized with a brass-coated toe kick for a floating effect, while the glitzy cream and gold bird wallpaper casts a glamorous glow.
The high-gloss dark grey wall paint in the bedroom acts as a luscious counterpoint to the suble texture of the grasscloth on the feature wall behind the bed. The herringbone throw is a souvenir from Chris’s hometown in Germany.
Chris (left) is from Germany and had planned to return there, but he met and fell in love with Tim and hasn’t looked back since.
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.
Photography: Tracey Ayton
With a plan in hand and some professional guidance, these homeowners take the reins of the modern design of their spacious new home.
Wing Lau and Kevin Teo bought their first Vancouver condo because of its easy access to work and the downtown amenities – charming restaurants, chic boutiques, art galleries and more. The problem? The one-bedroom-plus-den was a tight fit for the young couple and their two dogs. “We were barely ever home because it was so cramped,” remembers Wing. Add the fact that they were recently married and planning to expand the family, and 600-square-feet wasn’t going to cut it. For these IT professionals, though, a house wasn’t the answer. “That’s too much maintenance,” says Wing.
The solution was moving to a larger condo – a new build with panoramic views and breathing room thanks to a second bedroom and bathroom, as well as a den. Being a blank slate, however, it lacked character. “We found someone to inject some flair into the place,” says Wing, referring to designer Jamie Deck of Shift Interiors.
After researching Jamie’s work online, Wing realized the company was a great fit – and not just because she liked her style. Wing is hands-on when it comes to her home. A decor enthusiast and avid DIYer, she needed a design partner, not a leader, and Jamie’s firm allows homeowners to buy blocks of time to customize the level of service, from light guidance to full execution. So Wing requested Jamie’s advice on layouts and furniture selection, and then chose her favourites. She did much of the shopping and implementation herself.
Central to the 24th-floor condo are the living-dining area’s floor-to-ceiling windows, which showcase mountain views. They’re what sold the couple on the home and naturally became a central focus for the open-concept main living area. The room’s muted colour scheme provides the perfect frame for the vista – and also reflects Wing’s personal palette. “I only ever wear black, white or grey,” she says. “So it was an easy choice.”
With its seamless modern scheme, the kitchen was another selling point for Wing and Kevin, and required no design updates. “We got lucky that this kitchen already had a look we both love,” says Wing. The cabinet fronts and island base boast a unique striated grain in warm grey and cool taupe that lends the space artistic interest and texture all on its own – no extra design flourishes required.
Though Wing had originally wanted a concrete-look accent wall in the dining area, they were concerned it would compete with the kitchen. So they settled on a dining room gallery wall – which Kevin took total ownership of – and created the feature wall in the master bedroom instead. Complementing the concrete-look surface, a custom fabric-covered headboard that stretches the entire length of one wall visually widens the space and offers a structured, unfussy vibe.
In their new space, the couple feels proud and happy. There's something gratifying about executing a flawless design as an amateur, even when it's with significant help from a professional. Though the idea of a forever home isn't something they can commit to right now, this will be their domain for at least five years. "Until we outgrow it," says Wing, "or my design bug bites again." Maybe next time she'll brave it on her own.
Homeowners Wing Lau and Kevin Teo didn’t need designer Jamie Deck’s help in designing their gallery wall. Wing has been pinning favourite pieces for years and opted for a combination of personal photos and low-cost prints. Kevin was in charge of installation. “We had painters’ tape all over the floor and outlining the gallery wall to make sure the configuration was right,” says Wing of organizing the graphic black and white pieces in the dining room.
Wing swapped the condo’s living and dining areas to create a larger and more functional living room. After all, it has to handle the couple’s two dogs and, at some point, kids. The carpet was chosen in part for its low, easy-to-clean pile (so the battle against dog hair isn’t too taxing).
For Wing, it was important to mix high and low pieces. The Parsons dining table, for example, was a total splurge. The couple saw the piece in Seattle, fell in love with it and returned to the city two months later to haul it home in the family van. It’s something Wing plans to hang on to for a long time: “My future kids will probably spill on the table,” says Wing with a laugh. “But we’re okay with that.”
Prior to purchasing any furniture, the couple brought home fabric swatches to ensure everything matched with the kitchen cabinetry. “With its interesting grain, it almost plays the role of a feature wall,” says Wing. So it dictated what she and Kevin did with the rest of the space. “We couldn’t choose anything that competed with that.”
The kitchen is the literal and figurative centre of the apartment: It overlooks the living and dining room, benefits from the stunning view out the floor-to-ceiling windows and is a place Wing and Kevin spend a lot of time, doing everything from cooking breakfast to entertaining company.
Jamie suggested multiple furniture configurations for the master bedroom, but they settled on a set-up that takes advantage of the mountain views. The space is a lesson in how to create a successful high-low mix: The head-board was custom-made by Shift Interiors, but Kevin painted the concrete-look feature wall himself. The bedding and toss cushions are big-box-store finds.
With its simple mirror, metal console and wooden stool, the entryway announces the muted palette present throughout the space. Floating circular hooks offer a functional yet chic place to hang coats.
The bathroom echoes the kitchen with the same seamless cabinetry, but the countertop adds another layer of pattern that the kitchen lacks, proving it’s easy to be more daring with design in closed-off spaces. His and hers sinks allow for stress-free mornings.
This muted media room gives us a lesson on how to do white right
Take design cues from this serene all-white living space.
While a neutral scheme may look easy to execute, it’s often just the opposite. This muted media room gives us a lesson on how to do white right.