Drab kitchen goes bold in black and white
A Toronto couple with a shared vision cooks up an ambitious renovation plan for their outdated kitchen and backyard.
They say a renovation can lead to a separation, but that couldn’t be further from the truth for this Toronto couple. “We agree on absolutely everything design-wise,” says Melissa Evans-Lee, marketing director of Bayview Village Shopping Centre, about her media CEO hubby, John Lee. “Sometimes I think we share a brain.” The pair’s united vision for the three-bedroom Victorian fixer-upper they purchased in the city’s west end in 2006 was clear – and ambitious.
Over the course of a decade, every room was redone, but it all began with the kitchen, a priority for these foodies and skilled home chefs. A total gut job liberated the 135-square-foot pass-through cooking space from its decrepit pale yellow-painted wooden cabinetry, dark green linoleum flooring and outdated basic appliances. The original window and radiator were left intact, lending old-world character to newly installed budget-friendly modern finishes in white. Oh, and the walls were painted black. When asked about the bold choice, Melissa laughs. “Is it? We didn’t get the memo,” adding that nearly every wall in the house was painted a dark colour, from charcoal to navy. Black also spills out to the backyard for an extra dose of drama.
Thanks to a generous helping of black paint and a good dose of stainless steel, Melissa Evans-Lee and John Lee’s Toronto kitchen oozes sophistication. Tidy open storage and the large original window mask its modest proportions.
“I’m a very visual person, so I like to have everything on display,” says Melissa with regard to the plenitude of open storage. But she does admit that keeping everything orderly requires a certain personality type (“Can you say OCD?” she says with a laugh). Everyday dishes and oft-used ingredients are kept in sight on floating shelves and in the island’s open base, while overflow is hidden away in a small pantry. Black and white accessories throughout look fancy and offer function.
“I think saying dark walls make a room feel dim or small is a complete fallacy,” says Melissa. “Black adds something really amazing to the mix: drama.” Case in point is this group of picture ledges she uses to display her best-loved cookbooks, which rivals some of the most affecting art walls.
Potted herbs enliven the kitchen’s dramatic black and white scheme and also add a nature-inspired feel that helps create a connection between the indoors and out.
Whether dining on buffet-style tacos or a four-course meal, guests enjoy interior-calibre comfort on vintage Bertoia chairs and the newly built-in banquette, which Melissa cleverly cushioned using dog beds and indoor toss cushions. “Everything is movable,” she says. “These chairs can easily go in the dining room, the toss cushions in the den.”
Choice furnishings and accessories (in a chic black and white scheme that matches the interior) create an integrated outdoor dining space – “it’s oven to patio table in about five steps,” says Melissa – that plays host to dinners à deux and mingling guests alike.
Tucked into a corner of the backyard, this stone patio outfitted with vintage metal seating and a hand-me-down coffee table is a serene spot for lazing around with a book under the pleasant shade of two mature trees. Low-maintenance potted ferns add fluffy texture.
Recipe: Moroccan sweet potato, red quinoa & chickpea salad with honey harissa dressing
A main course, Moroccan-inspired red quinoa salad made with a zesty Harissa (hot chili paste) dressing.
For honey harissa dressing
For the salad
1 Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the honey harissa dressing.
2 Toss 1⁄4 cup of the dressing with the sweet potatoes and spread out onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Toss another 2 tablespoons of the dressing with the chickpeas and spread out onto another parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Place both baking sheets in the oven and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are tender.
3 In a small pot, bring the beluga lentils and 4 cups cold water to a simmer. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Drain, rinse and place in a large bowl, along with the roasted sweet potatoes and chickpeas.
4 Meanwhile, in another small pot, bring the red quinoa and 4 cups water to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer for 12 minutes. Drain the quinoa and let dry in the sieve for 2 minutes. Add to the sweet potato mixture.
5 Stir in the green onions, pumpkin seeds, pecans, mint and cranberries. Drizzle with the remaining dressing and toss gently to combine. Place the warm salad on a large serving platter and garnish with the fresh pomegranate seeds and mint leaves. Serve.
Stylish sun-filled family room.
A time-worn Toronto house is transformed into a lively family home with a welcoming design.
"We moved so we could have a pool,” says homeowner and decorator Jenifer Glover of J.G. Interiors. It was 2008, and she and her husband, Norm Brownstein, were keen to create a fun backyard oasis in the city for their four children: Gabriele, 15, Jackson, 13, Hayden, 10, and Maya, 7.
So when a house with pool potential in a prime Toronto neighbourhood came up for sale, they took the plunge, even though it was far from perfect. “We loved the location and the lot, which had space for a pool, but we didn’t love the house,” says Jenifer. “It was a rundown 1930s build with faux Tudor features. Our plan was to freshen up the rooms with paint to tide us over until the eventual tear-down and rebuild.”
Jenifer relaxes on a black leather bench in the family room.
Jennifer's family room before the elegant home renovation.
The design of the sun-filled family room had a surprising jumping-off point: the television. “With the TV in place on a custom cabinet, I designed the shelves above it and repeated them and the cabinet on the other side of the fireplace,” says Jenifer. “This symmetry allowed me to fill the opposite space with artwork that balances out the television.”
Lively patterned toss cushions dress up the family room’s classic linen sofa.
This vignette design in the family room is testament to homeowner Jenifer Glover’s personalized approach to decorating: “These are things I’ve picked up over time because I love them.”
Crafted from the same walnut as the kitchen island, the family room’s custom wood cabinets and shelves are both stylish and practical. “The wood ties these rooms together while really warming up the space,” says Jenifer.
The kitchen before its complete restaurant-inspired renovation.
Wooden accents and sophisticated accessories infuse the new-build kitchen with old-world charm. The gold-framed mirrors reflect one of Jennifer’s favourite inspirations: restaurant design. “I love sitting in restaurants that have mirrors angled downward – the light and the images that bounce back are wonderful.” Secondhand bentwood stools and an elaborate chandelier from France have a rich vintage feel that tempers the room’s white surfaces. The steel window frames and mullions were painted black to mimic the industrial appearance of the French doors.
A rustic-look dining table in the kitchen's eat-in area holds up to a house full of kids because, according to Jenifer, “It only gets better with age.” The space features framed artwork created by the couple’s children. “It’s elements like kids’ art that turn a house into a home,” she says.
Anything but oppressive, a dramatic black painted ceiling glams up the formal dining room. “It feels like the night sky,” says Jenifer. With leather and chrome dining chairs, a vintage-look brass pendant light and a traditional rug, the room has an edgy eclectic vibe.
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.