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.
A once tiny starter house is transformed into one family's dream home.
A young family goes from starter home to forever home – without moving! – thanks to two talented and trustworthy designers.
How to Build Your Dream House 101, a case study. Lesson One: Start from the ground up. When these homeowners (he’s a lawyer, she’s a nutritionist and stay-at-home mom) realized that the tiny Vancouver bungalow they’d been living in for the past 12 years was far too small for their family (which includes two growing boys, aged 9 and 10), they had it bulldozed. They loved their lot, but the home had never been renovated, and the foundation footprint needed to be expanded before they could go bigger – so demolition was the obvious option.
Lesson Two: Understand exactly what your dream house entails. Having lived on the property for more than a decade, the homeowners had crystal-clear ideas about how to make the most of the ample light and stunning views. Plus, they analyzed their lifestyle and knew what it demanded – a large open-concept living space (so the family could be close even when they’re not in the same room); plenty of über-organized storage (since this super-sporty gang bikes, skis, swims and plays soccer); a quiet area away from the kids (because, well, kids); and a kitted-out kitchen for the wife, who’s an avid home chef.
Lesson Three (and perhaps the most important of them all): Hire people you trust to deliver the dream. Enter Sophie Burke, whose sister introduced her to the wife (they’re friends). “I felt Sophie would understand the needs of a young family and not make things too precious,” says the wife. “I had seen her clean, elegant and sophisticated style on her Pinterest boards and in other projects she’d done and just knew that if I couldn’t decide on something, I’d be happy with her choices.”
Sophie and the project’s lead designer, Jennifer Millar, were involved from the start – from recommending an architect to build the 2,800-square-foot four-bedroom house to shopping for its finishing touches. “Both designers are smart and talented, and I was always impressed with their selections – unique and interesting yet unfussy,” says the wife. “How could I not trust them?”
With carte blanche to create the family’s dream home, Sophie and Jennifer set about creating a traditional aesthetic (which ties in the exterior architecture) with a clean, contemporary character. “Finding the right balance between the two styles was one of the biggest challenges for us,” says Sophie. But the timeless and trendy palette of black, white and grey used throughout the space helped unify it all. In the open-concept family room, dining area and kitchen, old-world touches like window casings, wall panelling and thick baseboards are tempered by sleek simple-lined furnishings and punched up by of-the-moment elements, such as herringbone tiles, brass hardware, Mid-Century Modern pieces and industrial light fixtures.
The designers also delivered all the practical features the homeowners sought: a quiet sitting room closed-off from the rest of the house, ample storage to accommodate all the kitchen gadgets and sports gear, a separate upstairs bathroom for the boys and a rec room and laundry room in the basement. In addition to the homeowners’ family-friendly requests, Sophie and Jennifer offered up another brilliant idea: to include an office nook in the family room so the kids would have a spot to complete their homework while remaining close to their parents. No doubt the homeowners will be thanking the designers for years to come – not only for delivering their dream home but also for anticipating needs they hadn’t considered. It goes to show how far the words “I trust you” can take you. That’s the best lesson we learned today.
The small sitting room of this Vancouver home is closed off from the rest of the open-concept living space. A retreat where the family reads or the adults entertain, it’s a spot for solitude in this otherwise ultra-active household.
“The homeowner is a really talented baker and cook. Her former kitchen was teeny tiny and cut off from the rest of the house, but she still came up with incredible creations,” raves designer Sophie Burke. In the sprawling new space, with its ample storage, second oven and magic corner (to name just a few highlights), we can only imagine the meals this home chef now creates! (Drool....)
The kitchen’s herringbone-tiled walls offer a dramatic yet subtle look.The trendy pattern is grouted in grey for a more vintage vibe – a testament to the interplay of new world and old in the house.
The family didn’t need a formal dining room, but they did desire a large space for hosting holiday dinners. So Sophie and her colleague, Jennifer Millar, selected a dining table that can extend to seat 16 and stashed an extra pair of chairs in the boys’ rooms to accommodate more bums. The striking light fixture lends the perfect industrial edge to the panelled wall. “Jennifer is a genius at sourcing lighting,” says Sophie.
“We just went all in,” says Sophie of covering the main-floor powder room walls in chic gold polka-dot wallpaper. While the brass picture light and faucet follow suit, the simple mirror and sink temper all the glitz and glam.
With a cubby for each family member along one wall and meticulously laid-out closets on the other, the mud room is an ultra-organized treat for the active family.
The cozy family room, which has its own office area, is open to the kitchen so the homeowners can keep an eye on the kids, whether they’re doing homework or watching TV.
Grey paint not only modernizes the traditional panelled wall but also blends in with the TV.
Simple, serene and pared back, the master bedroom, with its layered textures and neutral hues, is one of the most feminine rooms in the house, says Sophie.
Refined eclectic condo design
Designer Olivia Hnatyshin has a case of the blues... but in the best way possible.
The living room's custom sofa was one of Olivia's first investment pieces. “It fits four or five people comfortably,” she says, “so it’s perfect on movie nights.” Whether it’s a cocktail party or a casual get-together, the young designer loves to host.
Another enterprising effort was accommodating her childhood piano – which Olivia’s parents threatened to give away if she didn’t take. “It’s just one big, non-functional piece of furniture,” she says. “Creating a vignette around it with a tufted bench and pretty artwork helped distract from the fact that I have a huge, clunky black piano in my hall.” And she’s glad it’s there: The stylish setting encourages her to play it whenever there’s a spare moment in her busy life.
“Sometimes if you go literal with a certain theme, it works,” says Olivia, who typically mixes styles and eras, but in her entryway stuck to a strong Chinese influence, from the Foo dogs to the faux bamboo mirror and console. The leopard-print stool is actually Olivia’s old piano bench updated with fresh fabric.
The pagoda chair Olivia’s sitting in is one of her favourite pieces in the home. “It’s like my spirit animal,” she says. It was a steal at $90 and already upholstered in a fabric she loves.
Olivia didn’t change much about the builder-grade white kitchen, apart from adding a portable island as extra counter space for cooking and entertaining. “Where do I draw the line when I know this isn’t my forever space?” Olivia asked herself. For her, it proved to be the kitchen.
“Turquoise has been my favourite colour since I was little,” says Olivia. “I’m always drawn to it.” This is evidenced in the array of toss cushions on display on the living room sofa.
“Bedrooms should be a little more moody,” says Olivia of the reason hers is imbued with deeper blues than the rest of the condo. The room’s starting point was the Schumacher fabric on the lumbar cushion – the wallpaper and bedding fell easily into place after that. Above the bed, the gallery of small plates provides an unexpected spin on the traditional. Some are extras from Olivia’s own dish set, others are from her mom and the light blue one in the centre is a hand-me-down from Olivia’s paternal grandmother.
The armoire in the living room was a $300 antiques store score and acts as Olivia's media unit, where she tucks the TV out of sight when not in use. The artwork flanking it is also a creative moneysaver: framed coaster souvenirs from a trip to New York City. She also incorporated refinished vintage furniture, such as the sidechairs flanking the living room armoire.
The living room is awash in watery blues that are amplified in glass details for an airy, ethereal effect.
A kitchen boasting restaurant-design pedigree
Trendy meets traditional in this family home built from scratch.
Homeowner Tanya Krpan (pictured here) saved on accessories by loading the family room sectional with an assortment of ready-made toss cushions.
Tanya isn’t afraid to play with negative space, as seen in the home’s grand entryway. “Normally, you’d expect a mirror or big piece of art hanging above the wainscotting,” she says. Leaving the wall blank and layering small pieces on the console allows the millwork to shine.
Black casement windows and decorative accents create contrast in the neutral space. Tanya scored the vintage coffee table when her office was being redecorated.
The family room’s classic-cool mix feels right for a young family.
The kitchen, of course, is the true star of the show. Tanya’s restaurant-design pedigree shines through in the room’s floor-to-ceiling tiles, mix of open and closed storage and high-end appliances. She opted for white Shaker-style cabinetry and warmed up the space with a walnut island and brass hardware statement lighting and fixtures.
Another bistro-inspired touch was her choice of dark honed-limestone tiles for most of the main floor. “The tile grounds the space since there’s an abundance of white everywhere,” Tanya explains. “And it’s proven great for hiding dirt.”
Everything in the Krpans’ home is designed for everyday life and entertaining, from the large sectional in the family room to the round tables in the dining room and the kitchen’s eat-in area. “It’s more social to sit at a round table,” says Tanya. “You see everyone’s faces.”
Cabinets with glass doors allow Tanya to display her favourite serving pieces and special glassware. She had the back of the kitchen cabinets tiled to highlight this focal point of the kitchen.
Tanya and Jure – with their sons, Ivan, 3, and Cruz, 2 – have recently welcomed a baby girl named Belle.
The living room’s crisp white, grey and black scheme gets an energy boost from fresh greenery, pops of pink and plenty of pattern – check out the Moroccan-style rug, the ikat-print and chevron-patterned toss cushions and the graphic stool fabric.
To offset the costs of the more expensive permanent elements, Tanya was meticulous with her decorating budget. She incorporated secondhand pieces, such as the family room coffee table, and sourced inexpensive art for the living room mantel. Affordable colourful accessories add youthful edginess to the living spaces. “I love the femininity that the splashes of pink add to the living room and family room,” she says. “Plus, by the time I got to the decorating, I was living with three boys!”
In the dining room, Tanya likes the juxtaposition of the modern Sputnik-inspired chandelier with the traditional coffered ceiling. The artwork was a DIY project Tanya and Jure painted together on her 30th birthday.
Though this house has been well loved for years, there’s a sequel in the works: Tanya and Jure are in the process of building a new home. “We’ll keep some of the same elements but go a little more modern in the kitchen,” says Tanya. We’ll definitely stay tuned.