House tour: Timeless and modern Christmas
At Style at Home senior style editor Ann Marie Favot's midtown Toronto house, Christmas is lovingly created by hand with both budget and elegance in mind.
It’s hard not to get carried away when hosting a holiday feast: formal table settings, complete with chargers and centrepieces, party favours and place cards, oh my! Trees are decorated to the nines, gifts are wrapped so beautifully you never want to open them and glittering decorations capture everyone’s eye, whichever way they happen to glance. This time of year, over the top can be an understatement, and inhibitions about spending seem to soar out the window.
But Style at Home’s senior style editor, Ann Marie Favot, has found that fine holiday balance. She hosts some of the most elegant affairs featuring personalized menus, signature drinks, two trees and gold and blue accents – everywhere. Yet the look is refined, the decor tasteful and the price tag minimal. After all, savvy Annie does a lot of it by hand and on a budget. It’s no Christmas miracle that it all looks so beautiful.
A small faux tree in the entryway sets the party’s tone for arriving guests. What does it say? The pretty champagne-coloured ice bucket holding the tree: “This is a somewhat formal affair.” The luxe sheepskin it’s set upon: “But we’ll make sure you feel comfortable while you’re here.” The ornaments hung from the tree with ribbon instead of the wire they came with: “Extra handmade effort went into this event.” All in all, it says, “This is Christmas. And a chic one at that.”
Make a statement on your staircase – especially if it’s in the entryway. Here’s an easy way to do so that looks glitzy and expensive but costs very little in terms of time and money: Suspend a multi-stringed beaded garland along your banister using white ribbon. Wire together trios of ornaments and attach them to the ribbon. Tuck in gilded leaves for extra flourish and – voila! You’re the queen of Christmas crafts.
Here lies proof that a topper isn’t the most essential element for a decorated tree. On Annie’s evergreen, the perfectly coordinated ornaments stand for themselves, and a topper would have just drawn onlookers’ eyes away from those efforts. So put away that oversized star or handcrafted Christmas angel, and leave your treetop au naturel. It has a humble country look that complements Annie’s contemporary space. Don’t be afraid to switch out your everyday decor for the seasonal stuff, says Annie. Here, she simply removed a piece of artwork from her gallery wall and replaced it with a gold metal wreath hung from a pretty blue ribbon. She didn’t need to make a new hole in her wall, and her holiday decorations seem to seamlessly blend in with what’s always been there, for a look that’s festive but far from over the top.
When homeowner and Style at Home senior style editor Ann Marie Favot hosts a dinner for family or friends, Christmastime or not, she likes to keep everyone's glasses full. But ducking in and out of the kitchen means she misses out on her guests' anecdotes and punchlines, so she creates a bar station in the room where the action happens. On her dining room console, Annie used a simple gold tray to corral her bar elements, then she selected a signature drink to serve guests. "To be honest, I chose this cocktail because it matched my palette," she says.
Last Christmas’s boxwood wreaths dried out over the course of the year and, at first, Annie considered tossing them out. But, ever the inventive decorista, she had an idea: She could turn misfortune into fortune by spray-painting the browning wreaths gold – a quick trick that both prevents them from crumbling and also reinforces her holiday colour palette.
The dining table is beautifully set with an air of formality at a casual price. Craft store gift tags were turned into place cards with the wave of a gold pen, while menus were made from plain card stock with the courses handwritten on each and a decorative label placed at the top. It’s a personal touch that doesn’t require spending a fortune at the printer’s.
From the gifts to the tabletop decor, the beautiful blue and gold colour palette is reinforced right down to the napkins.
Cohesion is key to constructing a grouping of stylishly wrapped presents. Annie chose four coordinating papers in solid colours and subtle patterns, and created easy cards and toppers to make them stand out. Instead of buying pricey gift tags, she personalized plain white craft store ones with simple stickers, or placed sticky name tag labels directly on the gift wrap. She also played with layers of ribbon and twine on each gift in addition to using traditional bows.
Christmas crackers are often as pretty as they are fun to pop open, so why hide them away until the big dinner? Instead of filling a bowl with shimmery Christmas ornaments or rustic pinecones, Annie used gold crackers for an uncomplicated festive display. The bonus? With space at a premium during the holidays, it’s nice to be able to store stuff in plain sight without having it look like clutter.
It’s all in the details. Sure, this pretty toss cushion wasn’t brought out exclusively for Santa. But we love how Annie’s blue, white and gold Christmas scheme echoes her home’s everyday palette, right down to the smallest notion – like a gold zipper on a custom blue and white toss cushion.
Satisfy even the most discerning epicureans on your list with one of these fashionable foodie-approved finds.
We all have that person in our life who can prepare an intricate meal without so much as glancing at a recipe. That person who dabbles in all things culinary related on a daily basis and has a kitchen pantry that rivals that of celebrity chef Mark McEwan (or it at least comes close). Not sure what to treat them to this holiday season? Browse through our list of food-related gift ideas for inspiration.
A heart-smart treat for the health food aficionado in your life, this carefully curated six-pack of cold-pressed juices contains almost two pounds of fruit and veg in every bottle! Cold-pressed Juices, Dose Juice, $42 per 6-piece pack.
This elegant Art Deco-style coffee dripper is for your friend who has one foot planted firmly at home and the other off in some distant Parisian patisserie. Hario stainless copper Coffee Dripper, Indigo, $100.
If the Bat Cave had a coffee maker, this would be it. Nespresso’s latest boasts a matte black finish befitting anyone in need of a caffeine jolt before saving Gotham City. VertuoLine Coffee Machine in Matte Black, Nespresso, $249.
This high-ranking mustard deserves your salute. Flavoured with decadent wine and truffles – and only available for a limited time – it’s a covetable condiment fit for any top official. Black Truffle and Chablis Mustard, Maille, $43 US.
These striking mugs echo exotic corners of the earth that yield top-notch coffee, from Sumatra to Costa Rica. Pair a mug with beans from the same region for a gift guaranteed to please any java junkie. Stamp Art Mugs, Starbucks, $19 each.
These pretty, precious and feminine flasks are almost too stylish to sully with alcohol – but everyone has a friend who would! Stainless steel Odeme Flasks, 90 ml, West Elm, $29 US each.
This vintage-look colander is a timeless classic that takes an everyday kitchen tool from dull to display-worthy. Copper-plated steel Colander in Gold, Anthropologie, $34 US.
This Scandi-chic French press in pale pink (with a pretty copper detail) is not only a beautiful vessel for your morning brew, but also an ideal addition to any open shelf. Ceramic French Press in Sand, Yield Design Co., $120 US.
Treat fans of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation to “the gift that keeps on giving.” Translation: their very own Jelly of the Month Club gift set! (Reference lost on you? See here.) Griswold Jelly of the Month Club Gift Set, Retro Festive, $40.
It may resemble salami, but this treat is made entirely out of chocolate. Containing hazelnuts, almonds, cherries and even rum, the confection is a certified crowd-pleaser – especially when presented on a cutting board. Chocolate salami, SOMA Chocolatemaker, $23.
Count on Alessi to make a conventional utensil undeniably sleek. Crafted from stainless steel and boasting a unique shape, the modern citrus squeezer also doubles as a pestle. Valerio Citrus Squeezer, Alessi, $71.
Building a beautiful cheese platter is something of an art form, but it helps to have stylish spreaders to complement the nibbles. This gorgeous set with rose quartz handles will make any table sparkle. Rose Quartz Spreaders, HomeSense, $15 4-piece set.
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.
6 tips for avoiding renovation mistakes
Having experienced many renos, Scott McGillivray has seen a lot of mistakes made. Some are big, some are small, but they all have one thing in common: They don’t need to happen. Scott shares his list of the top home renovation mistakes and easy ways to avoid them.
1 Poor preparation
A proper renovation takes preparation – lots of it. A detailed plan will help keep you on budget and on time. Set out a very specific agreement with your contractor before the work begins and get everything in writing. You should be able to see on paper how your renovation is going to play out before it even begins.
2 Buying before planning
I can’t stress this enough: Don’t buy materials or appliances until your renovation is planned out and all measurements have been taken. Online sales can be tempting, but that great deal on a 24-inch dishwasher isn’t going to save you any money if you only have room for an 18-inch model.
3 Ignoring issues
When you tear down walls or rip up floors, there’s a good chance you’re going to find something you weren’t expecting, especially in an older home. Electrical and plumbing issues need to be dealt with before you close the walls back up. It might be an unexpected renovation cost up front, but it will save you tons of money in the long run.
4 Cutting corners
Don’t do it. Much like ignoring issues, cutting corners on materials or finishes is only going to cause you problems in the future. It’s always better to go the extra mile and do it right the first time than have to go back and redo everything. Hire competent people to do the job, buy quality materials and take the time to complete all the necessary steps.
5 Unlicensed trades
There are projects that any reliable contractor can take on; then there are specialized projects that require a licensed professional to complete. Electrical, plumbing, HVAC, asbestos removal and anything to do with gas or the structure of your home should always be completed by a licensed professional in that specific trade.
6 Too much DIY
I love ambitious homeowners who want to take part in their home renovations, but there comes a time when it’s best to hand the reins over to the professionals. Projects like cabinetry installation, complicated tile work and carpentry are beyond the scope of most homeowners and can reduce the value of your home if done incorrectly. My advice? Involve yourself in the demo – it’s the most fun part, anyway!