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.
Take a peek inside this renovated schoolhouse.
What better place to spend the winter than in an old schoolhouse in an idyllic rural setting?
Growing up in Toronto and then living in Vancouver for 21 years, Janet Appleton, owner of The Dog Tack Shop, was a devoted city girl with a low-maintenance condo as her dwelling of choice. Then one fateful date, she happened upon a real-estate listing for a converted heritage schoolhouse on eight acres in Schomberg, Ont. "I saw it online and fell completely in love," she confesses. "It was all purple inside with shag carpeting everywhere. Everyone tried to talk me out of it, but I had a vision."
Moving back to Ontario meant being closer to family and many of the craftspeople she works with for her business. So in a lifestyle-changing move, she bought the place, taking possession of the property more than three years ago with her two boxers, Marco and Benny, in tow.
Nestled into eight acres of bucolic countryside, the Old Deacon Schoolhouse is a well-preserved example of a typical rural Ontario schoolhouse.
Although the schoolhouse isn't designated a heritage building, Janet was determined to design the interior with an environmentally aware decor approach that respected its history.
Janet with her two boxers, Marco and Benny, on the steps of the schoolhouse. Many bricks on the home's exterior have children's initials etched into them.
A few boughs of natural greenery adorn the entryway door. Homeowner Janet Appleton has no idea what the numbers at the entrance might have meant but she and her guests love to speculate.
An iron staircase salvaged from Toronto's first telegram building leads to the loft. Janet ripped shag carpeting off its treads to reveal the maker's mark from St.Lawrence Foundry.
Antique books include her great-grandfather's bible and her great-grandmother's hymnal. The bench, marked 1954, was a gift from her grandfather to her mother.
In the main living room, the doors flanking the fireplace mantel are the original boys' and girls' entrances to the school. Stained-glass windows were added in a previous renovation. Janet's mother, Judith, lovingly helped source many of the home's furnishings, including the dark grey Louis-style armchair.
The harvest table in the dining area was one of the many pieces left behind by the previous owners that Janet was able to incorporate into the new design. Huge barn beams were left intact and exposed to lend warmth to the predominantly white interior.
During the winter, Janet decorates with a light touch, utilizing the natural materials found in abundance on her property.
Image: Nicole Cohen
After a series of nips and tucks, a derelict brownstone in Brooklyn, N.Y., reaches its full potential – and then some.
Four years ago, Nicole and Jordan Stein made the trip from the maelstrom of midtown Manhattan to a quiet, leafy street in Brooklyn that, compared with the city, felt downright pastoral. They had come to tour a brownstone as part of an estate sale, and immediately saw its potential despite certain drawbacks.
“I definitely had some trepidation because the house was in extremely rough shape,” says Nicole, who designs fine jewellery she sells through her online Etsy shop, ByNicoleAlexis. Conversely, Jordan, a Montreal-born business consultant and entrepreneur, was confident it could be brought back to life – after all, he had watched his parents successfully transform a beat-up Vermont ranch when he was younger.
“Our goal was to marry classic architecture with a modern aesthetic,” says Nicole, who wanted the interior envelope to look original to the house. Though the idea of gutting the space and blasting out the walls was brought up, it didn’t get far. “We bought a brownstone, not a condo,” says Nicole cheekily. “Sure, we have a narrow hallway and a tiny powder room, and yes, it’s a little quirky, but it’s true to the original home.” So the small rooms remained intact and were slowly brought back to code over the course of a year under their contractor’s exacting eye.
Next up? Christine Dovey, a designer based in Oakville, Ont., who has remotely kitted out homes (via email) from America to Norway, stepped in to apply her signature style: ravishing rooms with traditional architectural details in a modern palette of black and white with bursts of pink; spaces in which provocative contemporary artwork often sits alongside antique furnishings.
To deliver an authentic period look, Christine suggested the homeowners invest in crown mouldings. “Nicole wanted something that looked like it was there originally, so we went with big plaster mouldings as a splurge on the living room ceiling but regular crown throughout,” says Christine. Making sure the interior looked more downtown than Downton, the designer balanced the historic architectural elements with what she calls “a mixed bag of edgy yet elegant furnishings.”
In need of some hand holding a little closer to home, Nicole also worked with local designer Natalie Kraiem, who helped achieve the look by choosing key pieces including the rugs and living room artwork.
The sculptural replace in the eat-in area of this Brooklyn, N.Y., brownstone was in such rough shape, it had to be removed and rebuilt. Above it, the enormous antique filigree mirror that belonged to the previous owners lends romance to the space. “We loved it so much we negotiated it as part of the sale of the house,” says homeowner Nicole Stein.
Dripping with crystal beads, the antique brass basket chandelier was a splurge, but Nicole insists it’s a forever piece. “I’m crazy about it too,” says designer Christine Dovey. “I love how it contrasts the rough-hewn wooden table.” The bespoke kitchen peninsula, with its marble waterfall edge, was also pricey, but Nicole had the fabricator use the scraps to make luxurious window ledges. “Everyone comments on them,” she says.
A blend of vintage- and modern-look furnishings gives the formal living room an eclectic, collected feel. Sculptural retro Alky chairs are a fun contrast to the stiff-backed caned settee. Heavyweight-cotton curtains draw the eye up to the 11-foot- high ceiling. They were originally placeholders, but looked so fabulous that Nicole decided to keep them – proving that you don’t always need to spend a mint on custom drapery.
Inspired by the iconoclastic Mexican painter, Frida is a punchy print that presides over this area of the living room, where a brass Sputnik lamp, oversized mirror and sculptural fireplace surround offer exciting diversions.
Wild! This spotted antelope-print runner gives an unexpected punch, introducing a graphic pattern into the front hall. “It’s classic but edgy,” says Christine.
Show-stopping architectural details on the ceiling of the living room’s media area are period appropriate but were non-existent when the couple bought the brownstone. Nicole tracked down a plaster restoration specialist in Long Island, N.Y., and sent Christine samples to narrow down the options. The installation took a week and was definitely a splurge. “It’s a real art. There is literally someone there with a cotton swab and a fine blade forming everything by hand,” says Nicole.
Take a tour of this gorgeous family cottage on Lake Simcoe.
Designer Jessica Waks gives this family's second cottage its own unique flair, creating a spot to accommodate not only guests but also generations to come.
Nudged awake by the sweet smell of fresh cinnamon buns wafting from the kitchen, sleepy family members lumber downstairs, along the way catching sweeping views of serene Lake Simcoe – calm and quiet before the afternoon action takes hold. It’s a common Sunday scene at this Innisfil, Ont., cottage, which is peaceful in the morning until everyone gets up and silence gives way to animated chit-chat and laughter. Often, it’s not just the occupants of this abode in attendance, but the next-door neighbours as well – after all, they’re family, too. The homeowners, a Toronto couple with four adult daughters and two toddler grandchildren, weren’t planning on purchasing a new place – they bought a cottage only five years ago (featured in Style at Home’s July 2013 issue) – but when this 7,000-square-foot three-storey structure directly next door to the first became available, the owners decided to take advantage of the unique opportunity to keep their rapidly expanding family together on these adjacent vacation properties. To make the cottages look cohesive, they rehired designer Jessica Waks – Style at Home’s former design editor – of Jessica Claire Interiors, who had perfectly appointed their first place. “The homeowners wanted the spaces to have their own identities but to also look unified,” says Jessica, discussing how she took the nautical tone of the first property and layered a more country feel into the second. “I used a refined rustic aesthetic to temper its grand architecture, which boasts a spacious foyer and formal principal rooms,” she says.
Jessica was thinking Nantucket rather than classic Canadiana (“it’s more in keeping with the beach locale,” she says) when she rescued the dark and dated interior from its 1980s time warp. The most notable offences? Upholstered doors, inexplicable wall cut outs, tacky floral wallpaper (even on the ceiling in some rooms), mismatched flooring (including fruit-patterned tiles and pink-stained oak), heavily swathed valances, forest green toilets and sinks and a bizarre balcony that jutted into the living room from the second floor. In other words, the cottage called for a complete overhaul. So Jessica started fresh in almost every room, smoothing out the architectural oddities and replacing the flooring with dark-stained oak hardwood, which contrasts the newly white walls throughout – a timeless and cohesive envelope for the elegant nautical look.
Creating a furniture plan for the grand living room was tricky because it has so many points of entry,” says designer Jessica Waks. “Not only did it need to seat a lot of people, but it also had to look good from all angles.” Jessica cleverly selected items like the blue swivel armchairs that can face the central sitting area, the fireplace or the view (win-win-win)!
To make a statement in the foyer, Jessica set visually interesting pieces like the vintage spool-legged console with a curvy linen-upholstered settee against a simple, traditional pedestal table. The jug of maple branches is a nod to the cottage’s sylvan surroundings.
Above the console in the great room, the designer framed and hung a simple grid of antique Simcoe county maps. Believe it or not, the stunning console was a Craigs List purchase. “I love find ing preloved pieces online, at markets and at consignment stores – there are such gems to uncover,” says Jessica, who skilfully pairs these secondhand scores with new custom items.
Meals are often served alfresco with stunning views of Lake Simcoe on the side. To visually connect the two properties, Jessica chose the same outdoor dining furniture for this space as she did for the other cottage next door. “I love how the teak’s grey stain and toss cushions match the stone work and siding of the home’s exterior,” she says.
“The windows in the dining room look out to the front and side of the property,” says Jessica, “so to make up for the lack of lake views and to add visual interest, I chose a charming paisley wallpaper.” The blue-grey tone of the print perfectly matches the original slate fireplace surround.
In the kitchen, the white beadboard cabinetry offers a light and airy country look that’s grounded by darker elements, such as the leathered black granite perimeter countertops and slate-look floor tiles. The wide butcher block-topped island provides ample space for the homeowners, who are avid cooks, to prep meals for their large family.
A pretty patterned wallpaper distracts from this powder room’s awkward angles. Using the space’s drawbacks to her advantage, Jessica leaned a vintage wooden ladder against the wall to hang towels for guests.
The third-floor “bunkie” boasts the most coveted sleeping area in the house: the queen bed in the window niche overlooking the lake. “You can see the sunrise from this spot,” says Jessica. Nautical buffalo-check drapery offers sleepers privacy from the rest of the room.
“As a decorator, I love the strong sense of symmetry that comes from a set of twin beds,” says Jessica, who had these hard-to-find spindle-framed beds for one of the rooms shipped from the US. “I like how they stand out against the wallpaper,” she says. “You can really appreciate the spool detail.”