Learn how to style your open-concept space.
Learn how to decorate your open-concept space with these helpful tips and tricks.
The 1,100-square-foot main floor of this Vancouver family home boasting a modern beach house look has a lot going for it, namely all the light. The large open-concept space consisting of a kitchen, living area and dining room is flooded with natural light thanks to five skylights and plenty of windows. “It’s so bright, even in the grey West Coast winter,” says one of the homeowners. But such a spacious undefined layout doesn’t come without its challenges – when a great room is too great for its own good, how does one make it cozy and livable? The homeowners worked closely with architect Jonathan Katz of J+R Katz Design & Architecture and designer Melanie Finkleman of Hazel + Brown Design Company to come up with a design that accomplishes just that. Here are eight ways they made this open floor plan shine.
1 Paint everything one shade: Sticking with one paint colour throughout an open-concept space prevents a disjointed appearance. On the main floor, designer Melanie Finkleman selected the same crisp white for the walls, ceiling, trim and cabinetry. The result is a bright envelope that emphasizes the home’s light-filled modernity.
2 Use uniform materials: It’s not only paint colour that will provide a cohesive look. Design elements like flooring, cabinetry, trim and fabric should also coordinate. In this house, the driftwood-look oak floors run throughout the space, and the grey Caesarstone countertops in the kitchen complement the concrete-topped coffee table in the living area.
3 Keep it casual: Open-concept living marries well with a laid-back lifestyle. This family-friendly home has nothing too precious or breakable and boasts plenty of hard-wearing choices, such as hardwood floors and leather chairs.
4 Define separate areas: Large open spaces can feel cavernous if specific zones aren’t demarcated according to their function. Here, the furniture arrangement defines the living area, while the Caesarstone-topped island delineates the kitchen.
5 Decorate with texture: In an expansive monochromatic room, texture is key. “The ceiling-height brick fireplace and the geometry of the built-in shelving unit add visual interest without distracting from the minimal aesthetic,” says Melanie.
6 Keep the aesthetic consistent: “Since the kitchen is visible from every angle, we used simple materials – matte grey Caesarstone for the countertops and grey back-painted glass for the backsplash – so it would seamlessly integrate with the rest of the space,” says Melanie. Such a neutral backdrop means the look is consistent when viewed from any area on the main floor. “It’s calming because your eye doesn’t bounce around too much.”
7 Choose simple window treatments: Barely-there white roller shades control light and offer privacy. “They block out the southern glare while maintaining the airy feel of the space,” says Melanie.
8 Include ample closed storage: No matter how much we all strive to live minimally, having some stuff is inevitable. “We were realistic about wanting to hide visual clutter in the kitchen since it’s so connected to the living area,” says Melanie. Plenty of closed cabinetry means everyday dishes, small appliances and various odds and ends are out of sight, giving the entire space a tidy appearance and allowing the pops of colour in the living area to shine.
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.
How to: Paint outdoor furniture
When undertaking a DIY project, there are usually a few things to consider. Add tempermental weather to the list and suddenly that little list has multiplied. How do you prepare your furniture for painting? What type of paint do you use? How does it differ for different types of material?
Though the process of painting outdoor furniture may seem daunting now, the best way to go about a DIY job is to be prepared. We talked to an expert at Canadian Tire to do just that. Michael Bache, Category Business Manager at Canadian Tire, shares his prepping and painting how tos to help put your DIY nerves at ease.
1 What supplies will you need for prepping and painting?
Depending on the state of the furniture (e.g. new wood, old plastic, painted metal, painted wood) and the type of paint chosen, a variety of items should be considered.
If using brush-on paint, consider using a primer before applying a new fresh coat of colour. When priming your furniture, make sure to use a good quality paintbrush and rags or drop cloths for clean-up. However, if you're using Krylon® Fusion™ no primer is required.
If repainting a metal or wood surface that has loose peeling paint, it must be removed for best adhesion. You can use sandpaper, steel wool, wire brush, scraper, or a stripper. You may require a tack cloth to clean up dust residue when sanding. If sanding a latex paint, a simple damp rag will work just fine.
2 Do these steps differ when prepping different materials, such as metal, plastic, wicker or wood?
Yes. Some products don't require primer, saving you a prep step. Using an aerosol is a benefit, too, as you also save a step in the prep. It generally dries faster and doesn't require clean-up since no paint brushes are involved. Even better, aerosols tend to give a factory style, air brush finish when applied properly, as opposed to a brush-on paint.
Bare wood generally requires a primer to seal the wood prior to painting as the surface is porous. The primer is used to provide a nice, smooth finish. Krylon Dual saves a step on both bare wood and metal since it primes and paints in one easy step. This saves time and allows people to have more time enjoying their furniture and less time prepping it!
3 What type of paint should you use for outdoor furniture?
Always follow the directions on the label for specific product use. This will ensure proper adhesion to your surface.
Plastic patio furniture should only have a paint specifically designed to adhere to plastic and hard-to-bond surfaces. Many general purpose paints can adhere to most surfaces except plastic.
For wicker or rattan, spray paints tend to make a nicer finish and easily gets into the grooves. Muskoka chairs are also easier to paint when using an aerosol as opposed to a paint brush. Now there's even an aerosol wood stain by Krylon. Spray stains make fast work of Muskoka chairs and planters - no brushes to clean up either.
5 What about rust prevention?
Paint designed especially for metal surfaces tends to add rust protection into the paint - make sure the paint says "rust proofing" or "rust inhibiting".
As our climate changes, U.V. rays are also a consideration - they're hard on our skin and our exterior patio furniture! Some paints actually have U.V. protection in their paint. This will help protect your finish to resist harsh weather conditions. We suggest storing patio furniture during the fall and winter months when not in use. If space is a problem, a variety of covers and tarps are available to help protect your investment.
6 What are the best painting methods to use?
Much of this is personal preference. However, some surfaces, like wicker and rattan, have a nicer finish when sprayed versus brushing.
7 What kind of finish, if any, should you use?
Most paint companies offer a variety of finishes to choose from - satin, gloss, textured, metallic, hammered, and more. As long as you use an appropriate paint for your exterior surface and follow the instructions, you should achieve the finish you want. The really nice thing about the variety of paints and finishes available is that people can turn "garage sale finds" into treasures. Mixing and matching old and new creates a different and personalized patio set.
8 How many coats should you use
Follow the instructions on the can, however many paints suggest two coats. When painting remember this rule of thumb: Thinner coats are better than thicker coats. Thinner coats dry faster and produce a harder finish.
9 What should you look for in a brush?
Is it the right paint brush for your paint? Oil-based paints generally have different bristles than latex paints. The brush label will specify this.
Is the paint brush the right size to do your project? If you are painting furniture, smaller brushes may be better. Ensure it fits into your paint container.
A roller can be great for large flat surfaces, like a tabletop. This can help reduce brush marks, too!
10 How does climate affect the painting process?
Weather is a big factor. For the most part, if you're getting a sunburn and sweating, it's probably too hot to paint. This will cause the paint to dry too fast. If it's too windy and you're using an aerosol paint, your paint may dissipate before it reaches the surface. Either wait for the wind to die down or use cardboard to build a spray tunnel. Humidity can affect the paint's dry time, which leaves more time for surface imperfections to take place on your finish. In general, 21ºC and about 50% humidity are ideal conditions for painting.
12 Any last tips?
Remember to protect other surfaces if working outside by using masking tape and drop cloths. Most importantly, regardless of your project, remember to always read product labels thoroughly and follow directions.
This Toronto dwelling, with its book-laden walls and cozy corners, is a reader's dream.
Easygoing, trusting and super stylish: These homeowners were downright dream clients for designer Robyn Rider, whom they hired to revamp their newly purchased three-bedroom dwelling in downtown Toronto. The protege of the designer who’d transformed their previous house, Robyn was the prime candidate to deliver an updated look to these downsizing lawyers’ home.
“They have great taste and great pieces to work with,” says Robyn – plus, lots of books. Though the homeowners significantly reduced their large book collection, the remaining titles were more than substantial, including legal references, favourite reads, hardcover sets and prized heirlooms. It’s only fitting, then, that the only directive Robyn was given was to accommodate this veritable library, which ended up dictating much of the main floor’s design.
Robyn added floor-to-ceiling bookcases throughout the entire main level to achieve the perfect marriage of library and living space. This is especially evident in the dining room, which she designed as a place to not only eat meals and host dinner parties but also to lounge by the fire with a good book. To that effect, a cozy armchair by the fireplace is accompanied by a reading lamp and footstool, and the banquette at the round urn-based dining table is extra-deep and extra-comfy. “I wanted to create an intimate area that could accommodate guests, but where the homeowners wouldn’t feel ridiculous when it’s just the two of them,” says Robyn.
While the central kitchen marks a bit of a departure from the scholarly look, it still feels like a seamless part of the open-concept living area. “I used cabinets featuring the same profile and colour as the millwork in the adjacent dining and living rooms,” says Robyn. Integrated and panelled appliances as well as cabinetry with footed toe kicks lend the space a furnished feel, while oversized lantern-style pendant lights above the island are the kind you might find over a formal dining table, further blending the lines between the cooking zone and the rest of the home.
After all, the kitchen leads right into the living room, which returns to books. “I didn’t even try to organize or colour code them,” says Robyn of her approach to keeping the look cohesive. “It would have felt too contrived.” (Plus, the husband is pretty particular about organizing things by subject.) So, to temper the mismatched assortment, Robyn created a serene envelope of white millwork and cream walls, which she used throughout the main level. “We could afford to be quieter with the paint palette considering the books and the bold textiles,” she explains, noting examples like the traditional multi-hued heirloom needlepoint rug and contemporary zigzag-patterned armchairs. “The homeowners definitely didn’t need to be convinced to use colour,” says Robyn. “It actually took some convincing to leave the walls neutral!”
Once Robyn finessed the final details of the newly designed house, the homeowners unpacked and arranged their last tomes onto the shelves, ready to begin their new chapter.
French doors – which lead to a backyard oasis that borders a ravine – let a tremendous amount of light into the living room of this Toronto house designed by Robyn Rider. Because of the kitchen’s proximity to this space, it was decorated with statement pieces, such as oversized lantern-style pendant lights, to unify the areas.
Black soapstone counter- tops break up the white kitchen cabinetry that would have otherwise looked too clinical in this cozy space. Even though it’s quite high maintenance, soapstone adds warmth and lustre. “It’s an extra layer of luxury,” says Robyn.
The first space you see when you walk through the front door is the powder room. It sets the tone for the punchy greens and bold prints used throughout the rest of the house.
The library-inspired living room features clever design details, such as space-saving pull-out shelves in place of side tables. “I was channelling British townhouse style, in which everything has a purpose,” says Robyn.
Reminding Robyn (pictured right) of gardens in Provence, the table base, an oversized urn, was the jumping-off point for the dining room’s palette. “I love its intense green colour,” says the designer, “and I just went with it!” The homeowners also love the extra-deep banquette. Robyn used a bold botanical print on the Roman shades to blur the border between indoors and out, imparting a lively and verdant atmosphere.
A dining area and reading nook rolled into one, this room sees a lot of action. The bookcases, lined with selections and collections most meaningful to the homeowners, lend an old-world vibe that is punched up by the fresh armchair fabric.
A serene departure from the rest of the house, the main guest room is soft yet sophisticated. The antique settee is a family heirloom that Robyn had reupholstered with a contemporary centre stripe design. From there, Robyn layered in more powder blue and cream elements into the space but brought in dove grey to counter the femininity. “Powder blue on its own can border on prissy,” she explains.
Photography by Stacey Brandford