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.
West Coast minimalist design
In this from-the-ground-up project, BattersbyHowat Architects delivers a minimalistic yet cozy common area for a family of four.
The term "cozy modern" may sound like a bit of an oxymoron to most, but to David Battersby and Heather Howat of architecture and design firm BattersbyHowat Architects, it's almost a mantra. "Modern doesn't have to mean cold and repelling," says David, who, along with Heather, has designed many spaces that reaffirm the fact. And that's precisely why these homeowners - a pair of lawyers with two preteen children - hired the firm to design and build their 3,900-square-foot Vancouver house from the ground up. "They wanted a contemporary space they would feel comfortable in," says David. "And after they toured some of our previous projects, they knew we could deliver the style they sought."
The open-concept main floor delivers just that, from the 12-seater dining room and the strikingly expansive kitchen (with its whopping 17-foot-long island and cozy eat-in nook) to the light-filled living area, where the family enjoys spotting eagles soaring by through the huge windows. "The living room is so bright, we barely ever turn the lights on in there," says one of the homeowners.
The creative forces behind BattersbyHowat Architects, David Battersby and Heather Howat, offer not only architecture services but also interior design and landscaping. In fact, it's one of the things that attracted the homeowners to the firm. "We felt there would be greater cohesion to the overall project," says one of the homeowners, "which proved to be true."
David Battersby describes the style of home that he and Heather designed as West Coast modern. The mix of glass, cement and wood on the front delivers a quiet but statement-making modernism. On the top floor, recessed windows with extended side walls that angle outward add a feeling of privacy.
Subtle colours in the pale blue back-painted-glass backsplash and island base, as well as the turquoise accents in the eat-in area, soften the sleek white kitchen, while oak cabinetry warms it up. Having open shelving in a few intimate places, such as the eat-in area, gives the homeowners an opportunity to display favourite items and family photos, but keeps the open-concept feeling far from cluttered.
Intimate and inviting, the eat-in area of this Vancouver home's kitchen is a favourite spot of the family who lives here. From the Eames chairs to the Nelson Propeller pendant light, Mid-Century Modern furnishings lend a timeless look, while the sunny palette keeps it fresh.
Turqoise and sunny yellow tabletop accents help tie in the sunny colour palette.
The central staircase, hidden behind a sculptural screen, adds an artistic architectural element that was also cost-effective. "The screen that's providing the guard is also supporting every stair tread," says David. "So it's interesting but also essential."
The living area's glass nesting coffee tables are a light and airy counterpoint to the fireplace's cement hearth, which doubles as extra seating.
Organizing solution: Under-the-stairs secretaire
Who says the area under your stairs has to be a no man's land for stashing cardboard boxes, empty suitcases or the occasional young wizard? We say it's time to open up that space to new possibilities. Here, a small desk fits neatly into an alcove carved out behind a set of Hollywood stairs - in plain sight yet completely unobtrusive.
Hints for a hideaway desk
1 Use decorative boxes with lids to keep stationery supplies and electronic chargers out of sight.
2 Choose a desk with drawers, cubbies and built-in shelves to tuck away papers and odds and ends.
3 Commandeer every ounce of space; tight spots can be used to house extra seat cushions or a bed for Fido to lie on while you work.
4 Opt for easy cleanup. This drop-down desk surface means all your work can be out of sight with just the turn of a key.
5 Make your furniture work for you with choices like a foldaway stool or pieces on wheels that can be moved quickly when necessary.
Tip: Unifying your colour scheme keeps any storage space easy on the eyes. Decrease visual clutter by using a simple colour palette like the black, white and silver one shown here to give the illusion of a more organized environment.
Whimsical holiday living room with a nod to Scandinavian design
Living rooms of all sizes and styles are decked out for the holidays to help inspire your own festive makeover.
"The living room, with its wood-burning fireplace, is the perfect cozy spot for gathering in the winter. The spruce Christmas tree is courtesy of a friend who lives on a former tree farm." To see the rest of the holiday home click here.
"The living room exemplifies the snowy, sophisticated colour scheme – white and silver with hits of green – used throughout for the Christmas decorations. The bay window provides a perfect spot to place the tree." To see the rest of the holiday home click here.
"The huge tree in the library is decked out with ornaments collected over many years. 'There’s no point in having a precious Christmas tree that the kids can’t help with,' says homeowner Michele Leighton Symons. However, they pitch in after their mum has hung all of the Murano glass balls." To see the rest of the holiday home click here.
"When the holidays hit, homeowner Tara Ballantyne elevates her simple white, grey, brown and black palette with metallics like silver and gold. “I’m always trying new looks and trends for my work as a stylist, and because I think in colour so much for my job, I like to come home to a muted environment,” says Tara." To see the rest of the holiday home click here.
"Stacy reveals that there’s always a fire crackling during the winter season. The original brick fireplace is embellished with a simple garland, matching wreath and, of course, a pair of stockings hung by the chimney with care." To see the rest of the holiday home click here.
"Throughout the home, interior walls are clad in horizontal pine planks, modernized with glossy white paint, and the ceiling beams are exposed for a loft-like feel. The living room fireplace, with its floor-to-ceiling surround, features the same bricks used on the floor and outdoor patio." To see the rest of the holiday home click here.
"The living room’s neutral, modern aesthetic is warmed up with natural materials, such as silk and linen, and colourful accessories. Alison created an ultra-modern Christmas tree by cementing apple tree branches (from a friend’s farm in Hockley Valley, Ont.) in a pot and trimming them with a neutral mix of gold, silver and off-white ornaments." To see the rest of the holiday home click here.
"A mix of modern and vintage-look Christmas ornaments suits the condo’s contemporary classic style and grey, warm white and chartreuse colour scheme. A couple of faux sheepskins act as a sophisticated Christmas tree skirt. “I’ve never liked the way a traditional tree skirt looks, so this is an inexpensive solution, and it adds a lot of texture and interest,” says Emma." To see the rest of the holiday home click here.
"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." To see the rest of the holiday home click here.
"'Christmas is frenetic enough without adding bright red and green,' says Jennifer, who opts instead for a gentler palette. Holiday ornaments, some made from felt, appear in the same stormy greys, icy blues and warm whites you’ll find in this living room year-round. The muted colours and the simplicity of the decor are a nod to Scandinavian design, which Jennifer loves." To see the rest of the holiday home click here.
"During the holidays, the living room is the ultimate place to lounge. "I made sure to include enough seating so everyone has a good spot," says Christine "And there are a lot of throws around, because it gets a little bit drafty."" To see the rest of the holiday home click here.
"The festive palette fits in nicely with the family room’s existing decor. The boxwood wreath and paperwhites add natural warmth." To see the rest of the holiday home click here.
"'The colour scheme here is subdued, with soft whites, warm mauves and natural linen tones, says designer Stacy McLennan. 'By keeping the walls and furniture neutral, the homeowners have a lot of flexibility. They can add colour with decor accessories or stick to a more sophisticated look.' In this open-concept layout, custom ottomans visually separate the family room from the dining area and offer flexible seating options." To see the rest of the holiday home click here.
"The clean and simple living room is cozily furnished in a warm white-on-white palette with hits of natural greenery." To see the rest of the holiday home click here.
"Designer Jennifer Brouwer says the living room is the epitome of her less-is-more philosophy. She used cleanlined, elegant furnishings to offset the space’s grand architectural features." To see the rest of the holiday home click here.
"Matching chaises designed by Jessica make a welcoming spot for guests to cozy up to the fireplace with drinks and nibbles in the living room; the barnboard-clad console (made from wood found at Jessica’s parents’ farm) adds a hint of rusticity. The cowhide rug with hits of shimmer livens up the neutral palette, as do the bold bursts of fuchsia in the accessories and holiday decorations." To see the rest of the holiday home click here.