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.
Whitewashed living room features a charming mix of furniture styles.
A DIY-inclined couple turns an 800-square-foot two-bedroom bungalow into the perfect home for their young family.
Homeowner Amanda Robinson transformed the secondhand piano by covering it in grey paint, casually accessorizing it like the rest of the living room and softening its bench with a faux-sheepskin throw.
The whitewashed living room features a charming mix of furniture styles. “I brought softness into the space with the upholstered pieces, while keeping a farmhouse vibe with the antique rocking chairs,” says Amanda.
Homeowners Jason and Amanda Robinson hang out in the bright living room with their sons, Ethan (left) and Aidan.
While blue hues rock this farmhouse, Amanda also popped in some pink tones as contrast.
A fun DIY project or easily picked up at a gardening centre, terrariums are a great way to keep your home green in small ways.
Durable slate tiles define the entryway in this open-concept space. Practical items in natural tones like the bench, mirror and coat rack are artfully arranged so everything looks pulled together.
The kitchen epitomizes Amanda’s love of pale backdrops punctuated with colour and natural tones. “I made the shelves out of wooden boards from our barn and left them unpainted to contrast all the white and to complement the butcher block counters,” she says. Mismatched hardware picks up on the hits of blue throughout the home.
With their young sons and pets (Weimaraner Tessie and cat Nimble) in mind, Amanda chose tongue-and-groove pine planks for the floors, ceilings and walls. “I didn’t want new drywall with two little boys and pets running around,” she says. “It was the best design decision I ever made.”
Amanda knew she wanted a light and bright space and conceived the decor with colour in mind. “This is still a really small house, so I stuck to a neutral palette for the base: white and cream with natural wood tones throughout,” she says.
Amanda and Jason knocked down walls to create an eat-in area that features a free-standing stove surrounded by stone-veneered walls and a thrift-store dining table and chairs proudly bearing a mismatched paint job. “I painted everything grey and then decided to paint all the chairs blue but got sidetracked after one,” says Amanda. “It’s fun and quirky as is, and the boys take turns sitting in the blue chair at dinnertime.”
“The walls in Aidan’s bedroom were in good shape, so we painted them and added pine planks to the ceiling,” says Amanda. “I like the masculine look of the unpainted wood.” The new blue dressers share the space with a thrift-store wicker chair, a yellow-painted hand-me-down stool and rope-hung shelves Amanda crafted from barnboard.
“Ethan wanted everything in his room swimming pool turquoise.” They settled on a seafoam blue that’s more soothing for a bedroom and then incorporated coordinating accents in every room – even on the front door. “If you keep the big things neutral and then add accents in a single shade, it makes everything seem effortlessly connected,” says Amanda.
A bright screen door frame hints at the pops of blue to be found inside the house. Amanda refinished a hand-me-down pine table in grey paint and repurposed it as an easy-to-access storage unit for firewood. Antique Canadian Pacific Railway lanterns found in the barn and on Kijiji layer in more colour and reference the surrounding rustic landscape.
After a fresh coat of paint and some carefully placed furniture, the Robinsons are set to make this newly decorated farmhouse their home.
Homeowner Amanda Robinson used blue paint throughout her home to liven up the soothing neutral palette and provide a link from room to room. Here are her three favourite shades.
Tour this lovely cottage on Lake Simcoe!
A designer lends her expertise to help a couple resolve a colourful debate over the scheme for their family cottage.
"He wanted dark tones and a woodsy Aspen vibe. I wanted everything white with clean lines." The “he” referred to is the husband, the “I” speaking is the wife, and in terms of their decor preferences for this new-build 4,900-square-foot cottage overlooking Lake Simcoe in Innisfil, Ont., they were clearly at odds. But the Toronto-based couple, who has a seven-year-old daughter, a five-year-old son and a Samoyed puppy, did agree on one thing: The design had to be practical. And after many reassurances on the wife’s part that her vision could be inviting and relaxing, she says, “My husband eventually gave me free rein. I wanted a gorgeous unfussy space that was easy to maintain.”
To get the look, she turned to Lidia van Zyl, a designer based in Barrie, Ont., who’s well known for decorating waterfront properties in the area. “When I was hired in 2014, the cottage was in its planning stage,” says Lidia. “This allowed us to pore over the plans and confirm almost every detail before the walls went up.” The walls themselves played a crucial role in setting the tone for the space. “Honouring the husband’s preference for a traditional look, I incorporated shiplap into the mix,” says Lidia. The wooden boards, which were most often used in the construction of homes, were applied horizontally in the kitchen, powder room, foyer and master bedroom. “Shiplap, even when painted white, provides a rustic contrast to drywall and has an informal feel that really adds to the casual cottage vibe,” says the designer.
While the scheme may be all white, it’s anything but stark. “The key to decorating with white is to use different shades of it,” says Lidia. “If you look closely, you’ll see the walls are a crisp white, while the beams are coated with a warmer shade.” Wide-plank pale hickory flooring completes the airy backdrop, which Lidia chose to punctuate with bold hits of black. “I love contrast, so I added black accessories to almost every room,” she says. Lidia extended this theme to the furniture as well and, with the kids and puppy in mind, paid specific attention to practicality. “The grey sofas in the living room are covered with indoor-outdoor fabric, so they’re stain resistant and easy to clean,” she says. “And some of the pieces, such as the living room coffee table and foyer console, are crafted from steel, so they’re pretty much damage-proof.” She also introduced a few well-placed antiques throughout the cottage to create interesting tension between old and new.
The 18-month process of building and decorating netted a year-round family retreat that Lidia describes as “refined but rustic.” And even though the wife had total control, she did make an effort to include her husband – sort of. She says: “He really wanted dark floors, but even he conceded the light ones looked better. So I let him think he helped with that decision in a roundabout way. Now we’re all happy!”
Accessories like the rope-hung mirrors and the lantern-style pendant lights make this practical space feel decorated. “I don’t like to take risks when decorating,” says one of the homeowners, “but I did want to mix things up in the kitchen so it didn’t read as plain.”
Designer Lidia van Zyl played the natural tones of wood and stone against sleek black accents to create character in the living room. The tall armoire holds things like games, books and blankets, while the bare floor, a practical option, is easy to clean. A trio of metal sculptures above the reclaimed wood mantel is a departure from the expected mirror or artwork.
In the foyer, the staircase’s natural wood handrail and treads were a purposeful choice. “If we had painted them black, it would have drawn the eye up the stairs as opposed to straight through the cottage to the lake,” says Lidia.
A mix of neutral tones creates subtle depth in the dining area. “The table and chairs appear white at first glance, but they’re actually a soft shade of grey,” says Lidia. the chandelier, painted white to downplay its ornate shape, illuminates everything from meals to crafts.
“This cottage always makes me smile,” says one of the homeowners. “It’s an amazing feeling to open the front door to beautiful surroundings.” the stone skirting – a concession to the aspen look the husband wanted – ties in nicely with the herringbone brick walkway.
The artful arrangement of dark-hued antiques in an all-white area of the living room makes a graphic statement. the antlers are a family heirloom.
“I love a white kitchen because I don’t like distractions when I’m cooking,” says one of the homeowners, “and I can also see what needs to be cleaned.” low-maintenance Caesarstone countertops and a glossy tiled backsplash on the range wall make cleanup even easier. the massive island is outfitted with cupboards that hold cottage necessities, such as candles, batteries and a tool kit.
While the silhouette of the chandelier in the master bedroom is traditional, its wooden beads give it an earthy appeal that suits a cottage. the wicker basket, sisal rug and rustic artwork (it’s made of wood and says “I Love Us”) echo that earthiness, which is tempered by the black furniture.
Hooks and baskets are enough to keep the mud room in order since the basement has ample storage. The built-in bench always comes in handy.
Like the rest of the cottage, the powder room is energized with hits of black. “I love the graphic mosaic-look floor here,” says Lidia. “It’s actually 24-by-24-inch tiles, and they have just the right amount of pattern for a small space.” Vintage racquets used as informal artwork perfectly fit the laid- back vibe of this family retreat.
Tour this chic and stylish condo.
Downsizers trade their house in the sticks for the prettiest pared-down condo in the city – and they don’t miss their old digs one bit.
With their enviable nooks and crannies, most suburban houses can handle the extras. You know, the useless bits that gobble up space: the family china passed down through the ages or a dusty treadmill dying a slow death. Shove them into a corner and no one is the wiser. But in a condo, space is a coveted commodity. Every item must count and every design decision must be carefully executed, as it is in Janice and Colin Dreyer’s 1,600-square-foot abode. Located on the fourth floor of a new-build boutique high-rise in Vancouver, the unit is vastly different from their previous home, which was nearly double the size. The couple, a pair of empty nesters in their 60s, knows about “stuff” first-hand. For 30 years, they lived on the outskirts of the city – first in Cloverdale, where they raised three children, and then in their last house in South Surrey for 10 years – slowly accumulating a lifetime of belongings. And it’s been a relief to finally purge. “I got rid of almost all of it,” says Janice, who confidently announces: “Honestly, I don't miss a thing.”
The couple didn’t have to search far to find the right person to decorate the condo. Their daughter is designer Karla Dreyer, who heads up an eponymous firm in Vancouver. In addition to providing interior services, Karla offers beautifying help virtually with her e-decor program. But for her parents’ home, she worked in the flesh, fast and furiously passionate, over a three-month period. “They really wanted it done quickly because they were excited to start their third act in life,” says Karla. The bones of the space served as inspiration. “The windows – there are a ton of them – and the white-tiled floors really lent themselves to decorating in a light, airy way,” says Karla. The springtime palette of pretty pastels makes the condo sparkle with youthful freshness. “Pastels can come off as juvenile, so the trick is to incorporate them in a sophisticated fashion,” says the designer, who tempered them with glam gold accents and a bright white shell. “I love how the soft colours evoke a joyful vibe.”
Clearly they have also influenced the occupants, who are adjusting brilliantly to city life. Says Janice, “Living with less is great.” Should a bout of nostalgia hit, however, she can always visit a selection of precious pieces she salvaged from the suburbs. “I did take out a storage unit for small items I was unsure about,” says Janice. None of them have made it back into the condo.
When Janice and Colin Dreyer purchased their new condo, they knew exactly who to turn to for decorating help: their designer daughter Karla. In the living area, she decided to incorporate gold touches and coral accents for a decidedly youthful feel. “My parents are pretty stylish, so the decor represents them well,” says Karla, who believes design shouldn’t subscribe to ageism.
Janice loves birds, so Karla went with an avian theme, expressed here in one area of the condo via the wallpaper featuring hummingbirds in flight, the brass sculptures on the chest and the witty painting by local talent Zoë Pawlak.
"I’m used to having lots of wall space, so dealing with all the windows was tricky,” says Karla. But this spot was perfect for the dining area, allowing the couple to take in the sights over a meal. The Tulip-style table paired with mismatched chairs is fun.
Accommodating the 63-inch TV (a must for Dad) meant Karla had to get crafty because it dominated the room. “It’s a monster,” she says with a laugh. “The living area only has one wall, so I had to place the television there. I camouflaged its looming presence with some pretty wallpaper, which I think worked out well.”
Layered in champagne hues and captivating textures, such as the faux-fur throw and the cushy velvet headboard, the master bedroom is inviting and luxurious.
The home office, situated in the solarium just off the master bedroom, is simple yet perfectly functional.