Natalie Chong's chic condo
Designer Natalie Chong’s light-challenged interior proves you can turn a small rental condo into something amazing.
When designer Natalie Chong, owner of Nest Design Studio, first saw the condo she shares with her fiancé, the space looked grim. “It had a frat-house vibe – the previous occupants had trashed the place,” she says. Thankfully, Natalie’s designer eye could see past the beat-up walls and flooring, and with some substantial wall patching and painting and floor repair, the 755-square-foot pad in downtown Toronto began to take on the chic, sophisticated aesthetic it has now.
Because the condo is a rental, Natalie selected paint, furniture and accessories that were either low cost or low commitment. And anything she and her fiancé invested in, such as custom upholstered pieces, can be taken with them when they purchase their first home.
Since square footage is at a premium, anything that’s not performing in the space gets replaced with a more functional item. But select pieces will certainly be making the cut when the couple decides to move on. “I had the sofa custom made, and it’s definitely coming with us!” says Natalie. We can’t wait to see what she does with more room.
While designer Natalie Chong opted for mostly budget-friendly, low-commitment items for her rental condo, the living room’s cream linen sofa is a classic piece she will keep for many years.
Custom linen drapes with a band of grey trim form a neutral backdrop to some bold living room furniture, including the persimmon-coloured velvet ottoman.
Warm metallic accents help give colour to each room without conflicting with the subtle colour palette.
The simple, modern kitchen was already in place, so Natalie keeps it chic and clutter-free with a few well-chosen accessories.
The stainless steel backsplash is a practical finish that reflects light. One to mix high-end with low, Natalie paired a thrift-shop tea set with a more expensive cutting board.
In the dining area, Natalie selected a round pedestal table with a leaf that can transform it into a six seater when she and her fiancé entertain. Slipcovered armchairs make for a more comfortable alternative to basic dining seating and are practical in the event of spills. A leaning mirror takes up little floor space but has big impact.
The low-profile bed frame makes sense in the small bedroom. The integrated nightstand is a space-saving feature that looks modern and functions well.
A shoe cabinet stashes everyday footwear and createsa drop-off zone in the entry. Natalie upgraded the hardware for a more sophisticated look.
Natalie keeps the small space organized by using double-duty pieces that boast extra storage.
Jillian Harris's backyard guest house
Tucked away in Jillian Harris's backyard is a charming retreat set into a hill, where the scenic views stretch on and those who stay never want to leave.
It goes without saying that a home should reflect those who live there, but sometimes it’s what a previous owner leaves behind that lends the most character to a space. Jillian Harris, co-host of W Network’s Love It or List It Vancouver, can attest to this. When she first set foot in the backyard of her bungalow in Kelowna, B.C., which she shares with her partner, Justin Pasutto, she spotted a tiny abode just a few yards away, partially obscured by branches and subtly built into a hill.
What turned out to be a guest house became a main selling feature for the outgoing homeowner. “I’ve always loved the idea of a guest house, but I never thought I’d be able to have my own because they’re not that common,” says Jillian. “We’re constantly entertaining, so we like having a place where people can sleep after sitting around the fire with us.”
Jillian compares the petite pad – which she and Justin have termed the “casita” – to a European cottage found in a fable, pointing to its grey stone facade, glass double doors and charming white rooftop deck fitted with a picket-style railing that offers picturesque views of the Okanagan.
Letters spelling out "The Law" (a feature left behind by the previous owner) brand the guest house's entrance, playing up the space's storybook allure. "We were told that the words translate to 'the hill' in Irish, but we're really not sure," says Jillian with a laugh. "It's the mystery that adds character." Glass double doors let in lots of light.
The brightly hued console was the jumping-off point for the guest house's fresh colour palette and vintage aesthetic. Strategically placed accessories help achieve balance and scale. "It's important to mix decor with function," says homeowner Jillian Harris. "Furnisture should always serve a purpose."
Built-in closets flank the glass double doors. This one contains a mini fridge, coffee machine and TV, while the other serves as storage space for guests.
The raised built-in bed accented with elegant wainscotting is offset by the vintage trunk, lending the space a more timeless, lived-in look. With such stylish decor, it's easy to miss the shower to the left of the bed and the two-piece bathroom to the right.
"It's about giving guests everything they need so they don't have to ask," says Jillian. Here, you get to stay at a magical little cottage castle where someone has thought of you and catered to your needs. You feel so happy and so at home."
The console serves as a warm welcome to guests, always equipped with fresh greenery, fruit, mugs and extra pillows.
"I've always loved the idea of a guest house, but I never thought I'd be able to have my own."
Recreate the look of Jillian's guest house with these refreshing hues.
Modern bistro kitchen with double-armed pendant lights.
A grey on grey kitchen with black and chrome accents deliver warmth and depth across this Victorian house.
There’s no design challenge too big for designer Ingrid Oomen. So, when she was approached to renovate this historic Victorian home in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood, she welcomed the project with open arms. Her goal was to create a kitchen, eat-in area and family room that were light and airy as well as family friendly.
The original kitchen was closed off from the rest of the house, which was very dark and very long. By reworking the existing addition, it allowed for a spacious kitchen and an adjoining family room.
Into the grey
Grey on grey accented with black and chrome gives this kitchen warmth and depth. Ingrid Oomen picked these double-armed pendant lights for their industrial quality. The adjustable arms make them well suited to this Toronto kitchen's large-scale multi-purpose island.
The original kitchen had super-low ceilings and was closed off from the rest of the house, which was very dark and very long. Since each room in this house flows into the next, we strategically placed the kitchen between the dining room and family room (and next to the mudroom) to make it conducive to entertaining and to allow for open-concept spaciousness.
Key kitchen elements:
“This bay window was meant for a banquette,” says Ingrid. “We took an otherwise awkward eating nook and turned it into a functional spot for eating quick meals, doing homework or reading a great book.” Slipcovered armchairs and toss cushions make it extra inviting; the table continues the industrial theme.
The handsome mullioned windows and doors – the home’s most important architectural features – were painted black to make them stand out against the neutral backdrop. The transom windows above the doors in the family room give the illusion of a higher ceiling.
Industrial table accents
The greenery in the table planters bring colour to the kitchen's grey cabinetry and the neutral palette of the dining nook.
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.