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.
Botanically inspired sunroom.
We designed a botanically inspired sunroom on budgets befitting a seedling and a mature plant. Can you tell the difference?
1 Frayed cotton canvas botanical No.81 and No.33 PRINTS (mounted on wooden dowels), Pottery Barn, $119 US each. 2 Hand-blown glass TERRARIUM, Crown Flora Studio, $55. 3 Steel Dark Leaf CONSOLE with reclaimed barnwood top, Urban Barn, $649. 4 Bar-height powder-coated iron Burke STOOLS with adjustable swivel elm seats in Grey, Structube, $159 each. 5 Woven BASKETS, HomeSense, $25 each. 6 Sugar Hill laminate FLOORING in Smoke Plank, Torlys, $3.70 per sq. ft. 7 Viscose blend Bohemian RUG, 5' x 8', Urban Barn, $329. 8 Gus Modern ash Truss ARMCHAIR with polyester Leaside cushions in Driftwood, Style-garage, $950. 9 Cotton TOSS CUSHION COVER, 20" x 20", H&M Home, $15; duck feather INSERT, H&M Home, $13.
1 Botanical linen canvas Cherry and Sunflower PRINTS (mounted on wooden dowels), The Evolution Store, $219 US each. 2 Handmade faceted soldered glass TERRARIUM, Crown Flora Studio, $165. 3 Custom handmade polished steel CONSOLE with reclaimed wood top, Junction Wood + Metal Co., $1,200. 4 Turner bar-height black-finished metal STOOLS with adjustable swivel seats, Crate and Barrel, $299. 5 Beachcomber extra-large round hand-woven seagrass BASKETS, Pottery Barn, $129 US each. 6 Artisan Elite maple engineered hardwood FLOORING in Bracken Hill, Torlys, $7.90 per sq. ft. 7 Hand-knotted wool and bamboo silk Bal Harbour RUG in Antique White & Ocean, 6' x 8', Weavers Art, $3,950. 8 Huppe beech Citta ARMCHAIR with leather cushions in Boston White, Shelter, $1,999. 9 Polyester Swaying Palms TOSS CUSHION with down alternative insert, 20" x 20", Tonic Living, $54.
Be inspired by spring in the sunroom. With the perfect chair the room will be nothing short of the ideal spot to grab a book, make a lemonade and check out your budding love for nature. LOW: Gus Modern ash Truss ARMCHAIR with polyester Leaside cushions in Driftwood, Style-garage, $950. HIGH: Huppe beech Citta ARMCHAIR with leather cushions in Boston White, Shelter, $1,999.
Some like to decorate with piles of books, others with an array of candles. But if you ask us, nothing beats the impact of plants, and this less-is-more tableau is a case in point. The key to this look is the negative space, created by loosely arranged unobtrusive glass vessels. The plantings are few but carefully chosen, varying in height, colour and texture. And don’t forget an element of surprise – did you notice the animal figurines in the terrariums? LOW: Hand-blown glass TERRARIUM, Crown Flora Studio, $55. HIGH: Handmade faceted soldered glass TERRARIUM, Crown Flora Studio, $165.
A long day doesn’t seem so daunting when you come home to stylish decor. That’s why we love these slender minimalistic consoles. Whether your place is ultra-modern or a bit rustic (and whatever your budget), there’s a choice for you. LOW: Steel Dark Leaf CONSOLE with reclaimed barnwood top, Urban Barn, $649. HIGH: Custom handmade polished steel CONSOLE with reclaimed wood top, Junction Wood + Metal Co., $1,200.
Introduced in the early 19th century, oversized botanical charts were a staple in classrooms throughout Europe, used to educate youth about the anatomy of various flora (such as the sunflower) and fauna. As close to the real deal as you can get, our High prints are exact copies of German charts from the 1950s and ’60s. In fact, they’re produced by the original internationally recognized manufacturer using the same film and methods. LOW: Frayed cotton canvas botanical No.81 and No.33 PRINTS (mounted on wooden dowels), Pottery Barn, $119 US each. HIGH: Botanical linen canvas Cherry and Sunflower PRINTS (mounted on wooden dowels), The Evolution Store, $219 US each.
Host a "welcome spring" party with a new smoothie recipe or take a seat while you care for your plants. Whatever the occassion, keep around some stylish seating to blend into the natural ambience of the space. LOW: Bar-height powder-coated iron Burke STOOLS with adjustable swivel elm seats in Grey, Structube, $159 each. HIGH: Turner bar-height black-finished metal STOOLS with adjustable swivel seats, Crate and Barrel, $299.
Greenery has a way of livening up any room, and when that verdant touch doesn’t require any maintenance and remains bright year-round, it’s a clear winner. From banana to palm leaves, the motifs of these printed toss cushions have a moving quality that calls to mind a tropical beach – a sunny ambience every Canadian household can use. LOW: Cotton TOSS CUSHION COVER, 20" x 20", H&M Home, $15; duck feather INSERT, H&M Home, $13. HIGH: Polyester Swaying Palms TOSS CUSHION with down alternative insert, 20" x 20", Tonic Living, $54.
In a room like this the only burst of colour should be coming from the plants. Keep your flooring and rugs low-key with a simple pattern that blends the flooring together to create a faux grass or dirt area. LOW: Sugar Hill laminate FLOORING in Smoke Plank, Torlys, $3.70 per sq. ft.; Viscose blend Bohemian RUG, 5' x 8', Urban Barn, $329. HIGH: Artisan Elite maple engineered hardwood FLOORING in Bracken Hill, Torlys, $7.90 per sq. ft.; Hand-knotted wool and bamboo silk Bal Harbour RUG in Antique White & Ocean, 6' x 8', Weavers Art, $3,950.
Nothing makes a space like this just a bit more unique like putting your own taste into the planters. Decorate your own pots or go for something more special, like these teacups for smaller plants. It doesn't really matter what you plant them in, just make sure it reflects you and the room you want to create. HIGH AND LOW: Teacup (used as pot), Crown Flora Studio, prices vary.
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
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.