Video: How to fold the perfect towel
Video: How to fold the perfect towel
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.
House tour: Timeless and modern Christmas
At Style at Home senior style editor Ann Marie Favot's midtown Toronto house, Christmas is lovingly created by hand with both budget and elegance in mind.
It’s hard not to get carried away when hosting a holiday feast: formal table settings, complete with chargers and centrepieces, party favours and place cards, oh my! Trees are decorated to the nines, gifts are wrapped so beautifully you never want to open them and glittering decorations capture everyone’s eye, whichever way they happen to glance. This time of year, over the top can be an understatement, and inhibitions about spending seem to soar out the window.
But Style at Home’s senior style editor, Ann Marie Favot, has found that fine holiday balance. She hosts some of the most elegant affairs featuring personalized menus, signature drinks, two trees and gold and blue accents – everywhere. Yet the look is refined, the decor tasteful and the price tag minimal. After all, savvy Annie does a lot of it by hand and on a budget. It’s no Christmas miracle that it all looks so beautiful.
A small faux tree in the entryway sets the party’s tone for arriving guests. What does it say? The pretty champagne-coloured ice bucket holding the tree: “This is a somewhat formal affair.” The luxe sheepskin it’s set upon: “But we’ll make sure you feel comfortable while you’re here.” The ornaments hung from the tree with ribbon instead of the wire they came with: “Extra handmade effort went into this event.” All in all, it says, “This is Christmas. And a chic one at that.”
Make a statement on your staircase – especially if it’s in the entryway. Here’s an easy way to do so that looks glitzy and expensive but costs very little in terms of time and money: Suspend a multi-stringed beaded garland along your banister using white ribbon. Wire together trios of ornaments and attach them to the ribbon. Tuck in gilded leaves for extra flourish and – voila! You’re the queen of Christmas crafts.
Here lies proof that a topper isn’t the most essential element for a decorated tree. On Annie’s evergreen, the perfectly coordinated ornaments stand for themselves, and a topper would have just drawn onlookers’ eyes away from those efforts. So put away that oversized star or handcrafted Christmas angel, and leave your treetop au naturel. It has a humble country look that complements Annie’s contemporary space. 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.
When homeowner and Style at Home senior style editor Ann Marie Favot hosts a dinner for family or friends, Christmastime or not, she likes to keep everyone's glasses full. But ducking in and out of the kitchen means she misses out on her guests' anecdotes and punchlines, so she creates a bar station in the room where the action happens. On her dining room console, Annie used a simple gold tray to corral her bar elements, then she selected a signature drink to serve guests. "To be honest, I chose this cocktail because it matched my palette," she says.
Last Christmas’s boxwood wreaths dried out over the course of the year and, at first, Annie considered tossing them out. But, ever the inventive decorista, she had an idea: She could turn misfortune into fortune by spray-painting the browning wreaths gold – a quick trick that both prevents them from crumbling and also reinforces her holiday colour palette.
The dining table is beautifully set with an air of formality at a casual price. Craft store gift tags were turned into place cards with the wave of a gold pen, while menus were made from plain card stock with the courses handwritten on each and a decorative label placed at the top. It’s a personal touch that doesn’t require spending a fortune at the printer’s.
From the gifts to the tabletop decor, the beautiful blue and gold colour palette is reinforced right down to the napkins.
Cohesion is key to constructing a grouping of stylishly wrapped presents. Annie chose four coordinating papers in solid colours and subtle patterns, and created easy cards and toppers to make them stand out. Instead of buying pricey gift tags, she personalized plain white craft store ones with simple stickers, or placed sticky name tag labels directly on the gift wrap. She also played with layers of ribbon and twine on each gift in addition to using traditional bows.
Christmas crackers are often as pretty as they are fun to pop open, so why hide them away until the big dinner? Instead of filling a bowl with shimmery Christmas ornaments or rustic pinecones, Annie used gold crackers for an uncomplicated festive display. The bonus? With space at a premium during the holidays, it’s nice to be able to store stuff in plain sight without having it look like clutter.
It’s all in the details. Sure, this pretty toss cushion wasn’t brought out exclusively for Santa. But we love how Annie’s blue, white and gold Christmas scheme echoes her home’s everyday palette, right down to the smallest notion – like a gold zipper on a custom blue and white toss cushion.
A spacious and stylish white kitchen flooded with natural light.
A spacious and stylish white kitchen flooded with natural light.
Vancouver designer Joanna Vagelatos updates a spacious family abode by adding tons of texture.
The house was beautiful the way it was. “A lot of people thought we were crazy to change it,” says homeowner Tanis Hill. “But it didn’t suit our style.” With sage green walls and an abundance of dark wood, the home was more heavy and masculine than Tanis and her husband liked. “Our aesthetic has always been light, airy and whimsical,” she says.
The couple purchased the 11-year-old French Provincial-inspired abode four years ago, when they were expecting their third child. “We actually put in an offer from the hospital room,” says Tanis. (Their children are now 7, 5 and 4.) In addition to light-filled wide open spaces and stunning architectural features, the 6,760-square-foot house in an established West Vancouver neighbourhood offered a convenient, tranquil setting ideal for raising a family – it’s four blocks from the beach and close to community centres, and there’s a babbling creek running through the backyard. “We picked this place for the children,” says Tanis.
To update the interior and give it a bright, casual Rachel Ashwell-esque vibe, the homeowners enlisted Vancouver designer Joanna Vagelatos, who now runs JV Design Group but was with The Cross Decor & Design when she worked on the home. During the six-month cosmetic renovation, Joanna transformed the space by painting the walls and millwork in soothing neutrals and replacing the Brazilian cherry hardwood floors with slightly greyed white oak. This created an airy backdrop for the cozy mix of natural fabrics and traditional and vintage-style furniture, as well as Tanis’s chandelier collection (“I love chandeliers – I own 10 of them!” she says).
But it’s the variety of textures and finishes that gives the home’s white, grey and linen palette interest and warmth. “You don’t need to add punches of colour for impact,” says Joanna. For instance, a weathered wood table keeps the dining area invitingly informal; linen and lace give the master bedroom a romantic yet unfussy feel; the chic crystal chandelier and pretty vanity chair enhance the all-white ensuite’s luxurious look; and custom-made burlap toy bins lend softness and uniformity to the playroom (“Plus, they won’t scratch the millwork like hard woven ones would,” says Joanna).
Indeed, the soothing space was decorated without ignoring practicality. “We did everything with the children in mind,” says Tanis. From the virtually indestructible leather covering the kitchen island stools to the stunning unadorned floor-to-ceiling windows (“I don’t have to worry about kids and cords,” says Tanis) to the durable hardwood floors, the house is a veritable indoor playground. “Once the makeover was complete, the kids got on their plastic toy cars and ripped around the rooms – it was their way of christening the place,” she says.
Transforming the kitchen meant replacing the dark granite countertops with honed quartz, spraying the dark wooden island white, adding extra cabinetry for a wall oven and panelled fridge and installing oversized wrought iron chandeliers. White cane-backed stools with grey leather seats match the chairs in the adjacent dining area.
Elements like the muted-toned bean bag chairs, subtle grey foam mats and a white-painted vintage piano provide the functional family playroom with a lively style that’s still sophisticated.
Tanis (pictured here with her three children) inherited the loveseat from her grandmother. The open shelves with burlap toy bins help keep the play area orderly.
The existing freestanding bathtub and marble floor in the ensuite were softened with fleur-de-lys lace café curtains and a linen-covered vanity chair.
A white caned bed frame enhances the master bedroom’s romantic French-inspired look. “It’s a place where we could layer lots of linen and lace,” says Tanis. An oversized chandelier suits the scale of the space and complements its delicate vintage vibe.
A decorative olive branch objet paired with an old hardcover and fresh blooms makes for an enchanting bedroom vignette.
Bergère-style armchairs paired with a scroll-leg pedestal table and cowhide rug define the sitting area in the master bedroom.
The interior’s neutral palette continues to the outdoor living space, which is accessible from the kitchen and dining area via white-painted French doors. “There are three sets of French doors on the back of the house,” says Tanis. “And when they’re all opened up, they reveal a beautiful setting.” Tanis and her husband love to spend time here relaxing.
The rustic stone fireplace, driftwood-toned coffee table and resin wicker sofas with linen-hued cushions give the covered lounge area an indoor-outdoor feel.
Stylish toss cushions and throws add to the outdoor sitting area’s cozy vibe.
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.