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.
A cabin in the woods becomes one family's dream vacation home.
One designer helps a B.C. couple achieve the vacation home of their dreams.
We didn’t have to knock down walls. We had to put them up – and that almost never happens,” says designer Dan Vickery on the transformation of this small cabin on Hornby Island, B.C. A project he took on as one of the hosts of W Network’s new show Love It or List It Vacation Homes, the cottage was far from complete. Homeowners Jim and Lauren Wolf (he’s a city planner, historian and author; she’s the executive director of a not-for-profit organization) purchased the 700-square-foot space on a whim in 2005, and for the next 10 years, the New Westminster, B.C., couple spent vacations lovingly updating and expanding the cabin to suit their family, which includes 16-year-old son Griffin, Felix the Jack Russell terrier and Loonie, “a fat and fussy ginger tomcat.” They raised the existing structure and set it on a new concrete foundation; flipped the blue-stained siding to reveal its natural cedar finish; and added an Arts and Crafts-style porch to suit the artist-populated island. And they didn’t stop there: Jim and Lauren continued to enlarge the cottage, incorporating a full kitchen, extending the main-floor master bedroom (“so it could actually fit a queen-sized bed,” he says) and building a second level for more bedrooms.
“Jim is an artist at heart,” says Dan. “And while he’s great at starting projects, he’s not so great at completing them. When I entered the scene, the only finished rooms were the kitchen, bathroom and living area.” But, Dan clarifies, the flooring was mismatched, and the bathroom had an exposed water heater at its centre. In addition, the master bedroom had no insulation, and the entire upstairs was built only to the studs. The challenge – made even more difficult by the fact that the island is three ferry rides from mainland B.C. – may seem daunting to most, but Dan was in his element. “This was a fun project,” he says. “We just had to fix some construction issues and put up some walls to define the upstairs bedrooms.” (Ha! “Just.”)
“The hardest part,” says Dan, “was hunting down unique items that would speak to the character of the cabin, its artful setting and, especially, Jim and Lauren themselves.” Of the couple’s established style, he adds: “Every part of this place has a story. There are pieces from different vintage shops they’ve visited or vacations they’ve taken. There’s a sense of love and warmth as soon as you walk in.” So to continue the welcoming atmosphere, Dan sourced a lot of items from the Free Store, a Hornby Island spot where people can adopt others’ donated goods and building materials at no cost. It’s where Dan located stuff like the sheet metal (used as a textured wall treatment in Griffin’s room) and salvaged barnboard (turned into a herringbone headboard in the master bedroom, not shown).
The strategy was a success, because when it came time for Jim and Lauren to decide whether they’d keep this freshly renovated cabin or buy a new place (the premise of the Love It or List It franchise), it was a no-brainer: “The other properties couldn’t match the sweat equity that we had already invested and would never have our history so entwined in every corner,” says Jim. “This cottage is a part of our family’s story.”
This cabin may be three ferry rides away from where Jim and Lauren Wolf reside in mainland B.C., but designer Dan Vickery brought the homeowners closer to their ideal vacation property than they could have dreamed.
“Sometimes all that’s needed to define the different areas of a great room is a little bit of extra breathing space in between,” says designer Dan Vickery of the small open-concept main floor that features a living room, dining area and kitchen. In a clever twist on tradition, Dan used a basket as a shade for the dining room pendant light.
The light-filled living room was one of the more finished areas of the cabin when Dan arrived on the scene. Apart from the flooring and a few blue accessories (“I love that the homeowners weren’t afraid of colour,” he says), almost everything else here stayed the same.
The mud room/ laundry room boasts a washer and dryer, open and closed storage and a bench for pulling shoes on and off. It even conceals the ugly water heater that was once exposed in the bathroom (just beyond that white door). “Since the area is open to the main living space, it had to look good,” says Dan. “The result demonstrates how design can be beautiful and functional at the same time.”
“If a client tells me they’re not afraid of colour, I’m going to give it to them,” says Dan, who incorporated bold hues, such as the rusty orange of the master bedroom’s tufted armchair, throughout the house.
The homeowners’ teenaged son, Griffin Wolf, was so thrilled to finally get a place of his own: Until now, his bedroom was just one big unfinished space. “There was no sense of privacy,” says Dan. “Griffin’s room was open to the living area below.” An old paddle offers creative wall art that’s perfectly fitting for Hornby Island, which attracts both artsy and sporty types.
Demarcated by new walls, Griffin’s bedroom is positioned behind this little loft area, which is open to the downstairs living room. The cheerful space features a lounger (not shown) that unfolds into a small bed for guests wanting to spend the night, as well as this tiny office nook for anyone who has extra work to complete.
While a shiplap-look treatment lends texture to three of the walls in Griffin’s new room, corrugated metal roofing provides interest on the fourth. “Colour is obviously critical to great design,” says Dan. “But every space should take a good black and white picture as well, because when you take colour out of the equation, texture is what’s left to analyze.”
Make this twist on traditional lasagne with this recipe from Elana Karp and Suzanne Dumaine's new cookbook Plated.
1 Preheat the oven to 425°F.
2 On a baking sheet, toss the mushrooms and squash with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and salt and pepper.
3 Arrange in a single layer and roast until tender, about 18 minutes.
4 While the vegetables roast, strip the stems from the kale leaves, then cut the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Thinly slice the garlic. In a large pan, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the kale and garlic and cook until the kale is wilted and bright green, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.
5 Remove the roasted mushrooms and squash from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 400°F. Using a fork or spoon, mash the squash.
6 To make the béchamel sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When the butter is foamy, sprinkle in the flour and whisk until the mixture is smooth and golden, about 2 minutes. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking continuously, until no lumps remain. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick and coats the back of a spoon, 6 to 7 minutes. Season with the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, stirring to combine; remove the pot from the heat.
7 Spread a thin layer of the béchamel sauce over the bottom of a 9" x 13" baking dish. Add a layer of the lasagna noodles, followed by a layer of squash and mushrooms, the kale, more sauce and a sprinkle of Parmesan. Repeat to make 2 more layers: noodles, vegetables, sauce and Parmesan. Top with a final layer of noodles and the remaining béchamel sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan and the Gruyère.
8 Loosely cover the dish with foil, transfer to the oven and bake until the lasagna is bubbling, about 30 minutes.
9 Increase the oven temperature to 450°F.
10 Uncover the lasagna and continue baking until golden, about 10 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before cutting into pieces. Wrap with foil and store in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month. To reheat, microwave the lasagna or warm it, covered, in the oven at 350°F.
Excerpted from Plated by Elana Karp & Suzanne Dumaine. Recipes Copyright © 2016 Elana Karp & Suzanne Dumaine, Photography copyright © 2016 Robert Bredvad. Excerpted by permission of Clarkson Potter/Publishers. All rights reserved.
Contemporary kitchen with timeless appeal
Architect Yannick Laurin of Montreal’s La Shed Architecture works wonders on a dated kitchen that perfectly combines contemporary styling with timeless appeal.
THEN: There was limited connection between the living spaces and the backyard.
NOW: On the main floor, light pours into the kitchen from black-framed floor-to-ceiling sliding doors, which lead outside. Black was also used on the lower cabinets to ground the space and to contrast all the white. The white-painted exposed brick wall above the Corian perimeter countertop acts as a durable backsplash and adds a nostalgic touch. The sleek custom range hood enhances the modern look.
THEN: With dropped ceilings and tiny windows, the back of the main-floor flat felt confined. NOW: Replacing the dropped ceilings with a smooth surface increased the space’s height by a foot, enhancing its airy vibe. The sustainable wide-plank birch floors also contribute to the light and spacious feel of the house. To create continuity, the same birch appears on the white Corian-topped island, which complements the less variegated birch on the nearby staircase.
Floating maple cubbies help break up the expanse of white walls and cabinetry.
THEN: The small front vestibule had two doors - one to the main floor and the other to a staircase leading to the second floor. NOW: The staircase, now a major architectural statement, was flipped and pushed further back to provide more space in the entry. “We made the outside black and the inside birch to resemble a cut piece of fruit,” says Yannick. The staircase’s wide upper opening allows natural light from the massive skylight to flood the two storeys.
THEN: The view to the front of the house was originally blocked off; the main-floor entry opened onto a small living room. NOW: In the open-concept layout, the sculptural staircase connects the front of the house (a bathroom and small office) to the back (the kitchen and dining area). On the second floor, a white-painted perforated steel catwalk connects the corridor to the staircase. “We used perforated steel so it wouldn’t block the light,” says architect Yannick Laurin.