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Shopping the planet, ancient routes bring fresh design

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Shopping the planet, ancient routes bring fresh design

As far back as 200 BC, the fabled Silk Road carried coveted silks, richly-patterned carpets, worked metal, fine porcelains and ceramics from deep within China, all the way to the Roman Empire. Think of it as an ancient form of Wayfair, with longer delivery times.

Two millennia later, independent design boutiques connected to a worldwide marketplace make sourcing unique treasures for the home easier, and a lot faster.

A World Of Character

“Being independent gives us the freedom to find all kinds of elements that add layers of personality to a space and give people a feeling that there is a design story,” says Pamela Arora, owner of Turquoise Palace, which sells global design to both designers and residential clients.

Many products come from India, where Arora and co-owner, Tanya Sharma, have family connections.

Traditional weaving techniques meet modern sensibility at Thirty-Six Knots.

Responsible Luxury

With independence also comes the ability to choose one’s own suppliers, and to insist they share a commitment to good labour conditions and sustainable materials. “We work with co-ops that employ stay-at-home moms, we work with local artisans and entrepreneurs,” says Sharma. “But we have a list of criteria for people we work with that we don’t deviate from.”

“Tanya and I decided a long time ago that we only wanted to be involved in responsible luxury,” adds Arora.

Finally, independence gives them the freedom to flex their creative muscles through design: they’re currently working on a collection of pillows based on the wedding veils of their mothers. Turquoise Palace products are available in select stores across the country.

Artisanal Artistry

Hopson Grace, a pretty little store in midtown Toronto that ships across the country, also offers decor gems from all over, such as sculptural, deliberately irregular pieces from Italian ceramic artist Rina Menardi — handcrafted in her studio outside Venice.

Treasures from the modern-day trade route: Rina Menardi ceramics

Casa Cubista, owned by British-born designer Arren Williams and his husband David Pimentel (who grew up in an Azorean-Canadian family of craftspeople,) has expanded quickly, and has now added to its ceramic and textile line, a collection of handmade rugs available through Renwil. Casa Cubista products are available in Toronto at Saudade Toronto, located in Little Portugal, and at decor boutiques around the world.

Several Casa Cubista rugs are made with fabric reclaimed from the fashion industry.

Contemporary, versatile designs like these are helping handcrafted goods shed an often undeserved reputation for lacking in sophistication. Modern design and old-world craft come together masterfully, for example, in the carpets sold at Thirty-Six Knots, located in mid-town Toronto, (they also sell decor and furniture). Made from wool and silk in India, the designs mix traditional techniques with inventive, fresh patterns.

A marked improvement on the Silk Road delivery times, a custom design for a hand-tufted carpet can typically take 90 days, while a hand-knotted design could require up to a year.

“The reason hand-knotted takes so long is we typically use what is called 14- by 14- knots per square inch,” he explains. With some carpets, that can mean one and a half million hand-tied knots.

Tasselled jacquard pillows from Turquoise Palace blend old techniques with fresh trends

Global Decor Favoured

Mass market chains are increasingly making global connections: West Elm collaborates with local artisans in spots like New Delhi and the Philippines, while Ikea’s Överallt collection paired designers from five African countries with an in-house designer to create furniture, tableware, textiles, and totes. Hurry – it’s only in stores until the end of September.

Ikea’s colourful Överallt line.

Why is global decor resonating so well with homeowners?

“We’re gravitating to the past for stability and a sense of history,” suggests Sharma. “At the same time, we’re moving away from sparse interiors, and toward colour. Decor from around the world, artisanal crafts, they deliver that.”

SOURCES hopsongrace.com, westelm.ca, ikea.ca, thirtysixknots.com, turquoisepalace.com, renwil.com

Vicky Sanderson

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By invitation only, how to be a great guest

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By invitation only, how to be a great guest

What’s more splendid than spending a lazy summer afternoon under a big, blue sky? Why, doing so at a cottage situated by a big, blue lake, of course!

For the cottage-less, opportunities for that will depend on being invited by friends with recreational properties. For their generous hosts, it means laying some ground rules so that visits are mutually pleasant, and don’t add unduly to the weekend workload.

Cottage etiquette

Fortunately, both visitors and their hosts can do their part to see that everybody has fun.

Hosts can avoid an exhausting revolving door of guests by sticking to designated weekends for visitors that work with the family schedule. Unless, of course, an endless stream of folks is their idea of fun.

Cottages that are easy-care mean less worry about guests. Fortunately, handsome and low-maintenance furniture and accessories — for both indoors and out — are a boon. Great examples include weather-resistant outdoor cushions and rugs from Crate and Barrel and unbreakable dishware in pretty patterns or realistic wood grains from retailers like HomeSense.

Host/guest relations

The savvy host tells guests what to expect, including whether they should bring bedding, sleeping bags, or towels, and sketches out what the general vibe of the weekend is; if they all rise early for a communal breakfast, or stay up late and have a sing-along by the campfire.

The gracious guest, on the other hand, asks about issues specific to their visit: so if you’re allergic to pets, or would like to bring Rover with you, talk to your host.

Meal prep & cleanup

Endear yourself by offering to oversee at least one full meal. Pre-make, or at least pre-prep, to reduce water use, time spent, and cleanup required. Or offer to bring the fixing for a signature drink for the weekend that works either with or without alcohol. It’s easy to make a sparkling cranberry drink — that can be spiked with vodka after 5 p.m. — with the highly portable Soda Stream, which turns tap water into sparkling water. Bring fixings for a low-fuss snack too — a cheese and charcuterie board, your world-famous guacamole, or fresh fruit and a yogurt dip.

Plan to help with tidying up at the end of the weekend, or offer to handle at least one chore before taking off. There’s a fine line, here, of course; the thoughtful host will not casually mention at breakfast that a retaining wall needs rebuilding, and suggest guests pitch in.

Reduce waste

Go easy on bringing anything with a lot of packaging — many cottagers have to take garbage out with them or to a landfill. Try re-usable options like beeswax- coated wraps from Toronto based Etee, which now also sells sandwich and food storage bag formats, or Kliin, a machine washable cleaning cloth that’s an alternative to traditional paper towels, and which, by the way, is also made by a Canadian company.

If you are lucky enough to have a friend offer you their cottage and refuse rental payment, think about splurging on a gift they’ll get lots of use out of. Hauser has very handsome solar lanterns: they’re pricey — about $170 and up, but these beautiful, eco-friendly lights cost far, far less than the cost of rental, and might just ensure that you’re invited back.

SOURCES Crate and Barrel, SodaStream, Hauser, Etee, Kliin

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Healthy home habits well-being includes body and mind

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Healthy home habits well-being includes body and mind

Even with the best of intentions, most of us experience challenges on the road to wellness, the term now commonly used to describe optimal physical, emotional, and mental health.

Fortunately, the journey can begin with small steps at home, aided by both simple tools and sophisticated technology.

There’s a well-established link, for example, between oral health and diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory illness, as well as pre-term and low-birth-weight babies, according to the Canadian Dental Association.

THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT

To improve oral hygiene, Philips’ Sonicare DiamondClean uses an app to identify a user’s brushing problem areas, to set oral health goals, and to send data to the user’s dentist.

If the $250 price tag is too high, use a regular toothbrush at least twice a day and for at least two minutes. Replace it every three to four months or after you’ve had an illness or infection. Rinse it well before and after using, giving it a good shake to dispel water. It should sit upright to dry in a holder between uses and not touch toothbrushes of other family members. Don’t cover the brush, as bacteria loves to grow in closed, damp environments.

CATCH YOUR ZZZS

Poor quality or inadequate sleep has also been linked to chronic diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Simple changes to a bedtime routine can help. Start by turning off social media at least an hour before sleeping, and reducing room temperature. Because excess light can affect sleep quality, consider heavy curtains or an eye mask — easy to find and inexpensive at retailers like HomeSense or Winners. New lighting products can help with custom settings, delivering soothing hues at bedtime, or a gentle sunrise simulation when it’s time to rise and shine.

Canadian tech company Nanoleaf, for example, has just launched a line called Canvas; light squares that can be connected to create a design on any surface, and can be programmed to provide lighting for reading, watching movies, or falling asleep. For fun, the light pattern also responds to touch, and to music. The system works with Apple Siri, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa.

SERENE SCENTS

An aromatherapy diffuser can set a calming mood in a home office or bedroom. Indigo sells a very pretty Auria diffuser in a gold and wood finish. This model, which connects to USB power supply, works for both home and travel, continually misting for up to four hours.

MOVEMENT MOTIVATION

Lounging around the house to de-stress has a role in self-care, but research also links sitting for long periods with obesity, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol levels.

One way to encourage movement at home is to keep a basket of workout gear handy. Seeing a pair of weights, resistance bands, and yoga mat in the corner of a family room may encourage you to use them while watching a movie, or to follow along with one of the many good-quality exercise videos on YouTube.

The Apple watch also offers new ways to monitor health, based on four parameters: activity, mindfulness, nutrition, and sleep. In the home, it can be used as an aid in an exercise practise such as yoga, and to track calories or heart rate. An accelerometer and gyroscope even detects hard falls — helpful for seniors who wish to age in place at home.

SOURCES winners.ca homesense.ca indigo.ca nanoleaf.me apple.ca philips.ca

Vicky Sanderson

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Better Living Expert: Kitchen Tools You Can Trust

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Better Living Expert: Kitchen Tools You Can Trust

Doing more with less

More than any other room in the home, the kitchen needs the right tools to function well.

There’s also no other room for which so many gadgets and gewgaws are marketed as must-haves. Far too many of them end their days collecting dust on valuable counter space, which is why many serious chefs edit culinary paraphernalia down to a few simple essentials.

Olson’s smooth French-style rolling pin lets bakers “feel” pastry better.

EXPERTS WEIGH IN

That was certainly a guiding principle behind chef Anna Olson’s eponymous line of kitchen tools, check annaolson.ca for availability. “I narrowed it down by looking at what I use on a regular basis and why I like the design of the tools I favour,” says Olson.

The result is a 23-piece collection that includes steel baking pans, sheets, measuring spoons and cups, BPA-free silicone and hardwood spatulas and spoons, and other baking and icing gear.

Tools typically on hand in the pro’s kitchen, says Olson, include a rasp, mini-chopper, silicone spatulas, mandolin, and stand mixer, the latter being a permanent fixture on her own counter.

Olson replaced, however, a food processor with a highpowered blender, because she never used the slicing or grating attachments on the food processor, and finds the blender does such a stunning job of puréeing soups and sauces, and makes the smoothest hummus.

Olson’s aim was to combine great performance and longevity in kitchen tools.

MULTI-FUNCTIONAL & COMPACT

Olson’s not alone—foodies (and smoothie lovers) have, over the last few years, enthusiastically embraced blenders. Many seem to be fans of Vitamix’s lineup, which includes the Ascent blender, whose two-horsepower motor supports five program settings and 10 speeds, and is blessedly easy to clean.

Because Olson likes kitchen tools with multiple uses, her silicone trivets will be versatile, designed to hold hot baking pans, serve as flexible pot holders, keep a mixing bowl in place, or grip and loosen a tightly-sealed jar lid.

Many chefs say the practice of mise en place (French for putting everything—from pre-measured chopped garlic/onion/ginger to whisked egg or flour for a gravy—in small bowls in preparation for cooking) can dramatically improve results for the home chef.

Perfect for this are ramekins, which are also useful for serving condiments or toppings on the table. Small footprint and very affordable, four stackable ceramic ramekins from Quebec-based chef Ricardo sell for about $15 at Kitchen Stuff Plus.

Olson’s oval measuring spoons are designed to fit into narrow jar openings.

KEEP IT CLEAN

Little details make a big difference to food prep and cleanup. A professional kitchen, for example, is never short of clean dishcloths. Similarly, having lots of absorbent, quick-drying towels makes work easier. Greener than paper towels, they too have multiple uses, such as drying and storing greens, covering dishes or cradling bread in a bowl.

Look for both from Euroscrubby; they have super-absorbent dishcloths ($6) and towels (a generous 19 by 28 inches) made in Lithuania from a cotton/linen blend ($13), and decorated with quaint designs that will make you smile.

For Olson, another simple, but absolutely essential, kitchen tool is an ergonomic rolling pin. “It instils confidence in your pastry. I like to use a French-style, tapered rolling pin. It has no handles on the ends; your hands are on top of the pin, so you can feel the pastry better as you roll.”

Vicky Sanderson

SOURCES
Annaolson.ca, euroscrubby.com, kitchenstuffplus.com, vitamix.ca

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Better Living Expert: High-IQ Households

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Better Living Expert: High-IQ Households

Home tech makes life easier and more efficient

A smarter home can start with something as simple as having Siri on an iPhone in the kitchen to convert 250°F to Celsius, find a recipe for roasted cauliflower, or play your favourite podcast while you cook or clean.

The voice-activated features in smart speakers such as Amazon’s Alexa-enabled Echo or Dot, and Google Home can go far beyond that by overseeing just about every system in the home. As of June, by the way, Apple added to the mix its HomePod, which the company says sets a new audio quality standard for a small speaker and delivers high-fidelity sound seamlessly throughout multiple rooms.

Friday Lock

Here’s a beginner’s guide to high-tech home help.

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Philips Hue wireless home lighting system lets you tune colour and brightness by toggling through the spectrum on a phone or choosing from pre-set colours. Certain hues, such as the warm coral and chilly blue may be too aggressive for some, but a pale pink would be flattering in a powder room or used as part of a nighttime routine in a child’s bedroom. Set as an alarm, it can be programmed to lighten gradually. Lights can be dimmed across the spectrum, and there are very useful standard settings for tasks like reading.

Adding motion sensors means light is only triggered when someone is, for example, on the porch or paddling to the bathroom. I tried two: the well-designed Hue model, which is smaller and more discreet than the Eve Motion Sensor from Elgato. I set the latter up pretty easily by capturing a bar code on the product package through Apple’s HomeKit to begin installation.

Who doesn’t want heat to drop automatically when everyone is in bed or out of the house, given that doing so can help save up to 23 per cent in heating costs annually? The ecobee thermostat can be connected to HomeKit either through the ecobee mobile app or the Apple Home app. The latest, the ecobee4, has Amazon Alexa built in, so the thermostat also tells time, delivers news and weather, and cracks corny bartender jokes. There’s also a new Alexaenabled light switch from ecobee.

If you get a lot of deliveries, want to keep an eye on pets—or kids after school—Omna D-Link camera lets users view everything remotely through iOS/Android devices. It has a 180-degree solution, and a motion detector that captures events and sends alerts, while a built-in microphone and speaker delivers two-way audio.

LOGICAL LOCKS AND CLEVER KITCHENS

The Friday smartlock, which the company claims is the world’s smallest, has a sleek design and comes in several metallic finishes. It allows the user to issue and revoke electronic “keys” for multiple people. Installation requires only a screwdriver and hacksaw, and users can still open the door in the traditional way, if and when it’s necessary.

Friday Lock detail

Fridges with see-through screens were originally touted as being useful in checking the contents, but they may prove themselves more helpful as a smart hub for making shopping lists, ordering groceries, sharing calendars, finding recipes, tracking expiry dates on food, showing children’s art, and checking the news and weather. Forerunners include the Samsung Family Hub 2.0, which has a customizable 21.5-inch WiFi-enabled touchscreen or LG’s new InstaView ThinQ, which has a 29-inch touchscreen that becomes transparent with a double knock.

Vicky Sanderson

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Better Living Expert: Summer Style Forecast

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Better Living Expert: Summer Style Forecast

Sunny colours, with a chance of pattern

CANADIAN SUMMERS are gone as swiftly as cake at a kid’s party, so it’s important to make the most of an outdoor area, whether it’s a big backyard or a narrow balcony.

Cape table set from EQ3. Photo courtesy of EQ3

FURNITURE—RAIN OR SHINE

A generous table is an obvious way to ground a larger space. Big box stores will have attractive models in metal, synthetic rattan, and wood in every hue. Black-and-white finishes on both wood and metal are also emerging: the uncomplicated aluminum frame and tempered-glass top on EQ3’s Cape outdoor table is a timeless example.

Good-looking, weather-resistant chairs in similar materials are equally available. Arguably the most handsome (and inarguably among the more expensive) right now is the Nodi chair—made with twisted synthetic rope—from the line Yabu Pushelberg did for Belgian design house Tribù, available on Avenue Road.

More realistic, perhaps, is acaciawood seating with woven backs from Rona’s San Paulo collection—in dining, folding and stool options. HomeSense was one of a handful of retailers that included a hanging Egg chair in summer trend vignettes; several, like theirs, were executed in elegant black-resin wicker.

Conversational seating is well suited for drinks, nibbles, and chatting. For that, fans of swivel chairs (who isn’t?) will especially like Lowe’s pretty Ellisview set.

FIRE FEATURES HOTTER THAN EVER

It’s easy to find chimenea and stand-alone units in every style, and now even tables with built-in, gas-fed boxes. Handsome wood and glass lanterns in sculptural shapes, such as those West Elm is showing, are an economical alternative, and have the advantage of being portable. Similarly, hanging lights shaped like flamingos, stars, fruit, or tiny paper lanterns, are a low investment nod to summer.

If space is tight, save some with a five-piece set from Rona’s Shanghai collection, in which wicker chairs tuck neatly under the table when not in use. Urban Barn’s Acapulco-inspired Fresno set has a small, round table and two dramatic high-backed chairs, making it suitable as a table for two, or an occasional outdoor work station.

NO-FUSS GARDENING

Low-maintenance gardens remain popular (see summer, short, above). They’re easy to create, given the vast availability of inexpensive planters and pots, such as Lowe’s sunny hammered gold planters and Ikea’s ceramic pots with creamy bands atop either pink or black bases.

Outdoor rugs have become increasingly sophisticated, both in their design and weather-resistance, as have pillows. West Elm has an exceptionally pretty line made in partnership with super-cool, Los Angeles-based creative art agency, Zoe Bios.

FEAST ON COLOUR

The table is a natural place to introduce colour and patterns, especially as there is so much choice in unbreakable dinnerware, textiles, and accessories, as well as an abundant crop of bold hues and graphic designs.

Real Canadian Superstore and President’s Choice home collection includes, for example, cool patterns and hot colours on everything from ceramic stools to towels and patio umbrellas.

For linens, consider Turkish blankets from Stray and Wander. These organic cotton, hand-loomed blankets with straightforward and subtle stripes are light-weight, ultra-absorbent, and available in several colours. The combination of beauty and practicality means they make a fine tablecloth that can, with a quick shake, serve nicely for a nap under a tree. Which, summer being so short, you’ll want to catch while you can.

SOURCES eq3.com, lowes.ca, rona.ca, westelm.ca, avenue-road.com, homesense.ca, urbanbarn.com, strayandwander.com, idea.ca, realcanadiansuperstore.ca

Vicky Sanderson

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Domestic Details: Recipe for Delicious Al Fresco Dining

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Domestic Details: Recipe for Delicious Al Fresco Dining

Easy steps to setting up an outdoor kitchen

Not everyone is as enthusiastic about outdoor cooking as Michael P. Clive. A grill expert for barbecue manufacturer Weber, he’s woken his wife in the middle of the night, “smelling like a smokehouse” after checking a recipe that requires overnight cooking.

While a chef’s ultimate outdoor kitchen includes endless pots and pans, lots of sleek stainless steel, miles of counter space, and a hand-washing station with running hot water, Clive agrees that most homeowners won’t find such bells and whistles either feasible or necessary.

BACK TO BASICS

“It all goes back to that primal form of cooking over a fire,” he says. “If you have the equipment that lets you do that in a few different ways, you have what it takes to cook for a family or do a classic outdoor party.”

Which type of barbecue you choose will be determined by lifestyle. Do you want to be able to come home after work and quickly get an al fresco meal done? Then go for the speed and ease of gas, and choose a model that has a push-button start. If lazy weekend barbecues are what you have in mind, enjoy the pace and ritual aspects of charcoal. Dedicated outdoor chefs like Clive increasingly choose to have both gas and charcoal, and to add a smoker or other accessories.

MASTER TEMPERATURE CONTROL

One of the trickiest aspects of cooking to master is temperature, and this especially applies to the outdoor kitchen, when distractions may be even greater. A meat thermometer will be key.

Weber has a new model—the iGrill 3—that fits into docking stations on its new Genesis II and Genesis II LX gas. It comes with two temperature probes, and two more can be purchased. A downloadable app sends alerts when, for example, fuel is running low or optimal temperature has been reached. Speaking of temperature, a set of well-made silicone gloves with fingers is a good idea.

ESSENTIAL OUTDOOR PIECES

Furniture that does double-duty will add flexibility to an outdoor kitchen. For that reason, Cindy Jardim, director of trends for Lowe’s, likes dining sets that also work for conversational groupings, planters that can function as privacy screens, hard-working wicker resin sideboards that when topped with a cutting board serve as prep area, and bar carts that can store extra propane tanks, pillows, and accessories.

This piece, from Lowe’s, works as an ice bucket, storage bin and serving surface, making it perfect for a small urban yard.

Lowe’s also has a clever, affordable solution to the challenge of running water, with a “sink” that can be connected to a garden hose.

Lastly, for worry-free dining, choose unbreakable tableware, readily available at mass merchants like HomeSense and PC Home (at Loblaw’s Real Canadian Superstores). If some goes missing, replacements don’t have to match, but you might consider staying in the same colour family.

BRUSHES WITH SAFETY

Cheerful, unbreakable dinnerware adds colour to outdoor dining.

There were some scary stories last summer of folks undergoing emergency surgery after swallowing bristles that had fallen off barbecue brushes.

While Chef Clive isn’t willing to give up on wire brushes, he cautions that it’s an item “where you get what you pay for.” Stay away from cheap dollar store wire brushes, and check all brushes for loose bristles each time they’re used. Clean and inspect the grill thoroughly before using.

If you do ditch the conventional wire brush, consider Weber’s new three-sided brush head, in which bristles are attached through two ends of the rods. Other low-risk cleaning options include a raw onion cut in two and rubbed across the grill, and crumpled tin foil pushed over the grill with a pair of tongs.

VICKY SANDERSON

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