Tag Archives: Vicky Sanderson

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Better living expert, smart choices

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Better living expert, smart choices

When it comes to houses, lots of people think bigger is better. The median above-grade living area of recently built single-detached houses in Ontario was, for example, 2,380 square feet. According to Statistics Canada, that’s 30 per cent larger than a similar house that was constructed in the 1990s, and almost double the size of one built before the 1960s.

At the same time, condos are shrinking: the median unit built in 2017 was about 30 per cent smaller than the 1980s. Given that condo construction outpaces single residential homes in multiple markets, more and more homeowners will need to learn to live with less space.

Fortunately, relatively simple solutions are available for every room.

Hard-working surfaces

Effective small-footprint design can start with choosing furniture, appliances, and accessories that serve more than one purpose, especially important for those who work from home. One idea: keep beauty and office supplies to a minimum in a simple vanity with drawers and a fold-out mirror from HomeSense, and it could function as both a dressing table and work space. With the right lighting, it could also be easily slid into any unused condo corner.

Seamless seating

Sofa beds add flexibility to a small living or office space. Sleepenvie, the Canadian bed-in-a-box company that makes a clever hybrid foam/spring model, has launched a sofa that arrives in a box at the front door five to 10 days after ordering. There are six styles – from a simple loveseat to sofa with chaise that can be oriented to suit the client. You can see them in real life at Leon’s stores. Assembly is minimal, but a white-glove service can do that for you, if you like.

Office supplies that read as decorative items are useful in small spaces that double as home offices. For those, check out designer Joe Mimran’s exclusive line for Staples Canada. The handsome Gry Mattr collection includes notebooks, organizers, pencil holders, mugs and oil diffusers in grey, black, and tan neutrals, as well as a jazzy Terrazzo finish and scented candles in cement holders.

In the kitchen, a KitchenAid stand mixer in a standout colour with a patterned or embossed ceramic bowl is both pretty and practical.

Multi-function cooking options

Some housing observers now suggest that as food preparation kits and other delivery services continue to grow – especially in urban centres – conventional stoves will be replaced by space-saving wall units, coupled with two burner range tops or induction pads that can be stored in a drawer when not in use. Bosch’s 24-inch wall oven, which has special cycles for faster cooking, combines convection and microwave functions, and plugs in with a 120V three-prong plug, is a well-designed alternative.

Barely there barista

There are other, less drastic, ways to squeeze more space out of the kitchen. I’ve been testing Philips LatteGo coffee maker, which makes terrific regular coffee, espresso, Americano, cappuccino, and macchiato, and dispenses hot water. It has an onboard grinder and milk frother tucked neatly beside the adjustable coffee spout, so using it allowed me to put away a frother and a grinder, clearing up valuable working area and reducing visual noise. That’s a win-win in any small space.

SOURCES

sleepenvie.ca, homesense.ca, staples.ca, philips.ca, kitchenaid.ca, leons.ca, bosch.ca

Vicky Sanderson

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Simple, Seasonal, Since, little gifts with loads of good cheer

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Simple, Seasonal, Since, little gifts with loads of good cheer

Great gifts needn’t be lavish or expensive, especially when what’s needed is something small to fill a gap in a Christmas stocking, gift at Hanukkah, or offer a beloved friend in thanks for a holiday invite. In each case, choosing presents that are either practical or consumable — or both — will also help reduce the clutter that comes with the season.

Tried and true

Old standbys — homemade tea loafs, breads, preserves, or sauces — are even more useful when wrapped in an attractive, inexpensive tea towel, such as one from Ikea’s Vardagen series.

Canadian Tire

Made from good-quality unbleached striped linen, it looks very cosy tied with twine or cord. A pack of two is just $7, so pick up a couple; a bottle of wine wrapped in one is a last minute step up from bringing booze in a brown bag, and it will come in handy long after the party’s over.

Piling homemade cookies or biscuits on a colourful serving platter — easy to find and affordable at thrift shops — wrapped in a tea towel or cellophane is a polished way to present them.

Anna Olson

Beauty in a basket

Beauty and body-care products nestled in a small basket is another reliable choice, partly because central heating has begun to dry skin and hair, and hectic holiday schedules mean folks sometimes groom in a rush. For those reasons, I very much liked samples I was recently sent from OGX. The hair moisturizers are lightweight but effective, as is the foam dry shampoo, which can be put in the hair post-party and slept on for even better results. Very affordable as stocking stuffers, the line is widely available.

 

VdeV botanical
OXG

A delicate and detailed 20- by 23-inch botanical print on acid-free Italian paper from VdeV ($5.25) rolled up and tied with a ribbon would make a pretty gift, and look sweet popping out of the top of the stocking.

Ornaments – Not just for the tree

For new couples or recent homebuyers, a few sparkly ornaments make a good gift. Crate and Barrel has loads of exceptionally jolly options under $10. If you’re hosting, consider looping a gift tag with a name on it through the top of an ornament, and using it as a place card/party favour. Canadian Tire is another good source of fun, affordable ornaments — think teeny tucks laden with holiday trees — that work well for this.

Crate and Barrel

Home cooks always love the chance to play with a new kitchen gadget. One that will probably become a favourite with bakers is a 13-inch whisk from Chef Anna Olson’s line at Hudson’s Bay. It’s made with a steel barrel handle and non-reactive stainless-steel wires. The large balloon shape creates maximum volume, and can be used on hot or cold ingredients. Dishwasher safe, it costs about $18. Another option is a 13-inch spatula made of natural beech wood with a head and ribbed sleeve in a seasonally-appropriate green silicone ($13).

The ultimate giveback gift

One way to share the spirit of the season is to send whatever you would have on a gift to a helping organization your pal supports. Get a card — perhaps one of the whimsical made-in-Canada cards from family run Green Bean Studio ($5 and up at the One of a Kind Show and online) — and write a short note expressing gratitude for being included in the festivities, and sharing news of the donation.

SOURCES canadiantire.ca , crateandbarrel.ca, greenbeanstudio.com, Ikea.ca, ogxbeauty.com, thebay.com (for Anna Olson), vdevmaison.com , oneofakindshow.com

Vicky Sanderson

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Seasonal Sanctuary, Water therapy for the winter-weary

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Seasonal Sanctuary, Water therapy for the winter-weary

Short of decamping to a Caribbean island, there’s nothing you can do to stave off the arrival of bone-chilling winter weather. It is possible, though, to create a bathroom design in which you can warm up and wash away the winter blahs.

Luxury Escape

A long, hot soak in one of the new, generously sized, freestanding tubs is a good place to start. What could be more luxurious than the graceful lines of Native Trails’ Santorini model, which can be executed in antique and polished copper or brushed nickel? Save up – the cost is about $10,000US.

Dr. Teals

Bespoke Fixtures

Dramatically deep tubs benefit from the jewelry-like and sculptural fixtures now available. Moen, for example, has handsome new tub-filler faucets that come in popular chrome and brushed-nickel finishes. Some models will be available in new brushed-gold and matte-black finishes, while others come in warm polished-nickel and oilrubbed bronze looks.

Moen tub filler

Each line has matching faucets, shower trim, and accessories. The company suggests its proprietary bracket system avoids the wobble that comes with some floor-mounted tub-fillers; especially important given that some folk will use them to steady themselves getting in and out of the tub.

Next-Level Tiles Take You Away

The right tile can transform the most pedestrian bathroom into an elegant escape. Lunada Bay Tile, which makes handcrafted glass, ceramic, and concrete tile that reflect Southern California coastal living, has just launched Tomei Modules — largeformat glass tiles that echo the crisp and pleasing geometric of Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Mies van der Rohe, and are available in 11 waterinspired colours.

Lunada Bay Tile

Splash-Proof Wallpaper

A practical alternative to tile is Tempaper, self-adhesive, removable, repositionable wallpaper. With a non-breathable substrate, it can be installed in bathrooms with indirect moisture: heat or steam will not affect its performance. The line includes exceptionally pretty floral prints, as well as clean-lined graphic patterns.

Tempaper

The New Bidet Options

There’s another area of the bathroom, much less talked about, that can enhance comfort and wellness. American Standard has come out with a toilet with an integrated bidet. This is a good idea for several reasons. An in-seat bidet is a great option for those with limited mobility. The Advanced Clean 100 SpaLet Toilet features include automatic seat lifting and closure, six heated seat settings, and a warm air-dryer.

There’s also a Bidet Seat, which has similar features and can be easily installed on most conventional elongated toilets.

Cost-Effective Upgrades

If these suggestions don’t fit your needs, reno plans, or budget, there are still affordable ways to add spa-like elements to your bath.

Santorini from Native Trails

Candlelight always pumps up the relaxation factor. Spare, elegant candleholders for the wall from the U.S.-based Fredericks and Mae add just the right touch of medieval chic, especially when paired with black candles. Made from powder-coated steel, they are available through Stratford, Ontario’s prettiest new decor store — Wills and Prior.

Bath Products That Outperform Winter

By incorporating shea butter and almond oil into Epsom salts, Dr. Teal’s has created a low-cost concoction that will ease sore muscles after a day of skiing or a heavy bout of snow shovelling, while simultaneously soothing and moisturizing dry winter skin. Transferring the salts into a pretty vessel adds a nice design detail to the bathroom. Treat yourself by finishing off with paraben- and phthalate-free body lotion from the same line.

SOURCES

moen.ca, willsandprior.com, lunadabaytile.com, americanstandard.ca, drteals.com , tempaperdesigns.com, nativetrailshome.com

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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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Saving money, food, and the planet

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Saving money, food, and the planet

Wasting food isn’t just bad for the family budget, it also hurts the planet. According to a national study, co-authored by food recovery program Second Harvest www.secondharvest.ca and Value Chain Management International, www.vcm-international.com, the findings suggest that the 35.5 million metric tonnes of food, which is wasted annually in Canada creates a whopping 56.5 million metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions.

One way to reduce waste in the home is to invest in re-usable storage bags or containers. Etee www.shopetee.com makes reusable sheets and bags out of organic cotton muslin and non-toxic dyes, coated in organic beeswax, tree resin, non-GMO soy wax, organic jojoba, and essential oils.

Estee wraps are easy to store flat in a drawer.

I tested Etee’s bags with cheese, snacks, and nuts, and these bags can also be used for cooked (not raw) or smoked meats. They kept bagels fresh for several days, and were terrific for transporting sandwiches and fruit for work lunches. They are especially effective with fresh herbs: dill, parsley, and coriander- all stayed very green and fragrant for close to a week.

Their tackiness is activated by being rolled into a ball and kneaded for a minute. That’s what allows the sheets to form a seal. Just keep in mind that the wrap sticks to itself rather than to the bowl containing the food. They can also be frozen for up to 30 days.

After use, they should be rinsed in cool water and, if necessary, gently washed with soap that doesn’t contain alcohol — which can degrade the finish — in lukewarm (not hot) water.

Kliin cloths are machine washable; air drying will make them last longer.

Paper towels can be wasteful, so I was eager to try samples from yet another Canadian company, KLIIN, which makes cloths (starting from $5) that are a cross between conventional paper towels and wash cloths. KLIIN cloths proved to be useful for chores like wiping surfaces, doing dishes, and washing outdoor furniture. The manufacturers claim one KLIIN cloth replaces 17 rolls of paper towels. A $15 roll of thinner towels has five, nine-by-nine-and-a-half-inch sheets, and is available online at www.kliin.co or at select retailers.

Kliin towels come in happy colours and fun designs that brighten the kitchen.

Vicky Sanderson is the editor of Around the House www.aroundthehouse.ca. Follow her on Instagram @athwithvicky, on Twitter @ATHwithVicky and on FB at www.facebook.com/ATHWithVicky

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Exhibiting great taste through online art options for your home

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Exhibiting great taste through online art options for your home

Incorporating art into decor is easier than it’s ever been. In fact, you don’t even have to leave the house to buy it.

Everything from affordable prints from mass retailers such as Ikea, Urban Barn and Mobilia, to rare fine-art photography from a site like Ffoto, which has some 40,0000 classic and contemporary works, is now available online and can be shipped right to the front door.

Martha Burton
Macro shot of seaweed by Martha Burton

CANADIAN ARTISTS IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Also made more accessible are the works of art from people like Martha Burton, a Canadian-born photographer who shoots close-up studies of seaweeds, shells, and pebbles on the beaches of Santa Cruz, as well as sweeping landscapes that catch the shifting moods of the ocean.

Better availability of often-ignored Indigenous art is another benefit of web commerce. Sources include Toronto-based, Bay of Spirits Gallery, which specializes in contemporary First Nations art, and the online gift shop of the Art Gallery of Ontario, which sells, for example, beautiful prints starting at under $20.

TV-ART GALLERY

The Samsung Frame has turned the conventional television into a new platform for both accessing and viewing art. When the 4K ultra-high-definition screen is not functioning as a TV, it can be switched to an “art mode” to display a static image.

Samsung Frame
Samsung Frame in art mode.

Samsung commissioned international art curator Elise Van Middelem to select 100 pieces that come free with the frame, and 800 additional multimedia works are available through the Samsung Art Store, home to artwork from museums and galleries such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England and Prado in Madrid, Spain.

Customizable “mattes” can be added, but during a demonstration by Middelem, I found the works without them much more powerful, and thought the matte-less format better suited the medium.

Users can also upload their own art. Unlimited access to the art store costs $8 a month. A permanent download of a piece costs $27. Suggested retail price for a 55-inch Frame is $3,000.

MIXING IT UP

A sideshow can also be placed on a “shuffle” function so that pieces can change at different intervals with a range lasting from 10 minutes to seven days. I can see the benefits of this feature, but still think static art gives the viewer time and space to better connect with it.

Sensors adjust lighting on the screen as light changes in the room throughout the day, so the art is always perfectly lit, and motion sensors can turn the unit off when the room is empty.

The unit comes in a charcoal black frame, but additional magnetic bezel frames in white, walnut, and beige wood can be purchased ($300 for 55-inch model). Sensors adjust lighting as natural and ambient light changes throughout the day, and motion sensors can turn the unit off when the room is empty.

Wilson Kelsey Design
Fine art inspired bath space by Wilson Kelsey Design.

DESIGN & ART IN THE BATHROOM

Great art can also serve as a starting point for design, as it did for Sally Wilson and John Kelsey, who created a glorious bath space for luxury line DXV influenced by art. Co-owners of Boston-based Wilson Kelsey Design, they used Impressionistic landscapes on walls, while the movement’s signature dappled light effect is reflected in a glass-tile mosaic created, amazingly, with design software and assembled robotically.

DXV’s Lowell soaking tub and floor-mounted tub filler echoes the curved lines of the room, while Percy faucets provide strong, sculptural lines that don’t get lost in this visually rich, colour-soaked room. Many of us may not have the means to replicate such an opulent look. But like all great art, its beauty is undeniably inspiring.

SOURCES samsung.ca, ffoto.com, ago.ca, wag.ca, marthaburtonart.com, wilsonkelseydesign.com, yellowkorner.com, bayofspirits.com, urbanbarn, mobilia.ca, dxv.com

Vicky Sanderson
Vicky Sanderson

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Room To Spare: Creating a Great Guest Room

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Room To Spare: Creating a Great Guest Room

Checklist for a great guest room

It’s easy enough to imagine how to make a guest in your home happy. Simply envision replicating a well-designed hotel room— essentially a clean, functional, uncluttered box with a comfortable bed, efficient lighting, and useful, good-looking accessories.

“In reality, that may be a challenge to create in most homes,” says Kathy Davey, head of interior design for Ikea Canada, “in part because the vacant bedroom, whose sole purpose is serving guests, is now an anomaly.”

A convertible daybed turns any space into a guest quarters. This one is Brimnes, IKEA.

“It’s become a catch-all, used for fitness, storage, or work—a real multi-purpose space,” says Davey, adding that such a room will have to be flexible if it’s going to accommodate visitors.

FREE UP SPACE

For Davey, that starts with organization. She suggests putting what guests won’t need into short-term, functional storage—an ottoman that can serve as a footstool or bedside table, or pretty but sturdy boxes that can stand in a corner and hold a lamp with wireless charging or a small-charging station. At the very least, free up a wall outlet so guests can charge their devices.

Discreet and handsome hooks help guests stay organized.

GUEST-FRIENDLY PRACTICES

Blackout liners for curtains will help jet-lagged guests adjust, and an inexpensive full-length mirror is a nice touch.

Wall hooks keep guests organized. For these and other clever accessories, check out the sleek, subtle line from New York-based Good Thing, which recently launched at select EQ3 stores.

A daybed that pulls out into a queen delivers the flexibility Davey likes in a spare room. Ikea’s own Brimnes bed, which functions as chaise, sofa, storage unit, and single or double bed, fits the bill.

Twin mattresses can separate for flexible sleeping arrangements.

If there’s room for a full-time mattress, new “bed in a box” models are convenient and affordable. Made-in-Canada Endy, for example, ships in a package about the size of a hockey bag (you have 100 nights to decide if you like it). For a spare room, consider getting two extra-long twins. Pushed together, they measure the same as a king size, making them a flexible choice.

REFRESH & RENEW

Older beds can benefit from a topper (also available at Ikea), and remember that while inexpensive pillows may be suitable for decorative purposes, or to prop oneself up for reading, each guest should get one good-quality sleeping pillow. Linens don’t need to be extravagant, just seasonally appropriate and freshly laundered. Lightweight wool blankets and quilts (aired on an outdoor line for a day before use, if possible) will be easier to store than bulky duvets.

Mattress toppers make even sofas suitable for sleep.

If the only space for guests is a condo living room, a daybed or a memory-foam mattress that can be rolled up and stored are good options, says Davey. To increase privacy, don’t put guests in high-traffic areas, and consider using a room divider or open bookcase as a visual barrier. A bar cart can be emptied to do occasional double duty for a night table/storage space.

“Little touches make a space feel special,” says Davey, so place hand cream, a water carafe, a bar of good chocolate, and a room spray or scented candle on a tray to add to the five-star environment.

Vicky Sanderson

SOURCES Ikea.ca, EQ3.com, Endy.com, cardeaauset.com, supergoodthing.com

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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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