Home Decor

Everything You Need To Know About Caring For Your Fiddle-Leaf Fig

Two experts share their top tips on keeping the notoriously finicky plant alive and thriving.

Thanks to its glossy, violin-shaped leaves and sculptural shape, the Ficus lyrata, more commonly known as the fiddle-leaf fig, has been a fixture in Pinterest-worthy homes for years. Unfortunately, the pretty plant is notoriously tricky to care for. We asked Darryl Cheng, the Toronto-based author of The New Plant Parent, and Dana Mistafa, a design consultant with the Winnipeg-based interior plant care firm Arboria, to give us the low-down on how to care for the finicky plant that’s taken Instagram by storm. Here’s everything you need to know to take care of your fiddle-leaf fig.

(Photo: Lauren Mancke found via Shelmerdine Garden Centre Ltd)

Why are fiddle-leaf figs so popular?

Beloved by designers for its good looks, the fiddle-leaf fig has been the star of its fair share of home decor magazine spreads over the years. Its thin trunk and lush foliage give it a stunning graphic quality that works just as well in warm boho rooms as it does in stark minimalist spaces. Over the past couple of years, the fiddle-leaf fig has also blown up on Instagram. According to Mistafa, people are drawn to its richly coloured deep green leaves, which photograph especially well. “They stand out and pop in any space,” she says.

Cheng also believes our fascination with plants in general—and, more specifically, the difficult-to-care-for fiddle-leaf fig—is a way to connect with nature in a way that also brings us a sense of pride. “When you bring the plant home and it’s actually growing, there’s something very rewarding about knowing that you’ve been able to give it a space where it can grow nicely,” he adds.

(Photo: Shelmerdine Garden Centre Ltd)

Why are fiddle-leaf figs so expensive?

If you’ve visited your local big-box store recently, you’ve probably seen small fiddle-leaf figs on sale for under $30. This might seem like a steal compared to the rather steep price tag you’ll often find at specialized nurseries (we’ve seen them priced at over $200), but Mistafa says there’s a good reason for the price difference. “When you purchase your plants from a big chain, they’re just sitting on the floor and nobody cares for them, [beyond watering them] once in a while,” she says.

Specimens sold in large retail stores are also typically smaller than what’s on offer in nurseries, which accounts in part for the price difference. “Specimens that are $200 or $300 have been growing in a commercial nursery for several years. Every month that it spends in a commercial nursery is a whole month’s worth of wages, of people going to take care of it, of space that you could potentially grow something else,” explains Cheng.

Though you’ll be able to find bigger (and, thus, more expensive) specimens in nurseries, where staff grow them for years in the best possible conditions, there’s no reason you shouldn’t give a big-box fiddle-leaf fig a good home. If you’re willing to accept that it will take years to grow to a wow-worthy size and commit to educating yourself on how to keep your new plant happy, you can score a deal and take pride in nursing your fiddle-leaf fig throughout the different stages of its life.

What should I consider before buying a fiddle-leaf fig?

A key thing to consider before heading to the nursery is whether or not you can offer your plant an environment where it will thrive.

The fiddle-leaf fig is native to west Africa, where it grows in lowland tropical rainforests. While you don’t need to recreate tropical conditions at home to keep your plant healthy and happy, it’s important to make sure it gets enough indirect sunlight and is kept away from drafty areas.

Another thing to consider is that fiddle-leaf figs don’t like being moved. Once your plant has settled in a warm, bright spot, it’s best to avoid moving it.

When it comes to picking a fiddle-leaf fig specimen from the nursery, it’s all down to taste. While Mistafa looks for a straight, sturdy stem with symmetrical branching at the top, you may prefer a slender tree with a single branch or a large tree with lush foliage, depending on the scale needed to fill out your space.

When is the best time to buy a fiddle-leaf fig?

The dead of winter might seem like the perfect time to get an indoor garden going, but Cheng advises against purchasing tropical plants like the fiddle-leaf fig in the colder months. While you’ll find fiddle-leaf figs in nurseries year-round, it’s best to wait until temperatures warm up to bring one home. “Even five minutes in the cold could potentially kill off all of its leaves,” he warns.

(Photo: Shelmerdine Garden Centre Ltd)

How much sunlight does a fiddle-leaf fig need?

The most important thing when it comes to caring for a fiddle-leaf fig is to make sure it gets plenty of sunlight. Both Cheng and Mistafa say the plant needs bright, warm and indirect light, meaning that the rays don’t shine directly on it (if the room gets direct light throughout the day, Cheng suggests using a white curtain to diffuse it). A south or west exposure is ideal, says Mistafa, though it doesn’t mean your plant won’t grow if your home only has north-facing exposure. The key, according to Cheng, is to pick a spot near a large, unobstructed window whenever possible—this ensures your plant gets as much light as it possibly can. Just remember, fiddle-leaf figs thrive in indirect sunlight.

If you have a balcony, a porch or a sunroom, you can take your plant outside in the summer (taking care to avoid moving it too often) and hang a curtain to block out harsh sunlight. If you decide to let your plant soak in the sun outside in the summer months, Cheng says to look out for insects that may have burrowed in the soil when it’s time to bring your fiddle-leaf fig back inside your home.

How much water does a fiddle-leaf fig need?

Your typical once-a-week watering schedule isn’t going to cut it when it comes to the finicky fiddle-leaf fig. The amount of water it needs varies depending on a variety of factors, including the season, the amount of sunlight it gets and the environment in which it’s located. Things like indoor heating or drafty windows can also play a role in how quickly the plant absorbs water.

The best way to find out if your plant needs to be watered is to get your hands dirty—literally. “I recommend sticking your pointer finger in the soil, roughly about two-and-a-half inches,” says Mistafa. “If you feel moisture with the tip of your finger, wait a few more days,” she adds.

In the warmer months, she suggests allowing the soil to dry down anywhere from two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half inches before watering, while you should aim to let the soil dry down from three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half inches in fall and winter, when the sun isn’t as strong.

Is there anything else I can do to keep my plant happy?

Are your fiddle-leaf fig’s leaves looking a little lacklustre? Mistafa suggests dusting the leaves when you notice a build-up has formed. “Those leaves are porous and it’s good to clear them out, just like washing your face. It helps them take in oxygen,” she says. While you can buy pre-made foliage cleaners in nurseries to make the leaves extra glossy, water will do the trick. Cheng’s pro tip for dusting your fiddle-leaf fig is to simply use a moistened paper towel and to hold a big sponge behind the leaf you’re cleaning to provide support.

To help your plant thrive, using an all-purpose fertilizer once a month is also recommended.

(Photo: Shelmerdine Garden Centre Ltd)

(Photo: Shelmerdine Garden Centre Ltd)

When do I know it’s time to repot my fiddle-leaf fig?

While you can leave your plant in the pot it came in (or in a cute planter of the same dimension) for a while, a healthy fiddle-leaf fig typically needs to be repotted every one to two years to keep growing.

The best way to tell if your plant needs to be transplanted to a bigger pot is to look at the roots. “You should unpack the plant when it’s mostly dry and check the base to see if its roots have coiled up,” says Cheng. If the roots have circled the base of the pot, it’s time to move your fiddle-leaf fig to a new pot—pick one that’s no more than 5 cm (two inches) bigger in diameter than the size of your current pot as this ensures your plant has room to grow, but still feels settled.

If you can, pick a pot with drainage holes. Otherwise, make sure to add a layer of rocks at the bottom of the new planter to help protect your plant’s roots from water that accumulates there. When changing the potting mix or transferring your plant to a new pot, look for soil specifically made for indoor plants. Cheng likes soil with perlite, which helps improve drainage and aeration.

Mistafa also warns that you should only move your plant to a bigger pot if you have enough space to accommodate its growth. “Every time you [repot a plant], you’re giving it room to grow longer and stronger roots, so it will start to grow bigger,” she says. While fiddle-leaf figs can grow to up to 50 feet tall in the wild, they rarely grow bigger than 10 feet tall indoors.

Even if you don’t want your fiddle-leaf fig to grow bigger, you can still change the potting mix to give your plant fresh nutrients.

(Photo: Shelmerdine Garden Centre Ltd)

Brown spots are forming on the leaves. Is it too late to save my plant?

If you notice that your fiddle-leaf fig’s foliage is showing signs of illness, such as brown spots or yellowing leaves, it doesn’t mean it’s beyond help. You won’t be able to save leaves that have already changed colour (you can prune them to keep your plant looking its best), but you most likely can still save your plant.

The first step to saving your plant is identifying the cause of the problem. Leaves that are wilting or turning brown and crispy at the edges mean that your plant is slightly too dry and that you’re not watering it enough, while brown spots in the centre of the leaves are generally a sign that you’re overwatering it.

To get to the bottom of the problem, Mistafa suggests looking at the roots. If they’re white and fibrous, your plant is still healthy and strong. If they’ve turned orange, your plant is not in tip-top shape, but there’s still time to save it—your best bet would be to call on an expert at your local nursery to guide you through the process. If the roots have turned entirely black and mushy, it’s a sign of rot and, unfortunately, nothing can be done.

As your plant grows new leaves, you can expect to lose some of the older leaves at the bottom. According to Cheng, this is to be expected, no matter how good a plant parent you are—it’s just nature taking its course.

Home Decor

The Home-Tidying Method That’s *Huge* On Pinterest Right Now

We spoke to FlyLady about her 15-minute system.

“The desk you’re working at—is it messy?” It’s not every day that a phone-interview subject grills you over the line about the cleanliness of your own workspace, but it’s also not every day that you talk to FlyLady, the woman behind one of Pinterest’s most popular cleaning and decluttering trends.

Though she’s been sharing her method online for more than 20 years, searches for “FlyLady cleaning schedule” rocketed by 40 per cent this year on the inspo-packed platform (and, interestingly, “Marie Kondo” queries dropped by 80 per cent). With our annual urge to spring-clean just around the corner and—more dramatically—a collective quarantine that has us all spending a lot more time at home, we chatted with FlyLady to learn what her system is all about.

Who is the FlyLady?

North Carolina’s Marla Cilley is the brain behind the phenomenon. Back in 1999, she was about to begin her first term as a county commissioner, but felt like things were off-balance at home. She struggled to keep a clean house, but was determined to change her approach to chores. She started small: scrubbing out her hard water–stained sink, then shining it every day that January. The next month was all about daily decluttering. Soon, the little changes built up into new habits. By the end of the year, the FlyLady email group was born, and her house was spiffy, too.

But why is she called the FlyLady?

The name has absolutely nothing to do with cleaning. Cilley used to teach fly-fishing at a local college and took inspiration from that experience when she needed a username for online cleaning forums. The name stuck, and coincidentally doubles as a handy acronym for her mission to help followers (affectionately known as FlyBabies) “finally love yourselves.”

What is the FlyLady system?

“The overall approach is that we get rid of perfectionism,” says Cilley. Instead of putting off chores until you have time to do them thoroughly and flawlessly, FlyLady wants you to chip away at them by focusing on a different zone of your home each week and working on it for only 15 minutes per day.

What are these zones all about?

The FlyLady system divides the home into five zones, and you focus on a different one each week of the month (with partial weeks for the first and fifth, depending how the calendar lines up):

Zone 1: Entrance, front porch and dining room
Zone 2: Kitchen
Zone 3: Main bathroom and one extra room (it can be an office, kid’s room, laundry room—your pick!)
Zone 4: Master bedroom (including its bathroom and closet)
Zone 5: Living room

Every weekday, a specific “mission” is set for that zone, posted on flylady.net and sent by email. It’s a mini detailed-cleaning task that takes less than five minutes. For example, during Zone 3 week, you might take a few minutes on a Tuesday to wash the often-neglected base of your toilet.

Is that all there is to it?

Not quite. FlyLady also recommends a 15-minute cleaning and primping routine every morning and another before bed. Sounds daunting? “It’s less than 45 minutes a day, and most of that is about taking care of yourself,” says Cilley. When you wake up, there’s the usual getting ready—and FlyLady is firm on her stance that we should all get fully dressed every day—along with a quick cleaning of the toilet and a load of laundry. Similarly, at night, it’s all about getting set for tomorrow. Think: laying out an outfit, a quick pick-up around the house and, most importantly and specifically, shining your sink.

Outside of these daily routines, FlyLady prescribes certain weekly tasks on set days. For example, Friday calls for tossing any junk that’s accumulated in your purse.

Why is shining my kitchen sink so important?

“Because that’s where I started,” says Cilley. She has a list of baby steps for newbies to slowly get acquainted to the FlyLady system without getting overwhelmed and, yep, cleaning your sink is the very first one. This means clearing out any dirty dishes, scrubbing it with a powdered cleanser, then finishing with Windex to get it gleaming. It might seem like an oddly specific task to focus on, but Cilley likes it as an easy starting point to give you a sense of accomplishment—it tends to snowball into a cleaner kitchen and house. “When you have a sink that’s shiny, you don’t want to put a dirty dish in it,” says Cilley. “Then your countertops get cleared; the stove gets shiny too. It becomes an avalanche of clean.”

So, is FlyLady actually the new Marie Kondo?

Both offer tidy-up tips and are big hits on Pinterest, but that’s where the similarities end. While Kondo’s approach involves pulling clothes and books off their shelves and into a pile to edit down to joy-sparking essentials, FlyLady has a strict rule to never take out more than you can put away in an hour.

If you’ve tried the intense-overhaul approach and wound up overwhelmed, the FlyLady system could be for you. “I teach people to go in and pluck out five things and donate them,” says Cilley. “Bag it up and take it straight to the car.”

Is the FlyLady system free?

You bet—and don’t expect that to change. “The system is free and will be free forever,” says Cilley. You can check the daily missions on flylady.net or sign up to get them emailed to you every day. Be warned: You’ll get about eight emails a day, including testimonials, Cilley’s morning musings and promos for FlyLady cleaning products, but Cilley insists that frequent nudges are key to helping you develop habits.

(If the emails really annoy you, you can pay US$4.99 per month for FlyLady Express, which condenses it all into just one email. Other upgrades include an app subscription that sends reminders to your phone and a virtual mentor service.)

What do I need to get started?

Once you sign up for the emails, it’s really just about jumping in. You could hit up Pinterest for handy printables, check out FlyLady’s Getting Started guide or restock your cleaning supplies, but Cilley recommends keeping things simple. “We sell tools that motivate people to clean,” says Tilley of her online offerings, which includes an ostrich-feather duster made in Ottawa. “But we’ve all got the tools we need already.” She’d rather new FlyBabies get going with whatever they have, both in terms of tools and time. “When you hear yourself say, ‘I don’t have time,’ set your timer for two minutes and do something.”

Home Decor

4 Women-Owned Plant Stores That Ship Across Canada

Plus, recommendations for not-so-green thumbs.

3 women photographed with plants for an article on plant delivery in Canada.

After being stuck at home for months, we could use a little more greenery to spruce things up. Thankfully, there are plenty of small businesses that offer plant delivery across Canada. To keep your delicate cargo safe during shipping, each plant is carefully wrapped and soil is secured in place with tightly packed paper. (Spring and summer are an ideal time to grow your collection, but shipping is also possible in winter thanks to heat packs and thermal wraps.) Whether you’re an experienced plant parent looking to grow the family with rare cuttings or want to adopt a fuss-free succulent for your home office, a lush indoor garden is just a few clicks away. Read on to meet the women shaking up the nursery business and get recommendations for not-so-green thumbs. 

Emily Wight from Foli with her plants.

Foli

With its easy-to-navigate website that provides detailed information on how to care for each plant, Burlington, Ont.-based Foli is perfect for new plant parents. “Plants are a tangible way for people to connect to something that grows, bringing some optimism and life to any space,” says founder Emily Wright, who launched the business in 2019. “We tend to carry plants that are hearty and generally easy to care for,” she says.“Anything is fair game for newbies on our website, aside from the infamous fiddle-leaf fig—those guys are real divas and tend to be better suited to someone with a little experience.” foli.ca

A woman photographed with her plants for an article on plant delivery in Canada.

Miss Boon

Founder Sarah-Anne Nagué launched Miss Boon—one of Montreal’s first online plant stores—in 2018. On her website, she offers a vast selection of local and imported plants and cuttings, as well as cute planters and expert gardening advice. “Monstera deliciosa plants always sell well, but for people with no experience I suggest ZZ plants. They’re robust, can withstand extended periods of drought and easily adapt to different light conditions,” says Nagué. missboon.ca

A woman photographed with her plants for an article on plant delivery in Canada.

Plant It Modern

This Foothills County, Alta. plant store sells classic and rare plants, with weekly new arrivals.  “One of my personal favourites is the philodendron mican—the dainty and velvety dark leaves are stunning,” says founder Glenda Kleinsasser, who got her start in the business creating plant displays, succulent gardens and terrariums. “Many trailing houseplants, like pothos or philodendrons, are perfect for beginners as they’re easy to care for, resilient and look impressive in a hanging basket or on a shelf.” plantitmodern.com

A woman photographed with her plants for an article on plant delivery in Canada.

Gro For It

This small Milton, Ont. boutique offers curbside pickup and shipping (plant delivery is restricted to Ontario until the weather warms up). Founder Lucy Ofori stocks everything people need to embrace a plant-filled life, from low-light loving and pet-safe options to accessories. “Snake plants are excellent for newbies. They thrive on neglect, tolerate low light and can be watered as little as once a month,” she notes . groforit.life

Home Decor

How One Family Built Their Solar-Powered Dream Home

White oak accents, rounded archways and pops of colour give this off-the-grid passive design house a warm and cozy feel.

In the kitchen, white oak accents offset the austere look of the concrete floor. (Photo, Erik Putz.)

On a late fall morning outside of Owen Sound, Ont., the wind chill is –4 degrees and the grass is covered in a shimmering layer of frost. Inside their home, Jennie and Luke Hoekstra are making breakfast—crepes and bacon—and feeling toasty, with the thermostat hovering near 24 degrees. Their three kids—Jude, Neve and Wilder—are running around in short sleeves, laughing, practising piano and playing with their dog, Penny, a wheaten-schnauzer cross. It’s not out of the ordinary for the temperature to dip into the minuses at this time of year near Georgian Bay. What is unusual is that the Hoekstras have no furnace running; in fact, they don’t own one. Their home is what’s called an off-the-grid passive house; its lights are powered by the solar panels installed on their property, and it’s warmed by in-floor radiant heating—in which hot water is pumped through a system of tubes under the floor—as well as the sun.

It would have cost $100,000 for the Hoekstra family to hook up hydro wires to their remote lot. Instead, they invested $50,000 in a solar panel system and situated their home so that it could take maximum advantage of the sun’s heat. (Photo, Erik Putz.)

“Even when it’s –18 in the middle of winter, we’re warm inside,” says Jennie. “We never even get to use our fireplace, otherwise it would get too hot in here.” The Hoekstras appreciate the coziness, especially compared to their previous home, a converted Victorian schoolhouse just down the road from their eco-friendly new build. The arched windows and ornamental plasterwork lent rustic charm to the space, but the thin brick walls were barely insulated. “We were always cold,” says Jennie. “We spent our winters wearing toques indoors. We wanted something much warmer.” When they first bought the four-acre lot where their new home now stands, their plan was to build a house that was efficient and well-insulated, but still connected to the conventional power grid. But when they priced out their options, they decided to go with an off-the-grid passive design. “Hooking up hydro wires on such a remote site would have cost us $100,000,” says Jennie. “We would have had to remove trees and widen a road. The solar power system we bought instead, which included solar panels and batteries, cost us $50,000.”

The rounded archway gives the house a modern feel. (Photos, Erik Putz.)

The Hoekstras also invested several thousand dollars in a set of plans from Passive Design Solutions, a Nova Scotia-based company that helps homeowners plan and build sustainable homes. The plans detailed how to orient the building to take advantage of the natural heat of the sun and how to assemble walls, roofs, floors and foundations to retain as much of that heat as possible. The family’s open-concept living, dining and kitchen area faces south and east with large windows to let morning and midday light pour in, while the in-floor radiant heating provides any additional warmth that can’t be harnessed from the sun—especially in the dead-of-winter months.

In addition to building much of the house, Luke also built some of the furniture, including the maple plywood coffee table in the living room, which Jennie designed. (Photo, Erik Putz.)

“The floors are highly insulated,” says Natalie Leonard, owner of Passive Design Solutions, who has helped people build more than 110 similar homes since founding the company 10 years ago. “They have four times the insulation required by the building code.” The walls and roof have more than twice the amount of insulation than what’s required and are sealed tight. (“You could basically heat the house with the equivalent wattage of a blowdryer,” says Leonard. “It’s that efficient.”) And there are just a few windows on the north and west sides of the home. “Western afternoon light tends to be too hot,” she explains, whereas the north face of the home rarely gets any light at all.

Grasscloth wallpaper brings warmth and texture to the master bedroom. (Photo, Erik Putz.)

But enough about how it all works. One of the most refreshing aspects of the Hoekstras’ house is the fact that it looks absolutely gorgeous. Other than the solar panels outside, the only clues that it’s a green build are the lack of forced-air vents (a result of having no furnace) and the deep windowpanes (to accommodate the extra insulation).

It helps that most of the finishes—quartz kitchen countertops, white subway tile, white oak ceilings—look sleek and contemporary. “A lot of the building materials came from Home Depot,” says Luke, an electrical engineer who did much of the construction himself. “We bought the windows, which are triple-pane and filled with argon gas [an insulator], for $25,000 from a Canadian company called Kohltech. The insulation is a mix of Styrofoam panels and fibreglass.”

The main-floor powder room has a high interior window that lets in lots of light. (Photos, Erik Putz.)

At just 1,600 square feet and with no basement (digging into the bedrock of the surrounding Niagara Escarpment would have been too difficult), the home isn’t big—making it work was a challenge for a family of two adults, three kids and a dog. But the Hoekstras made everything fit by using every square inch (including a two-car garage) and carefully selecting mostly second-hand, small mid-century modern furniture sourced from online auction sites like eBay.

Though Luke, who works from home a few days a week, was originally supposed to have his own office next to the open-concept living area, they ultimately decided against it. “Having a big room just for me was a waste,” he says. Instead, they tucked a small desk and chair into what would have been the office’s storage closet and filled the rest of the room with musical instruments.

What was originally intended to be Luke’s office became a music room for the kids. Luke’s “office” is located in the music room closet. (Photos, Erik Putz.)

The second storey of the house has a master bedroom, two kids’ rooms (the boys share), a master bathroom and a laundry room. Jennie, a web designer who works from home, created her own makeshift office by squeezing a small desk beside the washer and dryer in the laundry room. “It’s beside a window looking south,” she says. “It’s bright and peaceful. What more do I need?”

Originally published in 2020; updated in 2021.

Home Decor

17 Cute Planters For Every Style And Budget

Give your indoor garden room to grow.

A selection of made-in-Canada planters against a green backgrou

Illustrations, Steph Truong.

Adding greenery to your space is an easy way to bring the outdoors in and give any room a welcoming touch. Give your indoor garden room to grow with a selection of eye-catching planters by some of our favourite Canadian brands.

Food

9 Easy Recipes With 7 Ingredients Or Fewer

And prep time is 15 minutes, max.

bowl of noodle soup with chicken balls

Photo: George Whiteside.

Staying inside might have you cooking more—but it might not mean you have more time to do it. Social distancing has households all over the country figuring out how to manage work-from-home arrangements and childcare, sometimes both at the same time. And recommendations to minimize your trips outside have us all taking mental tallies of what’s left in the pantry. But all those challenges don’t mean you can’t eat well. Here’s 9 of our best recipes that make the most of time and ingredients. All are 7 ingredients or fewer, and require less than 15 minutes of prep time.

Pasta pomodoro

bowl of spaghetti and tomato sauce on a pink tablecloth

Photo: Erik Putz.

Paired with a simple side salad, this fresh and simple dish will take your taste buds to Italy in just 25 minutes. Get this pasta pomodoro recipe.

One-pot classic mac and cheese

Bowl of mac and cheese on a grill.

Photo: Erik Putz.

Creamy, cheesy, and with just enough of a twist: swapping orecchiette for macaroni gives this one-pot dish a lovely texture. Crumble some bacon overtop for crunch. Get this mac and cheese recipe.

Artichoke and lemon pasta

bowl of artichoke and pasta

Photo: Roberto Caruso.

Miss dining out? Take a plate of zesty spring pasta out on your balcony or patio with a glass of fruity white wine. Get this artichoke and lemon pasta recipe

Classic roast chicken

roast chicken with lemons

Photo: Erik Putz.

Trust us: when it comes to roast chicken, less is more. All you need to achieve a gloriously crispy roast bird is olive oil, lemons, and plenty of salt. Get this roast chicken recipe.

Ham and cheese frittata

frittata in a white baking bowl

Photo: Jim Norton.

This delicious frittata combines cheese, ham and diced veggies for a hot dish that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Get this frittata recipe.

Quick and easy veggie soup

bowl of soup with a dollop of yogurt

Photo: Erik Putz.

This creamy, ultra-simple take on minestrone should be paired with a crusty loaf of bread. Get this veggie soup recipe.

Sweet and spicy chicken stir fry

Plate of stir fry on a bed of white rice

This one-dish wonder is under 200 calories and full of flavour. The secret ingredient that makes the sauce? Red pepper jelly. Get this chicken stir fry recipe.

Sweet chili tofu

Plate of chili tofu on salad.

Photo: Sian Richards.

This spicy vegetarian dish is faster to make than takeout. Get this chili tofu recipe.

Chicken miso noodle soup

bowl of noodle soup with chicken balls

Photo: George Whiteside.

Chicken noodle soup gets a delicious twist in this version with udon noodles, chicken balls and the salty kick of miso paste. Get this noodle soup recipe.

Home Decor

13 Big And Small Updates For A More Sustainable Home

From quick swaps and eco-friendly ways to shop to full-blown reno projects.

Whether you own or rent, living a greener life starts at home. From quick fixture swaps and eco-friendly ways to shop for furniture to full-blown reno projects, there’s an option for every budget. Here, 13 design experts share big and small updates for a stylish, more sustainable nest.

Photo, When They Find Us.

1. Live with less

You don’t have to compromise on coziness to embrace minimalism. A new school of designers is bringing a warm, sentimental twist to the pared-back style, with a focus on comfort over starkness. “It’s less about tossing everything out and more about mindfulness: focusing on what’s essential and providing a place that lets the objects you value shine,” says Fatima Islam, who, along with Ian Lee, runs Casestudy Studio, a Vancouver interior design firm that specializes in minimal spaces. “Storage is important to tuck things out of sight, but so are display shelves so that people can see the things they love.”

Like most who choose to eschew clutter, Islam and Lee favour a neutral palette of whites, greys, beiges and warm wood tones, but their underlying philosophy is deep green. “We encourage people to buy less but buy better, more durable things,” says Islam. “A minimal aesthetic is only part of what we do; we also aim for minimal waste,” adds Lee.

Collage, Marlowe RoomxRoom.

2. Shop local

It’s more important than ever to support homegrown businesses, but when it comes to big projects, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. That’s why Toronto-based interior designer Alexandra Hutchison co-founded Marlowe RoomxRoom, a virtual design service which curates everything clients need to renovate or decorate their homes, with an emphasis on working with local talent. Her light bulb moment came while she was producing shows for HGTV (including Income Property and Marriage Under Construction) and discovered that local suppliers often didn’t cost more but frequently offered the most unique, character-rich and sustainable options. “I look for artisans and craftspeople who not only work locally, but also source and utilize local materials in their work,” she says. “The closer a source, the lower the carbon footprint from transportation.”

Photo, Jamie Anholt.

3. See the (LED) light

When it comes to setting the mood, lighting is everything. “Nothing beats natural sunlight,” says Majida Devani, principal designer at Calgary-based home-building firm RNDSQR. “It brings a lot of energy to a space.” For homes without a lot of sun exposure—like, say, a north-facing condo unit in the shadow of a tall building—and those looking for evening ambiance, Devani recommends lighting things up with LED bulbs, which are up to 90 percent more energy-efficient than old-school incandescents, last longer and save money on electricity. “They used to emit a cold, blue light, but they now come in a range of colour temperatures,” she says. “LED light bulbs can actually mimic natural daylight quite closely.”

Photo, Fülhaus.

4. Rent your room

Can’t—or won’t—commit to expensive furniture? Try renting it instead. “I love furniture, and I love walking into a beautiful room,” says Andria Santos, the founder of Montreal-based furniture-rental company Fülhaus, who launched a direct-to-consumer service last year. “But I didn’t want to put out more garbage into the world.” Whereas big-box furniture can often feel disposable, rental companies, like Fülhaus, donate used items to those in need, while others clean, refurbish and rent high-quality items again. With tailored design packages and a selection of on-trend big-ticket items (think: sofas, rugs, tables and art) and accessories (like lamps, vases, cushions and throws) that rotate every six months, Fülhaus’ rental service appeals to serial movers and those who constantly crave something new. “Renting is a great way to try out a style you aren’t certain about,” notes Santos. And if you can’t bear to part with your rented couch, payments go toward ownership so you can easily buy out the lease.

Photo, Grohe Canada.

5. Go with the low-flow

No matter what your morning routine looks like, a few simple bathroom swaps can help you save water and money. “Making the switch to low-flow faucets and shower heads is easy,” says Toronto designer Brenda Danso, who recommends considering them even if you rent. Not only do these nifty fixtures save precious resources without affecting water pressure, but they also save money. Tests done by Écohabitation in Quebec show that the one-time purchase of a low-flow shower head preserves, on average, 42,340 litres of water per year for a family of four—and saves more than $100 in electricity annually in the process. “There are so many water-saving options that look great and function really well,” adds Danso. “There’s no reason not to try one.”

Photo, Ikea.

6. Make a lasting impression

Whether you’re shopping for new furniture or undertaking a full reno project, opt for materials that are renewable, require little energy to produce and will stand the test of time. Jute —an affordable, quick-growing fibre—is a favourite of architect Anne-Marie Armstrong, who loves decorating with finishing touches, like rugs and textiles, made from the sturdy material. “With its rich texture and golden-brown colour, it adds warmth to any space. It’s also biodegradable, so it doesn’t pose long-term environmental threats if disposed of correctly.” Another one of her favourite materials is wood, a renewable resource. “Cedar treated using the traditional Japanese technique of shou sugi ban—a way to weatherproof the wood by charring it—is a great option for a distinctive exterior siding, because this type of wood is readily available in Canada,” she says. “For exteriors, I love the character that it gives a home.”

Photo, Superkül.

7. Stay in your lane

Over the last decade or so, many Canadian municipalities—like Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto—have started allowing laneway suites in order to counter increasingly steep real estate costs. The pint-sized, self-contained dwellings usually have one or two bedrooms and are located in the backyards of city homes, next to public laneways. They can either be rented out for extra income or used to house extended family members, like aging parents. To make the concept more accessible, Toronto architecture firm Superkül has developed a prefabricated option with built-in eco-friendly features, which costs a relatively reasonable $300 to $350 per square foot. The suites require less energy to heat and cool than a typical home, thanks to their small size, well-insulated walls and high-quality windows. “Our goal is for people to live comfortably regardless of how big or small their house,” says the firm’s co-founder Meg Graham.

8. Get thrifty

Regina Petate, the thrifter behind the Instagram account @LuveWantShop, promotes what she calls sustainable vintage. “If I have to reupholster a chair, I like using vintage fabric or repurposed textiles,” she says. “If I have to change the hardware on a piece of furniture, I take it from other pieces that are beyond repair.” In general, Petate recommends looking for pieces “with good bones, that need minimal repairs,” noting that structurally damaged furniture can be hard to fix without advanced carpentry skills. The pandemic has made scouring for pre-loved treasures trickier, but Etsy, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist and Kijiji are great starting points for online thrifting. To evaluate the quality of a piece remotely, she recommends getting as many photos from as many angles as possible and asking the seller to send a video. “If there are any chips or flaws, the vendor should show that,” she says. “Signs of wear and tear might be expected with vintage, but they shouldn’t be a surprise when you receive your item.”

Photo, Suzanne Kryton Designs via Sherwin-Williams.

9. Brush up on better paint

Traditional paint contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs), solvents that get released into the air as paint dries and can cause an array of side effects, like dizziness, itchy eyes and sore throats. A new crop of healthier and more sustainable paints are making it easier and safer to brighten up blank walls—without the headache. “It’s a good idea to opt for low- or zero-VOC paints,” says holistic designer Alicia Ruach, whose work is inspired by her belief that our physical health and mental wellness are closely linked to the spaces we inhabit.

While major paint makers, like Sherwin-Williams and Farrow & Ball, now offer low-VOC product lines in all shades imaginable, small Canadian businesses—such as Loop, which creates its shades by recycling discarded paint, and Homestead House, which manufactures eco-friendly milk paint using natural ingredients—are definitely worth having on your radar.

Photo, Takasa.

10. Sleep on it

Need a new set of sheets? Sustainable options from homegrown brands abound. Linen, for starters, is having a resurgence—for good reason. “Linen is made from flax, a sustainable crop that requires less water and fewer pesticides to grow and produce than cotton, and generally lasts longer as well,” explains Anna Heyd, co-founder of Vancouver-based Flax Sleep. It’s also temperature-regulating, she adds. Flax Sleep, as well as other Canadian brands, such as Maison Tess and Sömn, have upped the fabric’s cool factor with Instagram-friendly palettes of blush pink, soft grey and rich terracotta.

If you prefer the look and feel of cotton, Vancouver-based Takasa offers sheets that are certified organic, chemical-free and made from materials sourced from fair trade farmers, as well as pillows and duvets made from organic wool and ethical down salvaged from poultry farms. Tuck, another Canadian company, makes bedding from a blend of organic cotton (certified by Global Organic Textile Standard, or GOTS) and Tencel Lyocell, which uses an eco-friendly closed-loop production process.

Photo, Cynthia Zamaria.

11. Save the bees

Pollinators, like birds, bees and butterflies, are integral to growing just about every fruit and vegetable we like to eat. Vicki Wojcik, director of the Toronto chapter of Pollinator Partnership Canada, an organization dedicated to the protection of pollinators and their ecosystems, says it’s possible to create bee-friendly gardens anywhere—even on cramped city balconies. “Patio container gardens or window flower boxes work really well for pollinators,” she says. “Having as few as nine different flower types in the garden—three that bloom in the spring, three in the summer and three in the fall—will attract and support a lot of pollinators.”

And while these creatures need beautiful blooms to visit, they also require habitats to live in. “It’s okay to leave fallen leaves and dried-up stalks in the garden,” says Wojcik. “Bees, butterflies and caterpillars like to hide in them, and that’s a good reason not to rush to clear out a flower bed—messy is good.”

Photo, EcoBirdy via Goodee.

12. Reconsider plastic

Seventy percent of the plastic we consume each year—that’s a whopping 3.3 million tonnes— ends up in the trash, and just nine percent gets recycled. And it’s not just Canada; plastic pollution is trending upward worldwide. The good news? Some of that waste is being diverted from landfills and given new life as Pinterest-worthy furniture. Case in point: the speckled kid-sized chairs, tables and night lights designed by Belgium-based EcoBirdy. “Recycled plastic furniture is a great decor element that transforms a space while being cognizant of growing environmental concerns,” says Byron Peart, co-founder of Montreal-based socially conscious online marketplace Goodee, which carries the brand. Also look out for Canadian companies, like Re-Plast Products, Krahn and Recycled Patio, that are turning plastic waste into chairs, tables and flower boxes.

Photo, WallyGro.

13. Get growing

There are many benefits to bringing the outdoors in: Plants have been scientifically proven to boost productivity and lower blood pressure, and they create a calm atmosphere that promotes rest and relaxation. They’re also a natural way to soundproof a room. “Hard surfaces, like drywall and concrete, create an echo, and plants absorb noise,” says Toronto-based architect and interior designer Vanessa Fong. Her go-to decor move is to build in living walls—large installations of plants suspended in sacks of soil that rest on self-irrigating tiers—whenever possible. If a full reno isn’t in the cards, affordable and easy-to-install options also exist. For a quick hit of green, consider offerings from U.S.-based company WallyGro, which makes modular wall-mounted planters from recycled materials, or Canadian-founded Umbra, which sells a wide selection of plant stands and hanging options.

Living

How To Keep Birds From Hitting Your Windows

Every year millions of birds collide with windows. Here’s how you can help.

A male common yellowthroat, a bird with a yellow chest and black and white face markings, sitting on a stick

Caption: A male common yellowthroat, the bird whose death from a collision with a window inspired Michael Mesure to co-found an organization fighting bird deaths from window strikes.

It was 1990 and Michael Mesure was en route to a wildlife rehabilitation centre. One of his many passengers was a common yellowthroat, a tiny black and yellow warbler that had crashed into a window. As Mesure was driving, the bird escaped from its paper bag and perched on the rearview mirror. What happened next was even more astonishing: the bird began to sing. Mesure was enchanted. The yellowthroat continued to serenade him until the very moment it collapsed into his lap, dead.

The memory still makes Mesure cry. “Everything changed for me that day,” he says. He had been rescuing birds from window collisions for a few years, and he’d even convinced others to join him—but there was no coordinated effort. “That was the moment I realized that this issue needed attention. It wasn’t going away.”

Shortly thereafter, Mesure co-founded the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP). In the beginning, FLAP focused on nighttime collisions—where birds migrating at night are lured by city lights and crash into buildings. Staff and volunteers patrolled downtown Toronto in the wee hours of the morning to collect the victims. As they stuck around after daybreak, they realized daytime collisions were an even bigger problem. To date, staff and volunteers have spent tens of thousands of hours patrolling city streets and have found more than 85,000 birds from 172 species.

Sadly, that’s just a drop in the bucket.

A robin peering in a window for a piece on how to keep birds from striking windows

(Photo: iStock)

Why birds are on a collision course

If you’ve ever witnessed a bird hit your window, you’re not likely to forget it. But you might think it’s a rare occurrence.

“As far as I know, everybody has seen or heard a bird hit a window,” says Dr. Christine Sheppard, who studies bird-window collisions at the American Bird Conservancy. “Everybody thinks it’s an unusual experience. Nobody realizes how many birds have to be hitting glass for every person to have had that experience at least once.”

The number is staggering. Between collisions in Canada and the United States, scientists estimate that windows kill more than a billion birds every year in North America. Many die upon impact. Others are stunned, and either fall victim to a predator or later succumb to their injuries.

High-rises tend to get the most attention because individually, glass buildings have a huge impact. But Sheppard says single family homes are responsible for about half of collisions.

“Even though homes are smaller, there’s so many of them,” she says.

Houses are also located right in the bird activity zone, where there is vegetation and tree cover. That’s where birds find food and shelter.

“The most dangerous glass is on the lower floors,” says Sheppard. “And homes are all lower floors.”

A collision victim at a window (Photo: FLAP Canada)

A collision victim at a window (Photo: FLAP Canada)

Why do birds fly into windows?

Birds have no concept of glass. They see what is reflected by it or what is on the other side of it—but they can’t see the glass itself. To a bird, the sky’s reflection is a flight path; a potted plant inside your home is somewhere to perch.

Dr. Daniel Klem Jr., a professor of ornithology and conservation biology at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, made this discovery more than 40 years ago. During his doctoral research, published in 1979, Klem investigated if birds could discriminate between clear glass and airspace. Birds were placed in a tunnel, with a choice to exit through an unobstructed opening and one covered with glass. They couldn’t tell the difference. Over the years, subsequent research by Klem and others has reinforced the theory that birds can’t see glass.

“Their behaviour and our knowledge of their visual systems inform us that the glass is invisible to them,” says Klem. “Whether it’s a reflected image or habitat seen on the other side of clear glass, they attempt to fly as if [glass is] no barrier. It’s just totally not perceptible by them.”

Sheppard points out that people don’t actually “see” glass either. We learn about glass at an early age, and we recognize architectural cues—like a rectangular hole in a wall—that tell us where to expect glass.

“Birds are incapable of learning the concept,” says Sheppard, “And they have no idea about these cues. They have no way to understand the difference between a reflection and a piece of habitat.”

How to make your windows safe for birds

Since birds can’t see glass, the trick is to make your windows visible by using markers like decals, film, or screens. Here’s what the experts recommend:

  • 2-inch spacing: Small birds like kinglets and hummingbirds can slip through tiny openings, so markers need to be tightly spaced. Otherwise, birds will perceive the gaps in between as airspace they can maneuver through. Research shows that to be the most effective, markers should be no more than two inches apart.
  • Full coverage: It’s important to treat the entire surface of your window for the same reason that markers need to be tightly spaced: any portion left untreated will still be lethal to birds.
  • Outside surface: Under certain conditions, a transparent window can turn into a mirror—making anything behind it invisible. That’s why markers on the inside of your window aren’t reliable. Make sure to install markers on the outside surface so they are visible under any conditions.

How to prioritize your windows

Some windows are more dangerous to birds than others—so unless you plan to retrofit every window, start by identifying the worst offenders.

Mesure developed the BirdSafe® self-assessment tool for homeowners to help you do just that. He says the most obvious culprits are the windows where you’ve seen collisions, but “they aren’t always the worst of the bunch.”

He says to go outside and inspect each window individually—ideally throughout the day, so you can see your windows under different lighting conditions. Can you see through it to an adjacent window? Does it reflect the sky and trees? Can you see potted plants or greenery through the window? If you can check any of those boxes, the window poses a threat to birds.

The best collision deterrents for your home

If you search the internet or go into a wild bird store, you’ll find various products sold as collision deterrents. Unfortunately, many of them—like those popular UV decals and hawk silhouettes—don’t work as advertised. So instead of wasting your time and money on something that doesn’t work, here are the products and DIY methods experts recommend.

Before you install any type of marker, it’s a good idea to clean your window—without chemicals that will leave a residue. If you’re using a tape or film, wait for warmer months, since most adhesives work best above freezing temperatures.

If your windows are above ground and you aren’t into climbing a ladder, ask a local window washer to do it for you. They’ll have the equipment and the comfort level. It might cost a bit extra, but the results will last years.

Acopian BirdSavers by Dr. Ellen K Rudolph

Acopian BirdSavers

Acopian BirdSavers

Also known as “Zen window curtains,” Acopian BirdSavers are simply cords that hang outside your windows to break up reflections. One of the reasons they work is that they sway in the wind—so they can be spaced up to four inches apart and still be effective.

Acopian BirdSavers are easy to install, last a long time, and can be taken down easily. The Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa in Costa Rica saw a 99 per cent reduction in mortality caused by collisions after installing them in 2016. They claim many of the guests don’t even notice them. You can either purchase them or make your own—the website includes DIY instructions.

Acopian BirdSavers, $20 – $158 USD, birdsavers.com

A Bird Screen, shown from the inside (Photo: Bird Screens)

A Bird Screen, shown from the inside (Photo: Bird Screens)

Window screens

Window screens are a great way to protect birds without impeding your view. When mounted on the outside, screens eliminate reflections so birds can see and avoid windows. And because screens cover the entire surface, you don’t have to worry about correct spacing.

If exterior insect screens aren’t an option, you can buy Bird Screens. Like regular screens, they are made of black fiberglass mesh. You can mount them over the window with screws, or directly to the window with suction cups. Bird Screens are a great option for renters, because they don’t alter the actual window and can be taken down easily. Plus you can take them with you if you move!

Bird Screens, $23 – $27 USD, birdscreen.com

Feather Friendly

Feather Friendly

Feather Friendly DIY Tape

Feather Friendly was one of the first products designed to stop collisions. It has been installed (with success) on buildings throughout Canada, including the Canadian Museum of Nature, York University, and in the Pinery Provincial Park.

For large windows, Feather Friendly comes in sheets that are pressed to the window, then peeled back to leave a series of small white markers. It’s a great solution if you don’t want a film covering the entire surface—but you also don’t want to put up individual decals.

Feather Friendly is now available for homeowners in the form of tape. It functions the same way as sheets, except it’s easier to work with. Each kit contains 100 feet of tape, enough to cover 16 square feet. It comes with installation instructions, which are also posted on the website.

Feather Friendly DIY Tape, $15.99, featherfriendly.com

ollidescape on balcony

Collidescape on a balcony (Photo: Cheryl Rutherford)

Collidescape

Collidescape is a perforated film that is transparent from the inside but opaque from the outside. It has the added benefit of giving you privacy, and it reduces glare and cooling costs. Collidescape was installed at the Atlantic Cape Community College—a three-story glass building in New Jersey that used to have daily collisions. After installation, collisions stopped altogether.

Collidescape comes in white, clear, or tinted sheets. If you don’t want to deal with a large sheet of film, you can also purchase the tape, which is easier to apply. Unlike Feather Friendly, the strips of tape are left on the window.

CollidEscape High-Performance BirdTape, $16.95 – $24.95 USD, Collidescape.org

Solyx bird safety film in a trellis pattern

Solyx bird safety film in a trellis pattern

Solyx Bird Safety Film

Similar to Collidescape, Solyx Bird Safety Film covers the entire window—but it comes in a variety of patterns: horizontal or vertical stripes, dots, frosted birds, colourful birds, or a trellis pattern. Solyx was installed at the Philadelphia Zoo and the Bronx Zoo, and there have been no fatalities reported since it went up.

Solyx is sold by the foot in rolls of 58 inches or 70 inches, so you need to measure your windows and cut the film yourself. You then peel off the backing, wet the film, position it, and squeegee it into place. It may sound complicated, but the company has detailed installation instructions, as well as a video.

Solyx Bird Safety Film, $30.76 USD per foot, decorativefilm.com

Tempera paint

Tempera paint (Photo: Dr. Christine Sheppard)

Tempera paint

Non-toxic tempera paint is inexpensive, easy to wash off your windows, and you can get creative with it. Sheppard recommends getting the kids involved. You can even decorate your windows for different holidays or seasons.

“It’s amazing,” says Sheppard. “I put a bunch of it up on my windows, and it can get wet without running. I’ve had some of it last a year through rain storm after rain storm.” If you want to wash it off, a wet sponge is all you need.

Craft Smart® Washable Paint Set,$10.99, michaels.com

What about my view?

Mesure says people expect markers to be ugly or obstruct their view—until they install them. Once windows have been treated, people forget about it.

“It becomes part of the backdrop after a while,” says Mesure. “People see beyond it.”

He talks about Consilium Place, an office complex in Scarborough, with mirrored glass that used to kill hundreds of birds a year. The owners initially resisted putting anything on the windows, out of concern for aesthetics. They eventually installed markers, and expected tons of complaints from tenants. They didn’t get a single one.

Sheppard says it’s better to deal with one or two windows than none at all.

“Start slow,” she says. “You don’t have to do every window in your house. If you are asking about solutions, that means you know you probably have at least one bad window. Start with that one bad window.” You’ll realize it looks fine, and more importantly you’ll see that it works. Unlike other conservation issues, this is a problem with a clear solution.

“This is not climate change,” says Klem. “This is not some complex worldwide conundrum that we’re going to be wrestling with long into the future. This is something that we humans can solve tomorrow if we put our minds to it.”

FILED UNDER:

Home Decor

4 Eco-Friendly Alternatives To A Lawn

Why you might want to give up the grass.

A Bushel and Berry-pink icing blueberry in a pot

Pot of blueberries. (Photo: Bushel and Berry)

A tidy lawn with no weeds in sight is fast becoming antiquated. Health Canada’s ban and management of cosmetic herbicides and pesticides helped with this shift a few years ago. And eco-minded homeowners, realizing what a waste it is to water grass when you could devote your time to nurturing a garden that attracts beneficial insects and wildlife, have advanced the idea of getting rid of grass altogether. Gardens have started to overtake the space once reserved only for lawns. More and more gardeners are filling their front yards with a riot of blooms, a few vegetable plants, or even a rain garden (more on that in a moment).

That’s not to say that having grass is bad—it’s way better than concrete, trapping dust, reducing carbon dioxide, and producing oxygen. But it’s okay to have a few dandelions or patches of clover. And you definitely don’t need to water grass when it goes dormant during hot, dry spells. There are eco-friendlier alternatives of grass seed blends you can sow if you’d still like to feel that soft, cool carpet under your feet on a hot summer day.

Be sure to consult with a landscaping professional before undertaking any major work on your property, especially if you are looking to change the slope or grade in any way. And even if you’re just changing up a small area, or digging in a big tree, it’s a good idea to consult your municipality’s “call before you dig” program to flag any underground pipes (like gas) or cables. You don’t want to encounter them yourself.

Want to switch up your lawn? Here are some ideas to keep things interesting in the front yard.

An image of a live-edge raised gardening bed

(Photo: Donna Griffith)

Use your front yard to grow vegetables

Dreaming of growing your own fresh produce? If you have a shady backyard, a full-sun front yard might present the perfect growing conditions. (For the most part, you need six to eight hours of sun a day for crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers.) Some savvy green thumbs will build tidy rows of raised beds in lieu of a lawn. If you’re not quite ready to commit to a full-fledged urban farm, you can sneak plants into an established perennial garden. Tuck in a tomato with an obelisk overtop, and it will blend right in as an ornamental specimen.

A tomato obelisk

A tomato with obelisk. (Photo: Donna Griffith)

“In front yard spaces, opt for decorative and delicious edibles, like Peppermint Swiss chard, dinosaur kale, or purple beans,” suggests Niki Jabbour, author of Veggie Garden Remix. “Curly parsley or Greek basil are super compact and can be added to flower pots for visual interest and summer-long harvesting,” she adds.

And with all the compact varieties of tomatoes, peas, melons, etc., there’s no excuse for not being able to grow in a small space.

Use your front yard to grow annual and perennial flowers

Front yards can present some harsh conditions—dry soil devoid of nutrients, salt left over from winter shovelling, clay. But it is possible to amend that soil over time (the not-so-secret secret is compost), while choosing hardy plants that don’t mind the current state of affairs in your yard. Even roses have gotten a makeover in recent years, with new varieties hardy down to zone 3 or 4, (that is, many parts of Canada) and greater pest and disease resistance.

If there are certain challenges you face on the property—salt, deer, drought, a black walnut tree—there are plants that can survive being planted in those areas. Ask for recommendations at your local garden centre.

A monarch butterfly on a zinnia flower

(Photo: Tara Nolan)

Use your front yard to attract pollinators and wildlife

Planting flowers, of course, attracts a variety of pollinators, from bees to birds to butterflies. And with pollinator populations in peril (apologies for all the alliteration), using your yard, however small, as a haven and food source, can help immensely. Pollinator favourites include liatris, black-eyed Susans, cosmos and echinacea. One helpful tip is to look for plants that are native to your region.

You can provide shelters, like a pollinator palace for beneficial insects. “Just like us, bees need food and water,” adds Stephanie Rose, author of Garden Alchemy. “Setting a bee bath in the garden helps keep them hydrated so they can keep up the busy job of pollinating your garden while you sip a cool drink and enjoy the show.” Rose explains that a bee bath is simple to make by placing a plant saucer or ceramic dish on an overturned plant pot, adding some water, and then setting river stones so the tops come just above the waterline, as a perch for bees to safely drink without falling in.

Doug Tallamy, author of Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard believes “private properties are an opportunity for long-term conservation if we design them to meet the needs of the life around us.” Now that doesn’t mean you have to roll out the welcome mat for urban raccoons. But giving up some or all of your grass to plant native species will help to nourish and shelter smaller creatures, like birds, toads, snakes, beneficial insects, etc. CanPlant is a helpful resource with a database to identify ecologically appropriate native plant species.

Special programs, like the one offered by the Canadian Wildlife Federation, has a checklist for gardeners wanting to certify their garden as a wildlife-friendly habitat.

A water-filtering rain garden

A rain garden. (Photo: Elizabeth Wren)

Use your front yard to filter and divert rainwater

Summer brings hot sunny days—and the odd deluge. Each year, we inevitably see news reports showing the destruction one heavy rainfall can bring. Overburdened sewer systems can sometimes spell bad news for basements as the excess water has nowhere else to go, and aging infrastructure fails. Homeowners concerned about flooding or who have experienced wet spots in their basement may want to consider having a rain garden—a design that works with your property’s conditions to capture water in the front yard. A dry river rock bed, for example, will divert water off the property, filtering some along the way, so not as much ends up in the sewer system.

Mike Prong, owner of Fern Ridge Eco Landscaping in Milton, Ont., says rain gardens are a great low-maintenance option that allow you to see where the water is moving. Prong recommends consulting a professional to assess the property and making sure a plan is made where the water is being conveyed the way it needs to.

Tara Nolan is the author of Gardening Your Front Yard and a co-owner of SavvyGardening.com.

This piece was originally published in 2020 and updated in 2021.

Home Decor

How To Start Seeds Indoors For Your Vegetable Garden

A step-by-step guide to thriving seedlings.

Tending to your own veggie garden is a fun and budget-friendly way to get some fresh produce on the table come summer. To benefit from a longer growing season and increase your chances of a healthier crop, consider starting your seeds indoors this spring. Here, a step-by-step guide to thriving seedlings.

An illustration of a tomato seedling in a terracotta pot against a green background.

(Illustration: Sumit Gill)

1. Consider your space

“Pay attention to how much light you’re getting throughout the day as that will determine what type of seeds you can grow,” says Ohemaa Boateng, the program manager at Green Thumbs Growing Kids, a food growing education organization in Toronto. For beginners, she recommends starting with no more than three varieties of seeds. To narrow it down, consider what you like to eat, or opt for plants that are easy to grow, like tomatoes, beans and leafy greens. Buy your seeds from a local supplier, as they likely carry varieties better suited to the growing conditions in your area.

2. Sow your seeds

Poke holes in the bottoms of your pots to ensure proper drainage, then fill them with a seed-starting mix: a fine, soilless mixture of coco coir, perlite and vermiculite that allows seedlings to grow roots easily. A good guideline is to plant seeds at a depth equal to three times their width (consult the packaging, as instructions can vary, and some tougher seeds may need to be soaked overnight prior to sowing). Boateng suggests planting a few seeds per pot in case one doesn’t sprout.

3. Label them as you go

Keep track of your soon-to-sprout seedlings by labelling them right away with the name of the plant and the sowing date.

4. Get the temperature right

Some seeds need warmth to germinate, while others, like leafy greens, fare better in cooler soil. Keep fruiting plants—like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants—somewhere warm, such as on top of the refrigerator or near a radiator. To help retain heat and moisture, cover the pots with plastic wrap; remove once any shoots start poking through.

An illustration of a rotisserie chicken container with seedling pots inside against a white background.

A rotisserie chicken container makes a great DIY greenhouse. Simply poke holes into the lid for ventilation and transfer your seedling pots to their new home. (Illustration: Sumit Gill)

5. Manage water levels

The seed-starting mix should be moist but not saturated. To ensure your seedlings are watered properly, Boateng suggests setting up a self-watering system by placing one end of a string into an elevated water-filled container and the other in the soil. The water will travel down the string and nourish the plant’s roots.

6. Move seedlings into the sun

Once seedlings sprout, move your plants to a cool, sunny location, such as an indoor windowsill. Rotate the containers every so often to keep seedlings growing evenly. (Some herbs and leafy greens will grow better in shadier areas out of direct sunlight.) The temperatures needed depend on the type of vegetables you’re growing, but Boateng says room temperature works for most plants at this stage.

7. Fertilize your plants

Once seedlings grow their true leaves—not the first leaves to sprout, but the next round—it’s time to fertilize. Boateng says organic and natural fertilizers will give your plants the best nutrients.

An illustration of a seedling being cut at the soil line against a white background.

(Illustration: Sumit Gill)

8. Thin your seedlings

To ensure your plants have room to grow, keep just one seedling per pot. Save the healthiest, strongest-looking seedling of the bunch and snip the others off at the soil line with scissors.

9. Harden them off

Outside, pampered seedlings can be exposed to fluctuating temperatures, rain and wind, which can cause stress and lead to stunted growth or death. To prevent transplant shock, slowly acclimate your plants to the elements (a process called “hardening off”) by bringing them outside once daytime temperatures start hovering around 10 degrees Celsius. Start with one hour a day, Boateng says, and gradually increasing their time outdoors over the course of one to two weeks.

An illustration of a tomato plant growing in a terracotta pot against a white background.

(Illustration: Sumit Gill)

10. Transplant them outdoors

The best time to move seedlings to their permanent home is after the last frost in your area. Wait until the plant’s root system is strong and starts to poke through drainage holes. If possible, plant them early in the morning to avoid immediately exposing them to the sun. Boateng suggests spreading mulch around the base of the plant to help keep the soil damp.

For people with smaller outdoor spaces, like balconies, Boateng recommends veggies that grow upward, like beans, cucumbers or tomatoes. “It’s maximizing the space you have by growing up instead of growing out,” she says, noting that you can use any sort of vertical support, such as a fence, cage, stake or trellis.

No seedling pots? Reuse these household items instead.

 

(Illustration: Sumit Gill)

Toilet paper rolls

Make a few slits around one end of each roll and fold the sections in toward the centre to form the bottom of the pot. Planted along with the seedlings, the cardboard will decompose in the soil.

(Illustration: Sumit Gill)

Plastic bottles

Cut bottles in half, poking drainage holes in the bottoms. Or use up the top halves by poking holes in the cap and filling the bodies with seed-starting mix, and then setting them inside the bottom halves to collect excess water.

(Illustration: Sumit Gill)

Eggshells

An inexpensive and all-natural option, eggshells make excellent seedling pots. When crushed, they break down and enrich the soil with calcium, providing extra nutrients to the growing plants.

(Illustration: Sumit Gill)

Egg cartons

Cardboard egg cartons are compostable, so they’re perfect for seedlings. Poke holes in the bottom of each compartment and cut the lid off the carton to use as a drainage tray.

(Illustration: Sumit Gill)

Food containers

Give plastic tubs and containers—like yogurt cups—a new purpose by rinsing them out and adding drainage holes. When seedlings are ready to be transplanted, wash and recycle (or reuse) the pots.

Home Decor

Where to Shop For Your Ramadan Cards And Decor

As Muslims prepare for their second pandemic holy month, here are some ways to get into the Ramadan spirit.

Ramadan is fast approaching, and this year will mark the second time the holy month will be observed at home due to COVID-19. The Muslim month of fasting, which will begin in early to mid-April, typically entails community gatherings each night to break fast and regularly congregating for prayers at the mosque. Although it won’t be the same as pre-pandemic Ramadans, you can still welcome the month by decorating your home and mailing greeting cards to loved ones. Here are five Canadian brands that offer unique accessories and cards to help get you into the Ramadan spirit.

1. Hello Holy Days!

(Photo: Hello Holy Days!)

Hello Holy Days! is a Toronto-based brand that offers playful and colourful Ramadan and Eid greeting cards perfect for all ages. The brand is the brainchild of Manal Aman, who loved making crafts as a young girl and turned her hobby into a business. Along with greeting cards, Hello Holy Days! also sells gift bags with designs as bright and fun as their cards.

5 Lanterns Ramadan greeting card, $6.50, helloholydays.ca

2. Niya Paper Art

(Photo: Niya Paper Art)

Founded by Yasmine Arfaoui, Montreal’s Niya Paper Art sells handmade Ramadan greeting cards and postcards that come in muted tones and feature lantern, moon or Arabic calligraphy designs. The greeting cards are sold in bundles of ten and come with gold envelopes, while the postcards are sold in a pack of five.

Ten Ramadan Greeting Cards, $35, etsy.com

3. The Eid Seed

A moon and star bamboo wood platter with candles and green twigs rests on a white countertop

(Photo: Sierra Curtis Photography)

Looking to keep it simple by ordering all your Ramadan decorations in one place? The Eid Seed offers a Ramadan and Eid home decor set that includes seven custom pieces, including Ramadan-themed cookie cutters, garlands and crescent-shaped LED lights to brighten up your home.

Curated Ramadan & Eid Home Decor Set, $160, theeidseed.com

4. Rasm

A white miniature mosque and minaret candle holder sit on a wooden table

(Photo: Saleme Fayad/Rasm)

For the minimalists in your life, Windsor, Ont. based brand Rasm has miniature white mosque and minaret-shaped tealight and candle holders. Also, their handmade aluminum dome jars topped with golden moons are perfect for storing dates.

Colored Dome Jar, $36, rasm.co

5. BySahar

Nova Scotia-based BySahar is a small business that offers Ramadan greeting cards that can be printed at home. Her “Ramadan Kareem” greeting cards are sleek and elegant, decorated with pink or gold accents and intricate mandala designs. Once you purchase the downloadable files online, you can print them out as many times as you like, making this a budget-friendly option.

Ramadan Kareem Greeting Card in Rose Gold, $7.99, etsy.com

Food

How To Store Groceries To Make Them Last

Keep your food fresh between deliveries or trips to the store.

How long can that club pack of chicken thighs really last in the freezer—and how can you store it properly so that your quick coq au vin doesn’t taste like freezer burn? Many of us are filling our pantries, fridges and freezers with food to last us a week or longer to avoid too many trips to the supermarket, or deliveries in-between. Here’s how to store your produce, proteins and grains properly so it lasts as long as possible.

The Government of Canada has safety guidelines for foods stored in the fridge and freezer. The recommended refrigeration times are for safety, while the freezing times are for quality. When stored properly, you can maintain the quality of your frozen foods for longer period of time.

Dairy (and alternatives)

Milk

According to the Dairy Council of Canada, you can freeze unopened milk in its original packaging for up to six weeks. For optimal—and safe—results, ensure your freezer is set below -18 C and always freeze your milk prior to the best-before date. Thaw it in the fridge, and use it quickly. For milk that lasts a while in the fridge without freezing, look for fine or micro-filtered milk in the dairy section.

Cheese

Master cheesemonger Afrim Pristine, of Toronto’s Cheese Boutique recommends buying cheese in small quantities. Since cheese is an isolation essential, wrap leftovers in a layer of parchment paper, followed by a tight layer of tinfoil. This, according to Pristine’s book For the Love of Cheese, lets cheese breathe and keeps it from absorbing ambient fridge smells.

Butter

Butter is a great ingredient to buy in bulk: whether salted or unsalted, it lasts for up to eight weeks in the fridge if left unopened. Butter will stay fresh-tasting in the freezer for even longer—three months for unopened unsalted, and one year for unopened salted. To maintain flavour, the BC Dairy Association recommends wrapping it in an additional layer of foil or tossing it in a freezer bag.

Loaf of fresh flour brown bread sliced on a wooden cutting board

Photo, John Cullen.

Grains and Pantry Staples

Flour

Yes, flour can go rancid over time if you don’t store it properly. If you’ve picked up a bread-baking hobby and have lots of flour on hand, store it in the freezer in a re-sealable bag or airtight container to make it last. Note that, at one to three months, whole wheat flour’s shelf life isn’t as long as all-purpose, which can last up to eight months if stored properly. Unless you’ve got big plans for whole wheat baking, it’s best not to buy in bulk.

Rice

When unopened or stored properly in an airtight container, white rice can last almost indefinitely in the pantry, so go ahead and get that 18-pound bag. Brown rice isn’t quite as resilient, so it’s best to buy it in smaller quantities; when stored in a cool, dark, space and an airtight container, it can stay fresh for three to six months.

Bread

For optimal flavour and texture, eat your freshly baked loaves quickly. If you’re keeping it on the counter, store breads with soft crusts in plastic bags, and loaves with hard, crackly crusts in paper. If you don’t have immediate sandwich plans, freeze bread soon after baking or buying to maintain its delicious integrity. Slice before chilling, and ensure sure it’s thoroughly wrapped to avoid freezer burn.

Whole Grains

According to the Whole Grain Council, “heat, air and moisture are the enemies of whole grains.” If grain bowls are in your meal plans, store items such as quinoa, farro, barley and more in airtight containers. Use this handy chart to determine how long your whole grain of choice should last in the pantry and freezer.

Nuts

Nuts add crunch and flavour to baked goods and are an easy, protein-packed snack. But they tend to go rancid if left in the cupboard for too long. Extend the shelf life of pecans, peanuts, and more by storing them in airtight bags or containers in the freezer. Food52 recommends bringing them to room temperature before eating—and, to maximize flavour, suggests toasting them before chilling, too.

Spices

You might have heard that spices don’t expire, and while they might technically be okay to eat, their flavour diminishes over time. According to The Kitchn, whole spices last longer than ground. To keep your spices safely in Flavourtown, store them in airtight containers, in a dark place, and keep them away from heat.

Bowl of Spanish pork and beans with spoon and bread on side

Photo, Roberto Caruso.

Dried Beans

Like many pantry staples, dried beans do best in a cool, dark environment. Stored in an airtight container, they should keep for up to two years. Older beans are difficult to rehydrate—no matter how long you soak them.

Coffee

Those locally roasted beans you ordered from your favourite café are best brewed relatively soon after roasting. If you loaded up on more dark roast than you can brew, you can freeze whole beans in a sealed, airtight bag. Just like with other foods, defrost your beans and bring them to room temperature before making your morning cup.

Yeast

If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on active dry yeast, try to use it before its expiration date. According to the experts at Fleischmann’s, yeast loses its potency as it ages. Store it in a cool, dark place or in the fridge. Once opened, you want to keep it cool and avoid drafts, so place it in an airtight container at the back of the fridge.

Protein

Meat

Fresh, raw meat lasts for just a few days in the fridge—so if it’s on sale, prepare to freeze it. For the best-tasting results, remove meat from its original packaging and rewrap it before placing it into a freezer bag. If you’re buying meat in bulk packages, consider portioning it out. That way, when it comes time for dinner, you can defrost just a few pieces at a time.

Fish

Fresh fish should be eaten shortly after you buy it, but you can freeze it, too. Just like with meat, remove it from its original packaging. Freeze fish (or seafood, like shrimp or squid) in a single layer on a sheet pan before storing in a freezer bag, with as much air removed as possible.

Eggs

Don’t put your raw, whole eggs in your refrigerator door. You want them at a consistent temperature, so keep them in their carton on a fridge shelf. While the Chatelaine Kitchen doesn’t recommend freezing yolks (they can become gelatinous and behave differently in cooked and baked dishes if frozen), you can store egg whites (if you’ve made a yolky custard) in the freezer for up to 12 months.

Strawberry scones on cooling rack.

Photo, Roberto Caruso.

Produce

Bananas

Keep fresh bananas on the counter. If they’re ripening too quickly, peel, chop and store them in an airtight container or Ziploc bag. That way, you won’t have to wrestle with slimy bananas when you’re ready to make your eighth batch of banana bread.

Berries

To extend their shelf life, Food52 recommends rinsing berries in a water-vinegar solution, and then thoroughly drying them in a paper-towel-lined salad spinner before refrigerating them in a paper-towel-lined container, with the lid slightly ajar. If you have a bounty of berries, freeze them for smoothies and more. Chill in a single layer on a baking sheet before pouring into a freezer bag for the long haul.

Potatoes and onions

Potatoes and onions are hearty veggies, best stored in a cool (not cold), dark place with good ventilation. Keep them in a bag or bin that allows for airflow. And remember: even though potatoes and onions love similar environments, when stored together, they can ripen faster. It’s best to keep them apart.Bunch of asparagus

Photo, Erik Putz.

Asparagus

Asparagus season is nearly here, so take advantage and make your bunches last. Don’t wash or trim asparagus until you’re ready to cook it. Store in the fridge, standing upright in a glass with a tiny bit of water.

Herbs

As The Kitchn suggests, always wash your herbs before refrigerating and treat soft herbs (dill, cilantro, parsley, basil and mint) like a bouquet of flowers—trim the stems and stand them upright in a glass of water. Keep basil on the counter, and the others in the fridge, lightly covered by a plastic bag. For hard herbs (think: rosemary and time), wrap in a moist paper towel and store your herbaceous burrito in a container or zip-top bag.

If your herbs are at risk of going bad, chop them up and freeze in an ice cube tray with a neutral oil. Your herb pucks will be ready and waiting whenever you need a hit of fresh flavour.

Food

What’s The Best Boxed Brownie Mix? We Tried 7

The winner was rich and fudgy, proving there’s no shame in the boxed-mix game.

A grid of square-cut brownies on a sheet of waxed paper.

(Photo courtesy of iStock.)

Real talk: Guilty pleasures are the best. Love is Blind? A soothing balm. The Fast & Furious film franchise? My medicine. Boxed cake mix? Especially.

When it comes to unbridled enthusiasm about guilty pleasures, I’m also very suggestible. After reading Sohla El-Waylly’s breathless recommendation for Ghirardelli’s dark chocolate boxed brownie mix, I had an almost immediate urge to face plant into a batch myself. Can you blame me? She describes the edges as “a little crunchy and a lot chewy while the middle has just the right amount of soft doughy texture and melty chocolate.”

The problem is, Ghirardelli’s boxed brownie mixes aren’t widely available in Canada. I’ve tried No Frills, Loblaws, Sobeys, Costco—and the few options available on Amazon run upwards of $15 for a box, which isn’t exactly a level of commitment I’m willing to make for an impulse bake project.

So I did the next most impulse-y thing: I picked up every brand of boxed brownie mix I could find at my local grocery stores, baked them all, and asked staff at Chatelaine, Today’s Parent, and Flare to pick their favourite (Editor’s Note: This taste-test occurred pre-pandemic).

Here, in no particular order, is what we tried:

No Name Fudge Brownie Mix

Pillsbury Chewy Fudge Brownie Mix

Duncan Hines Chocolate Decadence Brownie Mix

Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Brownie Mix

Betty Crocker Dark Chocolate Brownie Mix

PC The Decadent Triple Chocolate Brownie Mix

Some disclosure: for brands that make multiple types of brownie mix I opted for dark chocolate where possible, and baked every batch on the lower end of the instructions’ time frame to give them all a good chance at staying as dense and moist as possible. In every case, I mixed dry ingredients into wet. (You might have a different opinion about ingredient order; bake as you will!) It was quick work: most boxed cake mixes just ask you to add oil, water, and a couple of eggs.

It also was, unsurprisingly, not that difficult to get a bunch of editors to line up for a brownie buffet. Everyone tried a bite of each and cast a vote for their first and second favourites.

The far-and-away best boxed brownie mix winner was Duncan Hines’ Chocolate Decadence, which at least one editor voted for twice. The things people loved about it seemed to mirror a lot of what El-Waylly describes about Ghiradelli: sugary crackle top; fudgy middle; corner pieces with a highly pleasurable contrast of crunch and chew.

The runner up, No Name’s Fudge Brownie, has the distinction of having a simpler ingredient list, with soybean instead of palm oil. It had all the qualities of the Duncan Hines brownie, with a denser interior, which—if you ask me—is the best part.

Overall, though, the exercise was a lesson in what a boxed mix can do, and what it can’t. While Bob’s Red Mill wasn’t a top contender (more cake than brownie bar), everyone was surprised to learn its version was gluten-free. But the carefully wrapped leftovers of this experiment dried out after two days (we’re a hungry bunch, but seven batches of brownies was a lot for even this staff), while my all-time favourite homemade version usually lasts about a week, if it stays uneaten that long.

In an ideal world, everyone would have time to carefully melt chocolate bars with butter and make them from scratch. That doesn’t mean that those who are looking for a shortcut to treats (or have a bake sale to appease) don’t deserve brownies—and good ones, at that.

Originally published March 2020. Updated March 2021.

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Home Decor

11 Easy Ways To Put Together A Gallery Wall

No matter your space, style or skill level, there’s an approach that will work for you.

A gallery wall can look good no matter what you space is like. Work with what you’ve got—a patch of wall, a mix of pieces—and easily pull off a polished look. Whatever your “hang-up” might be, there’s an approach that will work for you.

1. You don’t have “real art”

gallery wall-an assortment of framed art on a white wall

(Photo: Molly Culver)

Some of the best gallery walls showcase priceless objects you wouldn’t ever find in a gallery: your grandmother’s embroidered handkerchiefs, a flea market find, the key to your first house framed in a shadow box, a ticket stub, photo booth captures. This cool composition by interior designer Claire Zinnecker includes a camera, a spoon and even an empty frame.

Literally everything qualifies as art. Even if you have only three pieces, you can start a gallery wall. Hang the largest piece first, placing it off-centre, and build around it.

2. You have no space

gallery wall-a staircase with assorted framed art running up the side

(Photo: Rebekah Higgs)

Staircase walls are often overlooked, but they’re clever, unexpected spots to hang collections. This enthralling floor-to-ceiling display by Rebekah Higgs may seem freewheeling, but there’s a method behind it. Higgs, the host and producer of the web series DIY Mom, created templates of the frames by tracing them on kraft paper. She taped the templates to the wall so she could tweak the layout. Once satisfied, she measured the backs of the frames for nail placement, hammered through the kraft paper, removed the paper and replaced it with artwork.

Putty on the bottom pieces helps secure them to the wall so they won’t get knocked askew.

3. You crave order

gallery wall-neatly ordered black frames fill a wall above a sideboard

(Photo: Kate Chipinski)

Are you someone who organizes their Tupperware drawer? Then you’ll appreciate a grid approach. To keep this vignette neat and focused, interior designer Kate Chipinski framed eight-by-10-inch photos, which were printed in black and white because it’s less distracting than colour.

Before pulling out the hammer, Chipinski spread everything out on the floor to visualize how all of the frames would look above the dresser. (The collection felt too busy, so she removed a row of photos, saving her wall from extra puncture wounds.) A laser level ensured the photos, which are hung from screws, sit absolutely straight.

To avoid hairline cracks, hammer each nail through a strip of tape. If you’re using two nails to hold a heavy picture, use a level to make sure they are at the same height.

4. You’re short on right angles

gallery wall- slanted angle roof with a collection of hanged framed art

(Photo: Jess Isaac)

There’s no reason to sweat a slanted setup. As this stylish bedroom by interior designer Abbie Naber proves, a wonky wall makes an interesting backdrop (even more so if you throw in a cute pompom bedspread). It’s a cinch to layer in artwork if you’re still collecting by playing around with that peak, adding pieces all the way up to the ceiling.

Naber’s approach was very casual: She used the largest print as a focal point and eyeballed the surrounding pieces. While most of the art is graphic, each one feels suitably quiet for a bedroom. Give it more of an eclectic feel by mixing and matching frames, like the Plexiglas one by the headboard.

5. You can’t commit

gallery wall- photo ledges in nursery hold various art works

(Photo: Jodi Pudge)

Picture rails, which let you switch up your art on a whim, are perfect for those who are nervous about making too many holes in their walls. When stacking multiple ledges, leave enough room for tall pieces.

Now for the fun part: Experiment with heights, objects and placement. Overlapping frames creates a casual vibe, while spacing out several similar-toned pieces imparts a restrained elegance. And don’t limit your ledges to framed art—throw a graphic novel, floppy-leafed plant or sculptural vase into the mix.

6. You want something sculptural

gallery wall-baskets

(Photo: Corinna Henderso of the @thebohoabode)

Baskets, pennants, hats or anything you have a lot of can work well in a display. Design blogger Corinna Henderso scoured thrift shops to create this fun, textural cluster that speaks to her love of all things bohemian. If you can’t shop in person, look for treasures on Kijiji, Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.

She started by hanging the largest basket and tucked the others around it that were slightly smaller, making sure to balance sizes and colours on each side. Basic nails hammered straight into the wall keep everything secure.

7. You’re a collector

gallery wall-collector display cases for action figures attached to the wall

(Photo: Stephani Buchman)

Gallery walls can be messy or methodical and be fantastic either way. This display obviously falls in the latter camp, and it brings a streamlined gravitas to a flat-screen TV.

The plexiglas cabinets are custom-made by Toronto design-builders Urban Blueprint. They showcase the homeowners’ treasured urban vinyl figures (and keep the dust out of the dioramas). The top shelf consists of all the original Star Wars action figures from the late 1970s and ’80s.

8. You embrace change

gallery wall-dining room ledge displays various kinds of framed artwork

(Photo: Jo Wearing)

Wood, white, black and fresh pink peonies add up to one pretty dining room with ever-evolving artwork. Perfect if you just can’t commit to nailing holes into your wall.

Toronto homeowner Jo Wearing installed four picture ledges from Ikea to line up to the table—two on the bottom, two on top. Wearing can shuffle new pieces into the mix, which are mostly from thrift stores, as she finds them. The art was put into Ikea frames for cohesion; she likes black and white pieces because it establishes unity.

9. You want to make a statement

gallery walls-bright and bold display of framed artwork behind a pink couch

(Photo: Designs By Tamara Lee)

Sometimes you just have to go for it! Interior stylist Tamara Lee Beltran went hog-wild for this light-hearted space, covering the room with floor-to-ceiling artwork in black frames to pull everything together. Interspersing non-precious objects—from the gold horse’s head to the rainbow—makes for a relaxed, youthful feel.

10. You have high ceilings

gallery wall-high ceiling in home display floor-to-ceiling artwork

(Photo: Colleen Nicholson)

There are no limits to gallery walls. Here, the homeowner took the art work right up to the ceiling, which gives it fantastic art gallery vibe.

11. Remember anything can be art

gallery wall- an assortment of art and objects hang on a wall above a sideboard

(Photo: Sun Ngo)

Painted tin trays, menus, scraps of fabric and even plants look gorgeous when hung up. It’s all about the balance of colour and texture and showing off the things you love most.

Home Decor

I Hated My Cluttered House, But I Hated Organizing Even More—Until Now

The game-changing advice that changed everything.

I have a friend who loves organizing. When I text “Hey, what are you up to?” she replies with giddy reports of puttering, purging and pitching. “Just dropped off three more bags at the donation centre!” she’ll write with a smug emoji—the googly-eyed one sticking out its tongue. I suppose it’s true that some people get satisfaction and even joy from a day spent untangling messes and creating a pristine state of order. I am not one of those people.

It’s not that I don’t try. Every weekend I make a to-do list but, admittedly, half of it contains things I’ve already done just so I can cross them off. “See?” I tell myself, moving back to a horizontal position on the sofa. “I’m not a total slug!” The truth is, I’m not lazy—just overwhelmed. Paper is my kryptonite, from bills and receipts to old letters and greeting cards, not to mention to-do lists from years past. For me, the payoff of a perfectly organized and labelled filing system isn’t worth the hours of sorting and shredding.

I suppose that’s why “Clean home office!” has lived at the top of my to-do lists for five months now. I can’t stand visible mess, so I just jam everything inside the nearest drawer, closet or cupboard—not exactly a viable solution. Out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind. The unseen chaos is a vibration that hums through the house and haunts me every time I need to find something. It’s the ultimate internal battle: I hate not having an organized house, but I hate organizing even more.

illustration of two women sorting items into three boxes labelled 'trash' 'keep' and 'donate'

Illustration, Ashleigh Green.

An article in the New York Times last year validated my avoidance tendencies, concluding that we procrastinate not because of laziness but because of negative moods associated with a task. As Tim Pychyl, a psychology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, said in the article, “It’s an emotion-regulation problem, not a time-management problem.” I guess I didn’t need the NYT to tell me that. Organizing provokes in me a wide range of emotions: boredom (I’d rather be Netflixing), despair (I don’t know where to put all this stuff) and nostalgia (but my dearly departed aunt gave that to me!). Looking at the piles on my desk, my brain is like the spinning wheel on a slow computer—I just can’t complete the download.

I asked Effy Terry, a GTA-based professional organizer who’s certified in three different techniques—including KonMari, popularized by bestselling author and Netflix star Marie Kondo—what could be fuelling my organizing aversion. “People simply don’t know where to start,” she says. “They get overwhelmed and the cumulative effect is information overload. Sometimes it hits when you’re at a professional or personal crossroads and you feel stuck.”


Her real talk made perfect sense. I’ve changed jobs twice in the last year, something that I’ve never done before (and don’t recommend). Maybe that’s why my home office has become a dumping ground—a metaphor for my fears about the future. Too many questions about what was next had given me decision fatigue, a big-picture problem that filtered down to my desk.

Rather than making myself feel more overwhelmed, Terry suggested I set a longer-term goal. “For some people, clutter is delayed decision-making, so set a timer, jump in and see what you can accomplish,” she says. “If there are things you’re not sure about, put them in a box and write ‘Two Weeks’ or ‘Two Months’ on it. Set a reminder on your phone and revisit when that time frame is up.”

To my surprise, that suggestion actually felt doable. I brought in some bags and boxes and started clearing out the space, one corner and surface at a time. I’ll never love the process like my friend does, but I can find strategies that don’t make me want to throw everything on the front lawn and light a match. “The most important thing is to commit,” says Terry. “Soon, you’ll feel like you’ve cleared your mental cache.” Off to the donation centre I go, a little lighter and even a little smug.

Home Decor

15 Gorgeous Sofas Under $1,000

From mid-century-inspired couches to sculptural sectionals, these budget-friendly picks only *look* expensive.

Nothing makes a statement quite like a splashy new sofa, but finding one that fits your space, your style and your budget can be a challenge. Now that we’re all spending more time at home, finding a cozy couch that sparks joy is more important than ever—after all, you’ll be seeing a lot of it. Whether you’ve got your heart set on a mid-century-inspired couch in a trendy hue, a pint-sized loveseat or a sculptural sectional, we’ve got you covered. And the good news? They all ring in under $1000, so you can take a chance on the bold colour you’ve had your heart set on for years.

Home Decor

Casper Vs. Endy: Which Mattress Is Better? We Put Them To The Test

A thorough, slept-on-it-for-weeks review of the two ultra-popular mattresses-in-a-box.

 

casper vs endy mattress review

The Internet has changed the way we shop for just about everything, and that includes mattresses. No longer do we have to go to a mattress store, awkwardly lie for 30 seconds on a confusing range of options, and then lug one home. The direct-to-consumer mattress-in-a-box means that with a click of a button, a small package with a compressed mattress inside will quickly arrive at your doorstep.

While everyone from Sealy to Costco is getting in on the game and launching their own mattresses-in-a-box, the two most prominent names in Canada are the U.S.-based Casper and Endy, a Canadian company that offers mattresses manufactured here.

Both share a few key promises: a better sleep (case in point: Casper dubs itself “The Best Bed for Better Sleep”), affordability (all of Endy’s mattresses are under $1,000), convenience and customer satisfaction (both offer at-home trials for up to 100 days — if you’re not satisfied, you’ll get a full refund).

And it seems that the companies have won over consumers. Casper sold US$200 million worth of its products in its third year of business and, as of the end of 2020, Endy said it had sold 250,000 mattresses in Canada.

I tried both companies’ mattresses, from delivery to unboxing to sleep. (Note: Each company provided a free mattress for my review.) Here’s what I thought:

Casper

Casper offers four different styles of mattress, all made in the United States. It also sells bed frames, sheets, pillows and wake-up lights. We tried the Original Mattress, its most popular model.

The mattress:

It’s made of memory foam, which the company says is breathable to help keep you cool while you sleep. It also has a bottom layer of support foam, which Casper vows offers support and long-lasting durability. Plus, the outer shell easily unzips so you can wash it. The mattress comes with a 10-year warranty.

Price:

$1,395 for a queen

Delivery:

It arrives at your door in a small box that’s easy to carry upstairs because of the handles on each side. It’s small and light enough that you could probably lift it solo (but ideally you’d have someone to help). And you don’t have to wait around for your mattress to be delivered — there’s an option for the courier to leave it at your door, even if you’re not home.

Unboxing:

As a boxed-mattress newbie, I was so impressed by the amount of time it took to get the mattress out of the box and ready to sleep on — from door to bed, the whole process took just ten minutes. I was under the impression that you had to wait hours for it to inflate, but as soon as the plastic came off, it popped up in about three seconds and was ready to sleep on. It was also super light to lift up on to the bed. I also expected the mattress to smell funny — but there were absolutely no fumes or weird, plastic-y odours.

Casper mattress

The best part? The ridiculously easy-to-follow illustrations that came in the box.

Casper mattress instructions

Sleep experience:

I slept on this mattress for just over two weeks. It’s an extremely firm mattress (a plus, in my books), but didn’t sink around my body the way I expected memory foam would. My first night’s sleep was a glorious step up from the futon I had been sleeping on, and it definitely kept its promise to keep me cool throughout the night. After about two weeks, though, the firmness was getting to me. There wasn’t a lot of sink in the mattress, which I found uncomfortable. I like a mattress that sinks in just a little, which the Original didn’t.

Endy

Unlike Casper, Canadian-made brand Endy sells just one mattress model that’s designed “for all.” (They also sell pillows, sheets, bed frames, weighted blankets, and more.)

The mattress:

It’s made from three layers of foam (the top one has a gel-infused layer that helps control temperature), which the company says has just the right amount of sink. As with Casper, the cover is removable and machine-washable, and there is a 10-year warranty.

Price:

$850 for a queen

Delivery:

The box is a little taller than the Casper and doesn’t have handles, which made it more difficult to carry up stairs. It’s definitely a two person job. You don’t have to wait around for your mattress to be delivered — there’s an option for the courier to leave it at your door even if you’re not home.

Unboxing:

The mattress was also heavier to unpack, but once it was unboxed and expanded, it felt really light, making it easy to put on my bed. The set-up time was exactly the same as the Casper — in other words, quick — and there was absolutely no odour when I unboxed it. It didn’t come with instructions, but everything was pretty intuitive.

endy mattress

Sleep experience:

Endy boasts “perfect firmness,” which I found entirely accurate. I’d describe it as firm, but with a little give. I love that it sinks just the right amount when I lie down. I found it didn’t control the temperature as much as the Casper did, though that wasn’t a make or break for me.

Final verdict

For me, the better sleep experience was definitely the Endy. It’s the one I’ve chosen to keep in my bedroom — the Casper is in our spare room. I liked its firm support, mixed with a little give. The Casper is definitely the mattress for someone looking for something incredibly firm, with little sink.