Archive for the ‘Home Decor’ category

Essentia Natural Memory Foam Mattresses

July 24th, 2013

Essentia natural memory foam mattresses

I was contacted by Essentia a few weeks ago regarding their mattresses. I had never heard of them before — probably because they don’t do a lot of traditional advertising. It turns out they are based in Laval, just outside Montreal. It manufactures and distributes its mattresses straight from its Laval location, importing the raw ingredients.

Essentia Mattresses are an alternative to synthetic memory foam mattresses. Apparently, one of the complaints about memory foam mattresses is that they “sleep hot.” In other words, because they are synthetic, they don’t breathe and therefore, a lot of people heat up during the night (and not in a good way!). Because Essentia mattresses are made from plant-based ingredients, they breathe, allowing for a cooler, more comfortable sleep.

Another complaint with memory foam mattresses is that the “cast” is difficult to get in and out of. The cast is the shape that’s formed once you sink into the bed and it moulds to your body. Once that shape is there, it can be difficult to move out of it.

rubber tree sap collection

Essentia mattresses are made from hevea milk, the sap from the rubber tree. On their website, being the Canadian company they are, they liken collecting rubber tree sap to tapping a maple tree for sap. The sap is boiled down to produce the hevea milk, which is then shipped to Canada. Essentia adds a few other ingredients such as jasmine essence, cone flower oil and grapefruit seed extract, pours it on a mould, steams and bakes it in an oven to produce the mattress. The mattress is covered with a 100% organic cotton cover.

There are two kinds of latex manufacturing: Dunlop, which was developed in 1929, and produces a firmer latex, and Talalay, a newer method that produces a “light and fluffy” latex. Essentia uses the Dunlop latex method in production of their memory foam.

Products: Essentia makes latex mattresses in various sizes, as well as pillows which will mould to your neck and head. Mattress products vary from thinner to thicker. While all offer the same support, the difference will be in how long the mattresses last. Thicker mattresses last longer than thinner ones. For their complete product line, see their online catalogue.

Comfort: because the mattress is produced entirely from plant-based ingredients it breathes and allows for air circulation. Petroleum-based memory foam mattresses don’t allow for air flow, so heat generated while sleeping builds up around you. In addition, because the latex foam isn’t temperature sensitive, there isn’t the same cast problem that there is with synthetic memory foam.

Fire retardants: there has been a lot of attention given to the highly toxic chemicals used for fire retardants, particularly when it comes to mattresses. In Canada, fire retardants in mattresses are not mandatory, however, they are in the US. Essentia does not use fire retardants for its mattresses shipped within Canada, and for those shipped to the US, they use Kevlar as a fire retardant.

VOCs: Again, thanks to fire retardants, synthetic materials and petroleum used in other memory foam mattresses, mattresses generally contain a lot of volatile organic compounds. These are chemicals which leach into the air and you can breathe in. They have been linked to cancer, asthma, headaches, etc.. Essentia mattresses are made without the use of VOCs. The local health and safety board officials tested the workers’ environment and determined that their workers don’t need to wear protective gear or masks to work with the materials. The mattresses have also received the GreenGuard certification, a certification developed in California to limit the emission of harmful chemicals into the air.

Durability and End of Life: The mattresses have a 20 year warranty, longer than most coil mattresses, and on top of that, because the mattresses are derived from plant-based ingredients, they are biodegradable at end of life, so no landfill!

Production Process: The rubber tree sap is sourced from a plantations in Indonesia that have acceptable working conditions and no practice of using child labour. The company uses LEAN production methods to keep waste low. My contact at Essentia, Jason Wright, told me that waste is almost negligible except for cotton scraps from making the mattress covers. They are looking for ways to repurpose those as well.

Employee engagement: Essentia has recently formalized a program they developed a few years ago that encourages employees, particularly within their retail stores, to get involved with non-profit organizations within their communities. They are participated in a variety of events such as providing venues for artists, and hosting vegan cooking competitions. The point is to develop community connections.

For a store near you, see their dealer page. They have retail outlets throughout North America.





Becoming Green is a Process of Evolution

April 25th, 2012

For years, I gave myself “green marks” for buying tableware, décor and furniture at garage sales. But by shifting to online classified sites, I think I’ve taken a step to becoming even greener. Don’t get me wrong – buying second-hand stuff at yard sales is one the easiest, most economical ways to reduce your carbon footprint. I’m just not crazy about rising at 6 a.m. on a weekend to drive across town, only to return home without that special item I was searching for.

Kijiji Finds

I’ve tried several online selling sites, but have settled on Kijiji as a mainstay. It let me shop locally, and both “watch” an item of interest or be alerted when an item that matches my search term comes online. New categories, such as outdoor items, appliances and reno materials as distinct categories, makes searching faster and easier. Recently, I’ve had great success making home décor gems out of gently-used items easily found on Kijiji Take a look.




An old plate becomes a distinctive time piece

Individual plates can make interesting wall clocks.  Clock hands come in cute shapes, such as knives and forks, hammers and screwdrivers or fishing rods, so you can make a clock suited to an individual room or as a gift for a friend with a related hobby. Clocks hands and movements are available for less than $10 from Lee Valley , which also carries adhesive-backed numbers and dots.


Simply slowly and carefully drill a small hole in the centre of the plate. Place a piece of tape over the drill spot to keep it from cracking and add a few drops of water as you go along to keep the drill bit cool and lubricated (mineral oil works for that, too.) Okay, I admit it, I got the Man of the House (MOTH) to do this part!


Even a fabric remnant can create a one-of-a-kind vase

Used fabric can be put to good use. So don’t discount, then, that linen tablecloth just because it has a tear (although do factor that into what you’ll offer for it.) Imagine instead, as did I, making the still-good stuff into pillow shams, napkins, or tea and guest towels.







A bit of paint and some good tape - try ScotchBlue - and you have a one-of-a-kind pillow to match your other decor pieces


My secret weapon for crafting and painting!

Plain pillow shams can be dressed up with fabric paint. I tried two methods. One was to simply tape straight lines with Scotch Blue tape (my fave painter’s tape!) along a pillow and paint it out in cheery colours from Martha Stewart’s line of multi-surface satin acrylic paint (available at For another pillow, I made my own stencil by hanging a length of tape from a doorway and, using hole-punchers with two different sizes of holes, randomly punching a pattern. Fabric remnants can also turn an ho-hum glass vase into a stunning piece.




A little imagination - and a lick of paint - goes a long way. Good tape is critical for getting sharp lines so stick with a good name brand like ScotchBlue.

I couldn’t believe my luck when I found two cute little semi-circular occasional tables for $20. Perfect, I thought for my living room, especially after I painted them in an earthy Jute (Pittsburgh Paints), adding a thin strip of Charlotte’s Locks from Farrow and Ball. Now that they’re done, though, I’ve decided to cover them in exterior-grade varnish and use them on the back porch — a perfect perch for an after-work glass of wine with MOTH. What could be more stylish — and sustainable?







Vicky Sanderson

Having tried and tested just about every new home product, décor item and countertop appliance to hit the market in the last 10 years, Vicky Sanderson is an expert on all things home related. She shares this expertise in Hot Home Products, a widely-read weekly column that appears every Saturday in The Toronto Star and CasaGuru . Follow her @vickysanderson


Tips for a Green Christmas by Vicky Sanderson

December 6th, 2011

Most of us no longer find any contradiction in hoping that snow will begin to fall — gently but steadily — on Christmas Eve, while simultaneously wishing with all our might for a “green” Christmas. That’s because while we love the holiday, we’re conscious that it can too easily engender over-consumption.  Here are a few ways to keep the season fun, festive, and sustainable.

Repurposed tea cups make nice centrepieces

Recycled décor. Jim Connelly’s holiday décor looks high-end. But as master of disguise (Jim is co-owner, along with Peter de Sousa of  Masterpieces Studio, which offers custom painting and art, as well as  bespoke furniture ) his fancy-pants pieces frequently start with bits and bobs he picks up at Goodwill or Value Village. Take, for example, his holiday table décor, made from old teacups and saucers spray-painted in seasonal colours and filled with greenery, ribbons and accents. If you’re feeling really generous (after all, they cost about $10 each to make) offer them us as party favours when your guests depart.



Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows boxed set (3D, DVD)

iHome portable mp3 players

Scale back on holiday activities away from home. Instead of making your way in the car to an over-crowded, over-heated theatre, plan a long walk on a local trail before heading home for a family movie night. HMV has great options, including the 50th anniversary edition of West Side Story, the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows collectible box and the complete collection of Home Alone. BTW, they also have a variety of tech toys that kids and grown-ups will love, such as a small but mighty iHome speaker — for just $20 — that connects to an iPhone, iPad or MP3 players and lets the user take music wherever — from the family room to the backyard to the cottage dock. For those times when you don’t want to hear your kid’s music, there are noise-cancelling headphones. Toxix headphones have extra-large speaker drivers, deliver smooth, undistorted highs, clear vocals and are comfy and compact. And at about $25, they’re very affordable. If you’ve got a Star Wars fan in the house, pick up a string of Yoda and R2D2 holiday lights ($20) or a Star Wars USB key ($20) just for fun.

Delicious Hazelnut Cream Puffs make life easier. M&M Meatshops

It’s always nice to do holiday baking and cooking, but it’s just not everything you serve has to be made-from-scratch.  So shop ahead and stock the freezer with good-quality prepared foods. Try M& M Meat Shops, , where you’ll find everything from hors d’ouvres and dips to choice cuts of meat and fish to delish desserts. You can also buy fully prepared meals, including pot roast in gravy (perfect for the slow cooker) and a full Atlantic cod, topped with shredded potato, cheddar cheese and chives. To make things even easier, you can order online and pick up at your nearest store.





Dienabou Diao, 8yrs, Yiri Koye Village

This time of year is about loving and giving. So remember that despite the hectic pace, the stress — and even the squabbles — you’re blessed with family and friends and a warm, safe place to live. In lots of places though, that’s just not the case. So think about sharing your good fortune by making a donation to your favourite charity. One that touches my heart is World Vision, which partners with local communities in developing countries to improve lives. Make a donation of $30 and a family receives five fruit trees, enough to start on the road to self-sufficiency. Fifty dollars buys two hens and a rooster to help a family hatch a business.

Vicky Sanderson writes Hot Home Products, a widely-read weekly column on home improvement, décor and housewares that appears every Saturday in the Toronto Star. She also keeps readers up to date on new products through her blog, On the House, which can be found Having tried and tested just about every new home product, décor item and countertop appliance to hit the market in the last 10 years, Vicky is an expert on all things home-related. She frequently shares tips, tricks and trends on such media outlets as Canada AM, Breakfast Television, CHCH Morning Live, and CBC Radio. Follow her on Twitter @vickysanderson


Style Garage: Local, Custom-made Furniture

March 7th, 2011

Liz from Style Garage

Style Garage, located on Queen Street West just east of Ossington, is a store I’ve passed by on many occasions, but have never quite managed to visit, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to find a Style Garage exhibit at the Interior Design Show in January. Liz from Style Garage showed me around the exhibit which featured both products from Style Garage and Gus Modern, the latter line born out of Style Garage and available through dealers throughout the US and Canada.

The focus of Style Garage is producing locally made custom furniture. The great part about that is that if you see a piece in the showroom you like, you can have the measurements altered to fit your space. The company works with local furniture makers who build the pieces to order, so furniture takes 8 to 10 weeks for delivery.

Several different wood finishes are available for all products. Wood is kiln dried and pieces are built to last. Style Garage also offers soy-blended foam for cushion inserts, as well as organic cotton or recycled polyester for fabric choices, however, Liz acknowledged that currently, the price point of these fabrics tends to be on the high side, so consumers tend to stick with standard fabric offerings.

Sectional Sofa from Gus Modern

Console in riffed oak finish from Style Garage

Store Location:


TEL 416.534.4343
TEL 1.866.534.4343
FAX 416.534.4340

Vicky Sanderson Developing Decor Content at the BIY Learning Center

May 13th, 2010

When I was at the launch for the BIY Learning Center I met up with Vicky Sanderson who is developing the decor content for the center. If you’re not familiar with the BIY Learning Center, it offers courses to give people some hands-on learning in many different areas of homeownership. From framing and drywalling to plumbing and minor electrical repairs, these courses are designed to help the homeowner feel more confident about identifying problems that crop up around the house (and fixing the minor ones without the need for a plumber/electrician, etc.).

Vicky Sanderson

In addition to the construction courses, there are also the decor and seminar series which offer hands-on learning in a group setting. This is where Vicky comes in. Vicky has written a column in the Toronto Star for years about the latest in hot home products, home decor and appliances. She has a blog on The Star’s website, On The House, where she discusses the latest in home gadgets. She also writes about kitchen trends in HomeFront magazine. Now, in addition to writing, Vicky is in charge of developing the content for the decor and seminar series.

The courses in the decor section offer students hands-on training in doing things like reupholstering old furniture and learning how to sew soft furnishings such as decorative pillows and drapes. There is also a course on interior design which teaches students colour theory, how to mix fabric with solids and stripes, and plan a room.  Whether you plan on doing the decorating yourself or hiring a professional, the courses are designed to give you the knowledge to understand what the professionals are doing and why.

In addition to developing the course content, Vicky is also running a really interesting Lunch and Learn seminar called Retro Reno. During this seminar she will talk about where are the best places to shop for second hand furniture and even more importantly, how to identify whether a piece is structurally sound.  The seminars are being run on June 24, and July 15th, 2010.

As with all courses taken through the center, you’ll have access to the online content afterwards. As you can imagine, once you’ve taken a course, if you’re not putting the skills to use right away you can forget some of the things you’ve learned. Videos will be available online to help jog your memory of how to do something you might not be sure about. As the center develops there will also be forums where members can ask related questions about skills or materials they might be using. After you’ve taken a course, the backup support you need will be there.

For more information on the BiY Learning Center, see their website.

358 Dufferin Street, Suite 201
Toronto, ON M6K 1Z8
Phone: 647.547.9242 | 1.866.964.7188

Snob — A Unique Store That Sells Beautiful Hand Made Accessories from Africa

March 24th, 2010

I first found Snob at the Interior Design Show in 2008. I was intrigued by the accessories displayed and even more so when I started asking questions about the products; there were cushions made from buttons and wire, large, very real looking “rocks” that were made out of felt and a stunning console made out of twigs. I’d always meant to visit the store, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago when doing my “field trip Fridays” run that I made it in. It turns out that Snob is in the same really cool converted warehouse where GreenTea Design resides. Great! Two blog posts with one trip!

Denise Zidel, Snob’s owner, sources her merchandise from 13 African countries. Not only does she have a good eye, but she also buys from ethical sources. Merchandise comes from disadvantaged groups who are taught skills to help them earn a living. Further, often the material used to make these products are scraps  that would otherwise end up in landfill. But if you didn’t know all that, you would still buy these accessories, because first and foremost, the items are beautiful. Below, I’ve put a few snapshots of some of the many items in the store, and given a bit of background on them.

Pillows decorated with leftover buttons and recycled copper wire

Silk and beaded Pillows

Recycled copper wire and button pillows ($125 each, left photo) and silk and beaded pillows ($85 each, right photo). The button pillows are surprisingly soft, given that it’s covered with buttons and wire, and really unique pieces. These pillows are made by the uSisi group of women (“uSisi” translates to “my sister”). They get together at their local church and bead and embroider these pillows. Each pillow is signed by the artist, and each artist is paid directly for her work.

Old Wine Cask Cutting boards

Old wine casks are turned into cutting boards, still with lovely grape stains and winery stamp. ($155 each).

Artist: Gert Naude

Portrait by Artist Gert Naude  in oil ($1500). In the photo to the right of the portrait, the decorative plates are made of recycled telephone wire ($175 each). The groups that weave these beautiful plates come from four different communities in the Kwa-Zulu Natale province in South Africa. Their sales support more than 350 families.

Zulu Mama Chair

Zulu mama chair, ($1150 each). Chairs are woven using recycled plastic around stainless steel by a group of women in Limpopo, South Africa. Money goes back to the community to help provide literacy, childcare and other development programs. Chairs are designed by Haldane Martin, a contemporary South African design company.

Beaded Animals and African Masks

Left photo: The lower shelf features beaded animals made by women artists in “the most economically under-resourced areas of South Africa.” Each animal is signed by the artist, and the group that helps sell their art, MonkeyBiz is a non-profit group working to make lives better for women in their communities. All money earned is reinvested back into the community services.

The upper shelf displays authentic African masks sourced from Kenya, Nigeria and Camroon and are approximately 60 years old. (with stand, $175).

These are just a few of the many unusual and beautiful accessories that Snob has to offer. It’s well worth a trip to this store.

Snob:  388 Carlaw Avenue, Suite 202F, Toronto, ON, M4M 2T4.

Phone: 416-778-8778.

The Healthy Home at Downsview Park is Open to the Public

March 22nd, 2010

Healthy Home Kitchen view (photo courtesy of CMHC)

Downsview Park is a pretty cool place. It’s got a lot to do and some nifty things to see. Downsview is also a place that is actively being developed as an environmently friendly place to live and play. The home development that’s going in will be interesting to watch, but already there are reasons to come and poke around here. There’s the farmer’s and merchant’s market (open Saturdays and Sundays), GrandPrix Kartways which uses electric go-karts (so no direct emissions), the Canadian Air and Space Museum (I’ll bet you didn’t even know Toronto had an air and space museum) and The Hangar and Sports Complex. Our family’s been to the Hangar on several occasions — mostly for birthday parties (beach volleyball and soccer parties), but also for winter soccer practices. It’s a really neat space with lots of natural light and several massive (hangar-sized) playing fields. And if you’re wondering, yes, it really is a former hangar, once used by de Havilland Aircraft Company, and later by the Canadian Armed Forces.

Now, however, there’s another reason this area of Toronto is worth a visit. There’s a new “green home” exhibit that will be on display in the Hangar until the end of December, 2011. A Healthy Home is a great project and a definite ‘must-see’ for anyone interested in incorporating green building products and philosohpy into their renovation or new build. The designer, Barbara Nyke of Nikka Design, and builder, Chris Phillips of Greening Homes Contracting, have extensive experience using green building materials and have effectively demonstrated how “less can be more” through this project while creating a practical and beautiful living space.

If you’re a design junkie, or have done the rounds of design shows in Toronto in the last few years, you might well recognize this home. In its first few renditions it’s been known as “The Sustainable Condo” initially designed in 2004 by Busby, Perkins and Will Architects.  The point of this project was to show that small spaces had lots of potential to be multi-functional while incorporating “green” materials and efficiencies, and yet still look normal.

Healthy Home Kitchen and Living Room (photo courtesy of CMHC)

This current rendition goes a step farther  as it has now been fitted with walls and a ceiling so that insulation, drywall, and framing could be added,as well as a new HVAC system, some upgraded water efficiency options and more lighting options.

Why this house is considered “green”: It looks like any other compact condo maximizing space without compromising design. But there are many differences that aren’t visibly noticeable and most have to do with the materials used. Faucets, toilets, washer and dishwasher use less water, and furnishings and building materials don’t off-gas harmful chemicals. Finally lighting is LED and compact fluorescent, using less electricity.

This is a terrific example of how green doesn’t have to be weird or unaffordable. It’s a nice “normal” house with some wonderful and creative features. My favourite feature is the “welcome mat” which is made of 100% recycled tile and marble chips — which otherwise were bound for landfill.

I’ll dedicate several posts to highlight each of the features of this house and most importantly where you can buy the material — because it’s great to see green, but “doing” green is just as important.

Healthy Home Exterior (sponsors) (Photo courtesy of CMHC)

The Hangar: 1-35 Carl Hall Road, Downsview, ON. Open to the public: Monday to Friday 6-9pm, Saturday and Sunday, 12-3pm.

Kirei makes formaldehyde free “wood” products

January 26th, 2010

Kirei makes wood substitute products that are lightweight, durable and best of all, many are made from the waste leftover after annual food crops are harvested and that would otherwise end up in landfill. Kirei produces all their products using “no formaldehyde-added” adhesives. Finally, design is an important factor in the products’ appeal, all the products are sleek and contemporary.

Kirei Board

Kirei Board

Kirei board is a mixture of leftover sorghum stalks (waste after the food source is harvested), and a no-formaldehyde adhesive is used. Sorghum is a primary food crop in Africa, normally the stalks are waste material that would otherwise end up in landfill or be burnt. Kireiboard has a modern sensibility which makes it perfect for a contemporary home. It can be used for cabinetry, architectural millwork or wall paneling.

Kirei wheatboard

Kirei wheatboard is used as you would use medium density fiberboard (MDF) for example as closet shelving or kitchen cupboards. There are three advantages to wheatboard over traditional MDF:

  1. it uses the waste from a food crop (wheat stalks after the food kernels have been harvested),
  2. it is rapidly renewable as it is grown annually,
  3. the adhesive and glues used to make the board are “no formaldehyde added” making the wheatboard a “low-VOC” product.

Wheatboard is suitable for many different purposes from shelving to cabinetry to architectural millwork.


Kirei coco tiles

Kirei Coco tile is a decorative tile used as wall paneling, and for other decorative uses and bring a tropical feeling into your home. Coconut shells, which are normally burned or thrown into landfill are turned into tiles. There are two available sizes: 11.8″x11.8″ or 42.7″x42.7″.  The finished coconut fiber product is attached to an FSC-certified wood backing using low or no-VOC glues and adhesives.  There are several varieties available, see the website for full product details.

Kirei products are available in Toronto through Octopus Products Ltd.

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