The Lowdown on Down: An Expert’s Tips on Picking the Perfect Bedding

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The allure of down bedding is powerful year-round, but as cold winter nights get even colder, we’re in hot pursuit of a particularly cozy place to rest our heads.  If you’re looking to upgrade your slumber situation, we’ve taken the guesswork out of buying new bedding with help from Chanielle McMillan, resident pro at one of our favorite names in down, Ogallala. Check out her thorough guide to selecting the right styles for your home, then shop down essentials from Ogallala and more top brands:

Break down the different types of down (goose, duck, etc.) What are some highlights of each one?

Down is a three dimensional, intricate sphere with lots of filaments extending from the center. It is under a goose’s feathers to provide warmth. We sell our down based on cluster content — the higher the down quality, the larger the clusters in the Hypodown®  and the longer it lasts.  White goose down has been the long-coveted and best-in-quality down for ages.  Geese are larger than ducks, so they will produce larger clusters of down.  Gray goose down or gray duck down are not going to be ideal for a comforter or a pillow.  Generally, the quality will be a lot lower (anything “white” is sterilized differently and is regarded as a better product, and more luxurious).  Also, the more mature the goose, the larger and better-in-quality the down will be (think 800-fill).  Duck down will have a bit of an odor, whether it’s gray or white (another reason goose down is preferred), but the white duck down will always be the better of the two (less odor since the white is sterilized better).

What do fill numbers refer to? And what’s an ideal one?

The fill numbers refer to the quality of the down.  Down quality is rated by fill power, or the amount of space one ounce of down occupies. The larger the down clusters, the better the down quality. Larger clusters produce warmer, fluffier products that are higher in density and longevity. Think of marshmallows: mini marshmallows would be like Hypodown® 600, regular marshmallows would be like Hypodown® 700, and jumbo marshmallows the Hypodown® 800.

How about stitch technique – why does that matter? And what are the best options in that department?

Ticking:  The shell or outer covering of your pillows and comforters should be a lightweight, down-proof cotton fabric. Ogallala’s ticking is all 100% cotton and is down-proof (the fabric must be “down-proof” or the small down clusters will leak out of the fabric). The thread count of the ticking is the number of threads in a square inch of fabric.  We have various types of ticking; however, most of our comforters boast a beautiful 353 long-staple Egyptian cotton thread count.

Baffles:  A “baffled” box comforter is the best option when it comes to the style of comforter.  A baffle is a piece of material that runs vertically between the top and bottom fabric. Baffles allow Hypodown® to loft to its fullest potential, without unnecessarily compressing the down.  It also prevents the down from shifting.

What about down blends? What are the benefits to those vs. 100% down?

Our Hypodown® fills are made up of 70% of the finest white goose down, and 30% syriaca (milkweed) clusters.  Syriaca is not a synthetic, nor is it used as a down filler.  It is the natural fiber from the milkweed plant and it is non-treated.  Milkweed traps and suppresses allergens found in down that cause allergic reactions, making the product naturally hypo-allergenic.  Syriaca makes the down more breathable, more durable, and helps the body regulate temperature by whisking moisture away from the body 70% faster than down by itself (or synthetic down).  The combination of milkweed in our down is the reason that you can sleep comfortably all season long, and it keeps you cool even in the hot summer months!

How do you clean and care for down bedding without spending half your paycheck at the dry cleaner? (Any DIY tips?)

Since our products are unique, they cannot be cared for like other down products.  Spot cleaning is the best practice for cleaning any Hypodown® products. In the event you need to do a major cleaning, we highly recommend a professional launderer familiar with down. Do not dry clean! The chemicals used actually break down the composition of down fiber. When professional laundering is needed to keep your product luxurious, we recommend Blanc Plume French Laundry (1-800-307-0229) for guaranteed cleaning results.

Many of our customers ask, “may I launder my comforter or pillows myself?” Yes; however, the “do-it-yourself” approach is at your own risk. We would opt to leave it to the professionals! If you are feeling brave, here’s how:

* Use a large capacity front-loading washing machine. Do not use a top-loading washing machine.

* Detergent must be an approved down wash, such as Down Wash (by Le Blanc), or Dreft. Do not use Woolite.

* Washing machine settings should be on cold water, and cycle should be “delicate” or “hand wash”.

* After the first cycle is complete, run the cycle again without detergent to ensure all of the soap is removed.

* Dry in a large capacity dryer at medium heat for a minimum of 6-8 hours, checking every 30 minutes to pull apart down clumps.

* When you think your comforter or pillows are dry, put them back into the dryer for one more cycle. Do not attempt to air dry since they will not dry quickly enough and will cause mildew.

Finally, what should you run from when selecting down bedding?

Avoid selecting a product that has a greater ratio of “other blend,” “feather,” or a “filler.”  These will generally be lower in quality, and will be very warm.  Most blends, feather, and fillers do not breathe.  A lot of products are blended with synthetic fibers, which are what enables the product to be at such a low price point, but this means that product will be very poor quality.  Always pay attention to the “other blend” in your down product.  If the ratio of the “other blend” or “filler” is greater than the down content, then this won’t be the greatest choice for a high-quality down product.

 

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Get the Backstory on James Houston (Then Shop the Renaissance Man’s Sought-After Photography)

James Houston is the very definition of “Renaissance man”: he’s a sculptor, filmmaker, interior designer, author, philanthropist  (his 2006 photo book MOVE raised over $500,000 for HIV/AIDS and drew support from Elton John and fellow Aussie Hugh Jackman) – even a former model. But it’s photography that he spends most of his time on these days.

The Australia native picked up a camera when he was a model in Japan in the ’80s and started snapping; he fast became one of Australia’s most well-known photographers, and expanded internationally, where he photographed for clients including Givenchy, the GAP, and Vogue.

His topic range is wide, but two prevalent inspirations are nature (fitting considering he grew up in the Outback) and the “natural texture of skin” (he captures people in a manner that’s simple yet arresting).

Learn more about the designer in the video — then shop his photography.

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Jonathan Adler’s Twist on Holiday Tradition

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“Instead of mistletoe, have guests kiss under a disco ball. It’s twinkly, sparkly, and adds some Studio 54 glamour to your fete.”

It’s quotes like this that show what an inimitably witty personality Jonathan Adler has … and his designs follow suit. Shop them now (they’re perfect for holiday gifting).

And, as you’re scrolling through the sale, you’ll find a few more tips from the master of eye-winking design, on how to put a fresh twist on tradition this holiday season.

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A Toast to Merchants of Beverage (for Inspiring Our Inner Barfly … and Making Wine & Cocktail Gifting a Cinch)

Gifting spirits by mail can be tricky — archaic, even — if you’re working with the wrong company. But Merchants of Beverage makes the process not just simple, but an actual creative, curated process. That’s because its founders are both extremely passionate about the wine and spirits worlds, and have the experience to back it up. We caught up with co-founder Jeffrey Meisel and asked him about both himself and the business. You can tell from the thoroughness of his answers that he adores what he does. That’s something we always toast to. (Oh, and here’s something else to toast to: a $25 credit toward a cocktail kit on their site.)

Wine is in your blood! Talk a bit about your background… it’s quite accomplished in the vino department. 

I grew up around wine – my parents are terrific cooks, and it was always on the table and in the conversation. I lived in Florence, Italy, twice during my college years and even moved there when I graduated (after saving up money from waiting tables!) I was enthralled with the world of wine and how it is such a vital part of the culture and daily life.

I worked in restaurants while attending the University of Michigan, and I’ve held pretty much every job from busboy to bartender, culminating in my time as the Wine Director at Delfina in San Francisco. In the mid-1990s I worked in NYC at San Domenico with Scott Conant when he was a very talented line cook. I then moved to Napa Valley and managed the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone Restaurant.

I briefly left the world of restaurant operations in 1999 when I co-founded wiredKitchen.com, an online marketplace that connected restaurant chefs with their purveyors. We were way ahead of our time but it was one the most important parts of my career. I love riffing off the old way to create something new — and technology is one of the best ways to do that!

After we closed wiredKitchen in the recession of late 2001, I joined another startup, but on the wine and spirits side of the business.  Domaine Select had begun in NYC a year before, and I joined them to launch their business in California and beyond. Over a decade, I had varying roles, beginning as Director of Education and concluding as the VP of Business Development.

In 2011 I joined Gilt as the consulting wine director at Gilt Taste. I had the opportunity to collaborate with an incredible team that included Ruth Reichl, Jen Pelka, and Shan-Lyn Ma.  After Gilt Taste closed, I stayed on for a bit at Gilt City. By late summer of 2013 the wheels started to spin on creating an ecommerce site for wine and spirits. It all came together when I met my like-minded business partner, David Raad.

Jeff Meisel

Jeff Meisel

How and why did you come up with the idea for Merchants of Beverage? 

I’ve always been an early adopter of e-commerce, and for a long time now I’ve believed that the online platform has a place for wine and spirits. I love introducing people to wine and spirits, telling stories through bottles, generally opening eyes to the world of taste that I’ve been lucky enough to experience.

Alexis Maybank, one of the founders of Gilt, introduced me to her friend David Raad, who is a distiller and something of a spirits savant. He and I got talking, and with his encyclopedic knowledge of spirits and my background in building and marketing wine and spirits brands, we thought we could strike all the right notes with this venture. It’s exciting to encourage people to drink better at home, and with our site, we can do that on a much larger scale.

 

What makes the company stand out?

Our site stands out first and foremost for our expert curation of products. We work with committed artisans, both the old and the new, and I’ve spent my career seeking out some of the bottles we are able to offer. We like to put things together in an interesting way, a way that tells a story – for example, we have one product we call the Evolution of Bordeaux, and it’s two Bordeaux blends, one from Bordeaux and one from Sonoma. Tasting them takes you from the traditional to the modern. We like for our members to be able to compare and maybe learn a little bit from the products we offer.

Second, we have really innovative tech features that make our site ideal for gifting. Rather than go the traditional route of a gift card, which can sometimes feel insincere, we developed products called “The Perfect $100 Gift” (and $200 – $300 and $50 are coming up soon). This is a product that you can purchase and send to someone instantly via email address and text message. The purchaser enters the email and mobile number instead of a physical address as well as a personalized gift message. Merchants of Beverage sends a link that is automatically generated and emailed/texted to the recipient. The recipient clicks the link and opens an intuitive page that has the personalized gift message up top with instructions to choose a gift. Below the gift message, the page has 6-9 curated products with a call-to-action of selecting “I WANT THIS ONE”. No prices appear on the page. The recipient selects the one they like the best and enter their own shipping address.

Any product on the site can be sent instantly this way as well – it doesn’t have to be one of the “Perfect Gifts”. You can choose what you want, enter your recipient’s email and mobile, we’ll immediately notify them that you’ve given them a gift (hence the instant) and they can enter their own address.

 

Talk about your cocktail kits … we’re all itching to get one in time for the holidays.

I love our cocktail kits – they’re one of my favorite features of the site. We put together all the bottles you need to make a specific cocktail (sometimes citrus or garnish is needed, but we tend to stick to booze-heavy cocktails so that our kits can be as complete as possible) and sell them as a set. They come with a recipe card, and soon we’ll be selling bar tools and accessories as add-ons if you need them.

We started with classic cocktails, and now have started this really interesting program where we get a bartender from top bars across the nation to curate a kit for us using his or her original recipe. For example, if your favorite bar in New York is Pouring Ribbons, you can order a kit and be prepared to craft Joaquín Símo’s “Midnight Marauder” at home! In addition to that one, we’re also featuring Jack McGarry from the Dead Rabbit NYC, Natasha David from Nitecap NYC, Maxwell Britten from Maison Premiere, Joe Campanale from Anfora NYC, Ryan Fitzgerald from ABV SF, Greg Lindgren from Rye SF, the Bon Vivants from Trick Dog SF, and Martin Cate from Smuggler’s Cove SF.

 

What’s your signature cocktail to drink? And to make?

Negroni. It’s easy, classic, and delicious.  I love when bitter meets sweet.

 

What 3 things should every well-stocked bar have?

Whiskey

Gin

Bitters

I will add Champagne because you must always have Champagne on-hand.

Tequila too!

 

Give us an idea for a holiday-themed drink; we could use one (or three).

Soon we’ll be featuring the Stinger, which is a great holiday cocktail:

2 ¼ oz cognac or brandy

¾ oz crème de menthe (preferably Tempus Fugit)

Mint leaf

Add cognac/brandy and crème de menthe to a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake. Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Another one is the Frenchman’s Roulette created by Maxwell Britten of Maison Premiere in Williamsburg. 

 

What can we expect to see from Merchants of Beverage in the future? 

We’re working right now to optimize our Concierge program, which is an expert service you can use to find the right bottle(s). We know that our site is ideal for gifting, both business and personal, and we will continue to expand on our gifting features and offer more value for users looking to gift. Concierge is a perfect example of this, we really want someone to be able to come to us and say ‘Here is my budget, and here is a list of clients I need to gift – take care of it.’ And we’ll be able to.

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