These idiosyncratic design shops around the country were created by style experts frustrated by the local options. And the stores offer more than just fantastic modern china and home accessories—they provide organic vegetables and infused olive oils or even serve rare Japanese tea.
Where Chicagoans Buy Plates and Parsnips
Garden centers are not typically places to pick up organic parsnips and great serving bowls. Chicago's Sprout Home is an exception. Tara Heibel, a former corporate art consultant, opened the 8,000-square-foot plant and home store in 2003 when she couldn't find a gardening shop in her neighborhood. Alongside cotton candy ferns and ornamental bamboo she offers silky-soft Japanese paper-rayon napkins in fun patterns as well as a wide range of inexpensive melamine plates with graphic designs. Among her discoveries is Hennig Dyes, a 70-year-old artisan who makes bentwood pine lighting in Costa Rica. Excluding furniture, nothing at Sprout Home costs more than $200. The store also runs an organic food co-op through Prospera Farm, which supplies produce to restaurants such as the veggie-centric Green Zebra. Produce is delivered to the store and participants pick up their allotments once a month. This idiosyncratic store is so popular that Heibel plans to open another outpost in Brooklyn, New York, this spring. —Dani Fisher
DETAILS 745 N. Damen Ave.; 312-226-5950 or sprouthome.com.
Philadelphia's Design and Food Mini-Empire
Four years ago, 13th Street in downtown Philadelphia was a red- light district. Property was so cheap that friends Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney could purchase a building to launch their housewares and furniture shop, Open House, simply using four zero-interest credit cards. The store's selection of hip, affordable pieces—Rosanna porcelain plates with an oversize gold crown pattern, recycled-wood coffee tables from Roost—supports their manifesto that good design should be accessible to all. The shop was such a hit in the design-starved city that within four months Safran and Turney doubled their space by expanding next door and soon began hatching plans for a mini-empire on the block. Since Turney is a chef, they decided to start with a Mexican restaurant, Lolita, which they opened across the street from Open House in 2005. Then six months ago came Grocery, a café and market next door where Turney makes delicious prepared foods like spinach-and-provolone-stuffed meat loaf. "People sense a connection among the various businesses," Safran says, and that connection goes beyond just a shared aesthetic: For example, Grocery uses Jonathan Adler serving pieces that are sold at Open House, while Open House stocks Grocery's homemade infused olive oils. What's next for Safran and Turney? The women—who have been credited for sparking a renaissance in the area, recently dubbed Midtown Village—are contemplating an Indian restaurant. Whether or not there will be space on newly popular 13th Street remains to be seen. —Jen Murphy
DETAILS Open House, 107 S. 13th St.; 215-922-1415 or openhouseliving.com. Lolita, 106 S. 13th St.; 215-546-7100 or lolitabyob.com. Grocery, 101-105 S. 13th St.; 215-922-5252.
Los Angeles Mecca for Stylists
Even in Los Angeles, where hyphenated titles like actor-model are common, hairstylist-interior design guru stands out. But for David Abrams and Jason Lara, it seemed like a natural combination. The business partners recently opened Luxehaus, a design-driven boutique next door to their Luxelab hair salon that carries a mix of vintage and contemporary tabletop pieces, furniture and handcrafted objects from sculptors and ceramists. The eight-month-old store stocks old-world designs like the new unglazed "Biscuit" line from 413-year-old Royal Tichelaar Makkum, the oldest porcelain company in the Netherlands, alongside some of Abrams and Lara's latest finds, such as French ceramist Marc Albert's delicate lace-like bowls or a tea service made from unglazed porcelain, modernized with drips of platinum, by Italian designer Paola Navone. They also collaborated with Austrian ceramist Sandra Haischberger on new dragonfly platters created exclusively for Luxehaus. Abrams and Lara try to add an element of the unexpected to the shopping experience: Some afternoons, they serve bancha hojicha, a nutty and smoky Japanese green tea, in handmade teapots from Culti, which are sold at the store. At night, they sometimes set out wine and Humboldt Fog and Istara cheeses for shoppers watching artists throw pottery or meld metal during in-store demonstrations. Recently they transformed Luxehaus into a living art gallery for a night, setting up a dinner party with a model dressed as Marie Antoinette. "We like to create live presentations of what Luxehaus believes in," Lara says. —J.M.
DETAILS 1410 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, California; 866-405-LUXE or luxehaus.com.