August 27, 2014

Naples Nuggets

A petite red-haired Danish woman who is a design dynamo and savvy retailer has created a unique world for herself and her clients at the Waterside Shops in an environment she calls Kirsten's. Imagine walking into a mall store and finding yourself in a couth atelier with the creative designer right there to advise you in selecting the most flattering outfits. And here's the shock: You get to pay mainstream, off-the-rack prices.

The architecture is unusual, too. Kirsten and husband, John James (a British businessman and former professional soccer player), designed and built the store 10 years ago when Waterside Shops opened. The style is influenced by two places the couple admired on their travels-Africa and New Mexico. The high, rounded ceilings, dark beams, textured plaster walls and stone floor are genuinely transporting.

The imaginative space is exactly right for the clothes, leather and suede accessories, and bold metal and gemstone jewelry creations displayed like artwork. Carved wooden tabletop sculptures of African animals, woven baskets and faux animal skin rugs add to the exotic allure of the area. On the practical side, all the spacious dressing rooms feature three-way mirrors and big, comfortable built-in benches.

Kirsten's clothes are conveniently grouped by color-black, white and gray on one side of the roomy hut. On the other side are ivory, sand, pebble, camel, rust, orange, deep red, sagebrush green, stone blue and such. All the clothes are designed by Kirsten from fabric woven in Morocco. The material, called Soudi, is a hand-woven blend of wrinkle-resistant and washable cotton/rayon.

Tailoring is loose and sleek, drapey but never bulky. A Kirsten garment is clean and timeless. Because of the classic cut, Kirsten has clients who buy a piece or two and just add to the ensemble year after year, building a cohesive wardrobe that travels effortlessly and always looks fresh and casually elegant. All the outfits are soft and pliable, which means you can roll them into tight logs and pack them so they take up very little room in a suitcase. The style range is from sporty to gala gowns.

A tank top averages $58, a tunic runs about $88, and a skirt is in the $150 range. Kirsten also stocks straw and faux-skin hats (many of which fold up to nearly nothing for packing), sexy suede boots, sandals, handbags and an eye-catching array of amber and turquoise jewelry, most of it chunky, assertive and sculptural. Ornate belts that will instantly alter the mood of a Kirsten outfit are in the $125 price range. Jewelry starts at about $20 (earrings) and advances up to the hundreds.

Kirsten produces a catalog and sells as much by mail to former clients as she does to mall shoppers who wander into her space for the first time. She and John often get phone calls from clients in other parts of the world who simply must have some new item shipped to them right away before they leave for a trip. Kirsten notes that her styles are as slimming and comfortable for larger women as they are flattering to petites. She wisely has slacks cut with legs that are slim, wide, flared, loose and tight. Kirsten James believes her clothes will make practically all women look their best. And after spending time in her boutique observing her clients and her design skills, I believe this fashion professional is absolutely right.

Kirsten's Boutique/Gallery

Waterside Shops, 5535 N. Tamiami Trail, Naples. 598-3233.

I finally have it figured out. The next time I go to Italy, I'm going to enjoy the sights, the food, the music and the shopping for clothes and shoes. But, when it comes to all those fabulous ceramic plates and platters, urns and planters I love to acquire for myself and for gift giving, I'm going to wait until I get home. That's right, I'm heading straight to A Mano to pluck them from the beautiful displays. Bruno Dhaine, a clever and charming blue-eyed Frenchman, has already taken care of the selecting and shipping for me. At A Mano the markup is so reasonable; I couldn't purchase items in Italy, pay the shipping charges and do any better myself. And how blissfully convenient not to have my carry-on luggage stuffed to bursting with Deruta coffee mugs swathed in bubble wrap. A mug at A Mano is $30.

At A Mano, Dhaine stocks 16 different patterns of Italian ceramics (full service for your table) as well as mammoth and highly decorated urns, garden seats, mosaic round tables that seat six, platters big enough for a roast pig, pitchers, vases, wall art, you name it. If it's Italian, gorgeous and breakable, A Mano has got it. The mosaic tables are in the $4,000 range. A garden seat can move from A Mano to your patio for $650.

And not only ceramics. A Mano also maintains an impressive line of fine leather goods. You can smell them as soon as you hit that part of the store. The handbags are exquisite. On the A Mano shelves you'll also find Murano glass from Venice and green jardinières from France. A Mano also reserves a section of the gallery for William Yeoward crystal, china and sterling-silver flatwear, making the store very popular with registering brides-to-be. Yeoward items are highly coveted, with price tags that swiftly weed out the insincere. One crystal water goblet retails for $200.

Something American you'll find at A Mano is a collection of art pottery lamps by Christopher Spetzmiller. All are signed and dated. Spetzmiller makes these amazing modern lamps on a potter's wheel. Each is a one-of-a-kind, with glazes varying from a crackle technique to matte to a high gloss. And the colors have to be seen to be appreciated-delicate French blue, hot persimmon, vibrant citrus, and several shades of white and ivory. Bruno often groups the lamps together so that buyers can recognize the subtle differences in shapes and sizes. These lamps are pricey, about $1,800, but they are a status symbol of high-style interior décor.

Because each lamp is handmade, it is rare for a store to be able to get on Spetzmiller's supply list. How did A Mano manage it? When Dhaine was living in Washington, D.C., and running an optical shop in Georgetown about a decade ago, he lived in the same neighborhood as Spetzmiller, who was then a young art student. The two men became friends and now Dhaine can reference that friendship for inventory.

The store's co-owner, Adam Mahr, travels with Dhaine to Europe a couple of times a year to buy for the store in Naples and for the original one in D.C. The two owners organize a private "reduction" event for valued clients every April. It's by invitation only and is really more of a cocktail party where you shop. Everything in the store is 20 percent off. My advice is to browse the shelves at A Mano now, buy something (even if you put away for a holiday gift) and get yourself on that sale invitation list.

A Mano

301 13th Avenue S., Naples. 261-3250.

You know Gary Shanabarger from 50-Fifty Floral Philosophy, which means you already appreciate his extraordinary eye for beauty, his refined taste, and his skill at putting things together in ways that always seem, well, just perfect. Now Shanabarger has extended his talent into home décor with a small showroom on Fifth Avenue South that goes by the understated name of Room. It opened in November and enjoyed a smashing season, not surprising any of Shanabarger's friends and clients.

Room is a project that this Naples native shares with his mother, Angela, who has lived in Naples for 41 years. Mom's part of Room is devoted to window treatments. Angela has been a trusted resource for interior designers and homeowners for decades; and her special area of expertise is plantation shutters, which many architects consider the most practical window treatment you can have in a tropical climate. They're so smart and fresh-looking, while allowing you to control light and frame your views. Informal elegance and minimal maintenance are what you get with plantation shutters. Angela reports that most buyers opt to have their shutters painted the same shade of white (and there are a thousand whites) as the trim in the room. Clean regularly with a lamb's wool wand duster and occasionally a damp cloth.

Room's inventory is an eclectic mix of desirable things Asian, antique, and contemporary European and American. The collection is carefully edited, meaning what you'll discover in Room is the best in terms of design. Shanabarger's been guided by his own gifted eye, not by price tags; consequently you can find home accessories and occasional furniture from a few dollars up to several thousand. And the way he's arranged everything is a visual lesson in creating vignettes that are imaginative and entirely sublime. I'm thinking of a grouping of ceramic vases in varying shades of orange that he calls an arrangement in persimmon. They're not expensive ($240 for the whole collection) just impeccably and serenely chic. Silk roll pillows in vibrant hues are $45; a magnificent Murano glass sculpture done in the 1950s by Barbini is $6,800. Garden books, wrapping paper, mirrors, faux plants, lilac and coffee-scented candles ($20) are placed in inviting harmony. Even if you don't need a single thing, wander through Room (with its chocolate-brown and blue walls) just to elevate your level of taste and nourish the spirit..

Room, Interior Philosophy

533 Fifth Ave. S., Naples. 261-8888. 

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