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Puttin' on the Ritz

Resort and hotel gift shops keep gaining importance as shopping destinations. This trend is especially prevalent in Southwest Florida, where shopping has been elevated to an art form and no one seems satisfied with the mundane.

Residents and seasonal visitors are too well traveled to settle for anything but the best. You already know how much I admire the eclectic clothing and gift shop at LaPlaya. Now, I want to recommend the Signature Shop at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort. The inventory is somewhat rarefied because it so accurately reflects the haute Ritz hotel experience. Everything is luxurious and comfort-oriented in the guest suites. It's the same with the items in the gift shop. In fact, many of the items are straight from the guest rooms. You can browse the shelves and find fluffy logo bathrobes, soaps, Ritz-Carlton shampoo and conditioner ($22.50) and a lovely line of botanical sun care products packaged in distinguished blue and gold bottles. Sun Spritz Tanning Milk (with an SPF 8) is just $16. Guests who enjoy a restful night's sleep often stop at the Signature Shop on their way to the check out desk to ask retail supervisor Ann Sax or a member of her staff to package a collection of Ritz sheets, pillows, down comforters, shams and towels. The sheets are 100-percent Egyptian cotton with a 300-thread count. A queen-fitted sheet is $270.

A cobalt latte mug is a nice little souvenir for $20, as is the Midnight Blue fragrance candle at the same price. Cute little travel candles in tins with lids are only $5. I think a truly elegant little gift for a hard-to-please male is the vanity accessories threesome- chrome tissue cover, glass jar with chrome lid and chrome soap dish. With its subtle beaded nickel design, the collection is understated in an aristocratic, tossed-off way. The three pieces come to $95, but they look far more expensive.

Speaking of things you'd like to see the men in your life own, the Ritz sells Creed, a British line of prestige colognes. The house of Creed was established in 1760 and was appointed official supplier to the court of Queen Victoria. Cary Grant loved Creed. Prince Charles wears it and so does Robert Redford. There are four or five different sophisticated scents to choose from. Prices for a small, elegant bottle of this divine scent range from $130 to $170. Some people like shopping at the Ritz so much that they regularly make a day of it. Ann Sax tells me that once a month a small group of local women arrives at the hotel. They enjoy a long and leisurely lunch where they catch up on all the gossip. Then they swan over to the gift shop. Some purchases they have the valet parkers put in their cars to take home. Items that are gifts they hand over to the sales staff for wrapping and mailing. Now isn't that a civilized way to buy what you need?

* * *

When, after many successful years offering women's clothing, Carol Scherzer changed The Lion's Paw after into a unique kind of furniture store, many customers came in looking for a skirt or the perfect little jacket and left with the perfect little lamp. The home needs furniture and accessories just as the body needs fashion and jewelry. But you knew that.

The inventory of The Lion's Paw is eclectic, but much of the pine furniture is crafted from reclaimed timber, most of it tenderly salvaged from old barns, whiskey distilleries, train stations and such in Europe. The patina, the vintage nail holes and the knots that tie up years of cultural history have enormous appeal for buyers who love antiques but prize utilitarian furniture that can harmonize with modern settings.

What's endearing about the dining room tables, armoires, beds and benches is that they can be customized to fulfill your design desires. The surfaces come in several stains and paint finishes. There are five styles of legs you can pair with a variety of table tops. And the carvings and trims are treat. All the hand carving-elaborate or subtle-is done right here in Florida and you have to wait for a custom piece only three to six weeks-no time at all considering the result.

"The bed we currently display shows a pattern of pineapple and shells," explains Scherzer, "but recently a lady from Ocala came in and wanted that bed, but with a big horse's head carved into the center of the headboard. We did it, and she was thrilled. The beauty of this line of furniture is that you can customize it a little or end up with something totally original and highly personalized."

Customizing with surface ornamentation, color, legs and drawer pulls also means that you can change the style and period of your Lion's Paw furniture. You can watch as Carol Scherzer shows you how to take a basic piece and transform it from English to Tuscan to Country French to tropical beachy to New England cottage. "People just love the versatility," she reports. "About 50 percent of what we sell doesn't stay in Southwest Florida. People buy it for their homes all over the world. And the comfortable old pine construction seems to appeal to men and women alike."

The Lion's Paw showroom is arranged more or less in vignette fashion so you can get an idea of scale and proportion by seeing the furniture grouped in settings with lamps, pillows, floral arrangements, art work, candles, china and bed linens. It's a charming place to wander through. And since the accessories are all for sale, it's a fine place to gift shop. "We commissioned a line of permanent botanicals to complement the furniture, and now these arrangements, many of them tropical, are selling amazingly well," says Scherzer. I found a few hundred small and large things I need right away. Browsing The Lion's Paw may make you want to clear out a room and start over. Maybe the whole house.

* * *

Arhaus is coming to our house. I thought that maybe the name of the new Naples furniture emporium means "our house" in German, but Gary Babcock, the vice president of design and merchandising, says the company logo is actually based on the name of a port in Denmark. The American furniture company, founded in Cleveland 17 years ago, used a corruption of that Danish term to come up with an exotic name that looks European but sounds like our house when you say it out loud. So much for the origins of Arhaus.

The Naples store is the first that the company has built in the South, and the 34,000-square-foot building with 24,000-square-foot showroom is the largest in the corporation's family of stores. The Naples store will hire about 25 designers to help homeowners put together a personalized Arhaus look.

The store opened in January and what struck me is how lovely the building is with its center atrium, floating staircase to the second story gallery and hand wrought iron gates that define spaces. The floors are either marble with stone inlays or distressed oak. The two patio areas at the front of the building illustrate how patio furniture might look on your terrace or pool deck.

Arhaus furniture and accessories are arranged mostly vignette fashion according to different lines or collections. For instance, Maison Blanche is a line of white furniture, sometimes gently highlighted with pale blue or celadon green. The collection references vintage French furniture and Gustavian Swedish. So pure, so aristocratic in its refined simplicity, I think it's eminently suitable for a relaxed beach house or high-rise condo on the water.

The Chateau pieces are a trifle more formal with pleasing surface detailing. Chateau furniture is shown with leather and chenille accessories to suggest how luxuriously comfortable the furniture is. Arhaus also makes a line of softly contemporary pieces. I certainly wouldn't call them modern-no chrome and not much glass. The emphasis is on clean lines and exotic woods.

Arhaus furniture is priced in a moderate range. Sofas range from about $1,400 to $4,000; beds from $600 to about $2,000. In addition to the new furniture, Arhaus deals in antiques. "I scour the flea markets of the world looking for design inspiration for Arhaus," Babcock says. When I find a piece I like, we bring it home, deconstruct it and see how to improve and redesign it for our collections. Most of our furniture is influenced by past periods and styles, and other cultures. But sometimes, when we're out shopping, we find antiques that are irresistible just the way they are. So we offer them for sale in the store."

I like the way he thinks and I love that Arhaus is out there doing noble global research just for our Southwest Florida homes. Keep up the good work, Arhaus.


5023 Tamiami Trail, Naples. 435-3569

Signature Shop, Ritz-Carlton

2600 Tiburón Drive, Naples. 593-2000

The Lion's Paw

1025 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel. 472-0909

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