In Southern California--the land of look-alike housing--homeowners can have a tough time customizing their property.
Outside, there might not be much you can do, but inside, light interiors, cathedral ceilings and minimal architectural accents provide an open canvas for creating distinctive environments. In fact, the white-walled minimalist interiors of the typical tract house are the perfect foil for bright art works.
By scouting museum gift shops, a do-it-yourself decorator can pick up silk screens, papier mache masks, metal sculptures, fabric wall hangings, watercolors, African water baskets, American Indian pottery and Monet prints.
The largest local museum gift shop is at the Laguna Art Museum, which actually has two stores: one in Laguna Beach on Cliff Drive and one at South Coast Plaza. The South Coast Plaza location is nearly three times larger than the other.
Among the attractions at the Laguna Beach shop are an assortment of handmade metal and ceramic clocks; a paper and metal Louise Slater mobile ($30); ceramic snakes by Roy Sanders that look great hung on light-colored walls ($50, $80 and $130); painted aluminum geometric earrings by Sharon Ivicevic ($32) and sculptural brass candlesticks by H. Ramsay ($48).
In the South Coast Plaza store, dishes and mugs shaped like animals by Julie Thompson ($14 and up) and handmade silk bags from antique kimonos by Alex and Noble command attention. Also on display are raku-fired ceramics by Greg Riley of San Clemente, fused glass platters by Tim Harlan of Dana Point, and ceramic hanging scenes by Bill Henke of La Habra.
In general, the South Coast Plaza shop's ceramics run from $80 to $100, the glassware costs $17.50 to $200 and handmade dolls are about $32 to $225. Scarfs run about $35 and T-shirts about $15.
Laguna's merchandise is unusual and rarely found elsewhere. "We will not represent an artist who is sold all over town," says shop manager Allyson Doherty.
Where the Laguna Art Museum shops emphasize the work of local artists, the Bowers Museum gift shop in Santa Ana stresses native and foreign artifacts.
"This is an ethnographic museum," says Bowers shop manager Nancy Longbine. "The focus of the shop is cultural folk art."
Among the Indian pottery, the African baskets and antique Chinese ceramics are jewelry, handmade dolls ($20 and up), hand-painted Mexican masks from Oaxaca ($48), a hand-carved bull roarer (a stick to guide bulls) from New Guinea ($40) and a wide selection of books.
Longbine says the shop merchandise usually reflects the museum's current exhibit. Through Sept. 25, the "Little Men, Little Women: a Century of Dolls" exhibit will be on view and the gift shop is filled with all manner of dolls: fabric, wooden, bean bag and ceramic figures.
Across town on Hutton Centre Drive in Santa Ana is the small but well-stocked gift shop of the less than 1-year-old Modern Museum of Art.
Although the little museum nook is filled with interesting objects, shop manager Lori Steinberg apologizes for being under-stocked and promises that dozens of additional items will be available later this month, including mobiles, more pottery, neon picture frames, leather goods, antique watches, toys and silk scarfs.
Among the pieces now available are laminated wood business-card holders designed by Stacy Dukes ($30 and $35), offbeat lighting by Greg Tate, enameled trays from Mexico, clay pots from the Philippines that have been darkened with cow dung ($48), hand-painted ceramic bolo ties and jewelry by Lois Sattler ($10 and up) and hand-carved ebony "yoga men" from China ($99 and up).
Steinberg says she welcomes inquiries and will try to locate specific items for potential buyers. She can be reached at the museum: (714) 754-4111.
Another boutique that links its merchandise to current exhibits is the Fullerton Museum Center store on North Pomona Avenue. For the current exhibit of miniatures, the store has stocked books, cards and a few miniatures that relate to the show. The store also carries educational toys, a variety of books and cards. Among the more unusual items are a miniature labyrinth toy for $5 and a kaleidoscope-like viewing device called a "cosmic guide to the stars and constellations" for $24.95.
Perhaps the prettiest in the county is the Newport Harbor Art Museum's shop on San Clemente Drive. Bathed in soft neon lighting, the little shop is designed in industrial decor with matte black mesh walls and columns, aluminum trimming and gray industrial carpet. The Newport store has a good selection of books, cards and toys and a few pieces of original art.
Of particular interest are Brian Tuan's sculptures created from electrical components, wires, batteries and other discarded materials ($160).
MUSEUM SHOPS AT A GLANCE
Laguna Art Museum (two locations)
3333 Bristol St., South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa. (714) 662-3366.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach. (714) 494-6531.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday).
2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana (714) 972-1900.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday).
Modern Museum of Art
5 Hutton Centre Drive, Santa Ana (714) 754-4111.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 Tuesday-Friday; noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (closed Monday).
Newport Harbor Art Museum
850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach (714) 759-1122
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Fullerton Museum Center
301 N. Pomona Ave., Fullerton. (714) 738-6545
Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday-Friday (closed Monday).