When Lenore Laraway moved with her husband to Balboa Island 23 years ago, she wanted to open a shop full of little things that couldn't be found anywhere else.
She opened Laraway's on Marine Avenue, a shop that sells ribbons, buttons, beads and needlework supplies. The cozy boutique is now internationally known, with customers throughout the world.
A British woman dropped by recently with photographs of her Brittany spaniels. She wanted the dogs depicted in a needlepoint cover for her fireplace screen. "It turned out lovely," said Laraway, who coordinates with local artists to offer custom needle and beadwork.
But you don't have to own a country estate to enjoy a visit to Laraway's. They'll teach you how to make a unique and elegant necklace for less than $30, using antique beads from all over the world. Or, for $3.95, you can buy a real leaf dipped in silver. Put it on a chain and you've created an elegant necklace for less than $10.
There are beads made of malachite, boxwood and cinnabar. The amber beads, made from tree resin, are at least 1,000 years old. Laraway's also has antique trading beads, even some that were used on the Lewis and Clark expedition.
"There's a story behind all of the beads. And we do considerable research to find out about them," said Bunny Crosson, who works in the shop. "They're all very meaningful and unique."
Some are mysterious. A delicate fortuneteller bead is made from yak bone. "It's from India," Crosson said.
But the beads are only part of the story. Laraway's also sells lace, ribbon and trim imported from Latin America and Europe.
Laraway recently helped a customer find embroidered trim among her inventory to match a tapestry purchased near Chartres Cathedral in France. Laraway's, it seems, has the right embellishment or finishing touch for nearly everything.
"Someone came in recently asking for starfish-shaped beads," Laraway said. "I searched around in the back room and sure enough, I had some."
The appliques are interesting, too. Many of them are antiques, including the star saved from a general's jacket after World War II.
For Christmas, there are needlepoint stockings and ornaments. You can buy them already stitched or finish them yourself. Laraway and Crosson will show you how.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday
Address: 313 Marine Ave. Balboa Island
Telephone: (714) 675-4491
Miscellaneous: Laraway's offers custom needlework and beadwork. Or if you'd rather be the artist and create it yourself, group and private instruction in needlework and jewelry making is available.