Sep. 25, 2012 at 10:06 AM ET
It’s not unusual to visit Casa Batlló — a spectacular turn-of-the-century Barcelona home built by avant-garde Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí — and wish you could live there. That’s not an option (the house was long ago turned into a museum), but you can buy replicas of many of the items on display. Who says you can’t take art home with you?
The desire to collect mementos has motivated travelers ever since Marco Polo carried home silks, ivory and jewels from his forays to the Far East. And over the years, as all travelers know, gift and souvenir shops have proliferated around the world to meet that desire. Museum shops, however, have in many ways perfected the art of curating just the right keepsakes for travelers to take home with them — ones that evoke not only a particular sense of place, but also a sense of time.
Take the MoMa Design Store in New York City, where you can pick up a Spherical Ice Tray Set. Part of a product category that soared following a 2010–2011 exhibition called “Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen,” the $18 tray makes ice balls with two-inch diameters that not only look cool but also melt slower than their square counterparts. It’s a nod to great modern design as well as the artisanal attention that’s being given to cocktails these days.
At their best, museum stores defy simple categorization. Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum store, for example, is a one-stop shop for shoe-related collectibles — just don’t go looking to buy actual footwear there. “One cannot be all things to all people,” explains retail manager Christopher Mitanidis.
Perhaps not. But the museum gift shops showcased here are exceptional places to pick up items that may be gorgeous and groovy or — in the case of the conjoined-twin cookie cutter at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum — something nobody needs. As Trip Haenisch, a Los Angeles–based interior designer who regularly frequents the MoMa Store for gifts, says, “It might be a bunch of paper clips…but they’re the most beautifully designed paper clips ever.”
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