Baby Bliss
We swear, we don't want any more kids, but a walk through Baby Bliss makes the thought of procreation -- or at least, the notion of another baby shower -- very tempting. The small shop adjacent to Domestic Bliss (a home store that makes you want to nest like crazy) is crammed full of only the sweetest, cutest, most awwwww-inspiring clothing and accessories for baby and mom. We saw the tiniest ribbon-trimmed tutu in the palest blue, cotton pantsuits in the season's trendiest Neapolitan ice cream shades, and a collection of vintage-inspired time pieces featuring youngsters frolicking 'round the clock. We settled on a pair of pink baby socks trimmed with black to look like Mary Jane shoes, wondering if our 4-year-old would be able to cram her toes into them (she was, but barely) and trying to decide which sheet set we'd buy for the crib, if we do decide to descend into Baby Bliss once more.
When the producers of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation needed props for a curious caper titled "King Baby" that aired back in February, they went to Mike Sally and his adult baby/diaper lover (AB/DL) business, babyapparels.com. And, yes, the folks at CSI had plenty of other options for their episode about the murder of a grown man who had a secret chamber full of oversize baby paraphernalia. But they went with Sally -- out of a few dozen adult baby furniture makers around the country -- to provide them with a custom-made $1,200 crib, a high-end $600 high chair with lots of extra room in the seat, a $500 playpen, and other accouterments. Sally also sells big baby accessories, like "fun, simple and sophisticated" crib bedding, and rocking horses "built to last." Goo-goo.
Design Within Reach
Eames and Bertoia and Starck, oh my! Yeah, this is dangerous territory if you love modern furniture. We can barely contain our drool when the gorgeous, glossy Design Within Reach catalogue arrives in the mail, so visiting this spacious new retail showroom -- which brings gleaming Mies van der Rohe chairs and glowing Noguchi lamps into three dazzling dimensions -- throws us into ecstatic bouts of pipe-dreaming. Purists can scorn the fact that none of this is actual vintage -- DWR deals in newly manufactured pieces based on mostly mid-century designs -- but we can't imagine that the late Eero Saarinen himself would've begrudged us for wanting a Womb Chair that's fresh from the factory.

BEST PLACE TO BUY A LAMP AND A MEATBALL

IKEA

IKEA
Jackie Mercandetti
The super-cool home decor at IKEA is so inexpensive that shopping there is almost like shopping for free. Or at least like having a perennial 50-percent-off coupon. Because where else are you going to get such a shiny lacquered bookcase for under $100? Where in the world but IKEA can anyone come away with a pine Tansu coffee table that's ultra-hip and doesn't have to be budgeted for? Okay, so all those $4 lamps and $5 wicker baskets add up, but we're okay with it, because we can smother any buyer's remorse with a hot sandwich from IKEA's deluxe snack bar. Like everything else in this Danish Modern mecca, we haven't found a lower price on a meatball that tastes better than IKEA's. So look for us in the pop-together chrome lighting department, and make ours a meatball to go.
Death can be so darned messy, but Family Heritage has been helping to tidy up the loose ends for more than 20 years. The Phoenix-based company's slogan is "We do the work so you don't have to," and what fine work it does. There are scores of estate-sale liquidators operating in the Valley, but none better than Gary Landi and Terry Dalton of FHES. The duo's success is based largely on tasteful restraint; in other words, they're picky about the estates they liquidate. While other liquidators typically host weekly sales, Family Heritage averages only about one per month. You can sign up for FHES sale notifications by visiting the company's Web site. Perhaps the highest commendation we can give FHES is that we always take a big empty box with us to its sales. If you're an estate-sale maven like us, you know what that means. If you're not, take a big empty box to the next Family Heritage sale and find out.
Ecology Auto Parts
Where can you shop in the Valley where destroying the inventory to get at something you want isn't against the rules? The Ecology Auto Parts junkyard, that's where. This used car parts oasis features the usual next-to-nothing customer service, car parts infested with bird feces, and shoppers covered in greasy oil. What distinguishes Ecology from the other guys is the organization. Yes, we said an organized junkyard. For just $1, navigate along the wide footpaths and into the well-marked bays of old junk heaps, prearranged into four categories: Ford/Lincoln/Mercury; Chevrolet/Geo; Dodge/Chrysler; and Imports, a section that includes BMWs and limited SUVs. Parts for '60s vehicles are rare; pieces of '70s autos are easier to come by; and junked cars from the '80s to the present are abundant, especially if you're looking for parts for your Geo Metro or your Chevy truck. Ecology also has a car and scrap metal buying program, and it's open pretty much all the time, barring Christmas Day. Get junking.
Relics
There must be fabulous garage sales in Europe. How else to explain the amazing castoffs that turn up in this store? Like a 250-year-old santo from Prague; a 60-year-old steel medical table from Belgium; and a three-foot-high, 150-year-old ceramic water jug from Crete. Oh, and don't forget the set of four-foot-tall clock faces from a tower in Holland. (A local richie turned one into a wall clock for his mansion.) Owner Todd Zillweger won't reveal exactly where he finds this gorgeous stuff. Trade secret, he says. The stuff here isn't cheap -- an iron transom from a 19th-century Egyptian doorway runs a couple hundred bucks, and the stone window surround from an 18th-century Gothic cathedral runs into the thousands. But Relics is where you come when Home Depot won't do. Drop in, and you'll be tempted to splurge, because in a city where everything is new, old seems exotic.
Superstition Grand Antique Mall
Location, location, location. What's gospel for Realtors also holds true for antique malls, only in reverse. This Grand Old Dame's address on the Valley's eastern fringe means lower prices -- typically by about a third -- than those at similar antique emporiums located in the urban core. There is also, in our opinion, a better selection of quality items on the shelves than you'll find in the city. Why? Well, there's the far-out factor, for one. Additionally, the 75-plus vendors who hawk their wares in AJ are typically older and less technologically inclined than the sellers at malls closer in. This is not intended as an insult; we consider it a godsend, because it means that more of the good stuff remains in the stalls and off eBay. This, in turn, creates the sort of dealer loyalty that keeps buyers coming back for more. As a case in point, we drive twice as far and visit the Grand twice as often as we patronize other antique malls, and we never leave empty-handed -- a classic win-win for buyer and seller. City folk, take note.
Willo Historic District Antiques
Sometimes, even on days when antiquing isn't in our budget, we drop in on this elegant collection of old furniture and art, because it's almost like visiting a tiny museum of what was once considered beautiful in-home decor. Although Phoenix is lousy with antiques shops, Willo Historic District Antiques is the only one that reminds us of the super-stylish shops popular on the East Coast, full as it is with precious artifacts from the not-so-recent past. We ended up redecorating an entire room around a pair of leather-covered end tables we found at Willo and honestly didn't have room for, just because they were so admirable and so admirably priced. The guys who run this cool collection of pretty, shiny old things have an eye for rare artifacts, and they're great about sharing that talent -- along with better-than-fair prices -- with us.
The middle of the desert Southwest is not exactly where you'd think to look first for Asian antiques and decorative accessories. But Scottsdale's Echoes of Asia is where you'll find some of the finest Asian and Southeast Asian pieces we've seen outside of tony boutiques in L.A., San Francisco and New York.

Located in the Scottsdale Airpark, this relatively new shop is owned by Khanittha and Balint Kocsis and started out as an eBay selling experiment of their private collection of mostly Chinese and Thai antique items. The couple was so successful that their personal collecting passion ballooned into a full-scale antique business that will soon be moving to even bigger digs.

Beautifully carved wooden screens, old and new Chinese ceramics, pottery, jade carvings and lacquered pieces, dazzling antique Buddhas from Thailand and Cambodia, offering tables, old doors and intricate window panels, gorgeous ethnic silks and embroideries -- these are just a few of the items Echoes of Asia offers up to the lover of Asian antiques and artifacts. We're especially appreciative of the fact that each carefully selected piece on display is accompanied by a tag that identifies the piece as new or old, its approximate date of creation, and its place of origin. Add to all this the owners' sincere eagerness to share with any customer or window shopper their considerable knowledge about what they are selling and you get a little bit of Beijing and Bangkok right here in Salt River City.

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