Sloan-Hall
The only thread that connects the various and sundry goods at Sloan/Hall is taste. Very good taste. Owners Marcus Sloan and Shannon Hall seem to stock their store not with what they think their customers might want but with what they themselves like. The result is a smorgasbord of interesting (and expensive) items like Comme des Garçons fragrances, Mariage Frères teas, TASCHEN books, Marie-Papier stationery, Lomo cameras, Lucien Pellat-Finet cashmere Ts and, of course, Prada shoes. It's one-stop gift shopping for the people who already have everything.

This place is so mod, it could make Andy Warhol's blond-wigged head explode. Those with an eye for design, retro-chic and clean lines (and a mother of an expense account) will likely climax here. Fortunately there are plenty of groovy chairs to relax in afterward, like Gaetano Pesce's line of whimsical yet functional translucent rubbery molded plastic furniture. Lovers of minimalist Japanese designs will find all sorts of elegant wooden creations for the home. Even the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston approves of the furnishings here, having placed the totally clear plastic "ghost chair" from Kartell within its walls.

One of the largest family-owned and -run antiques stores in town, Brownstone has more than 14,000 square feet of floor space cram-packed with treasures. The expansive space is so full of wonderful finds, it's advisable to visit several times before making your final selection; you might overlook the perfect sideboard on the first trip. Whether it's a pair of distinguished sconces or an eccentric console adorned with trendsetting, curly-tailed monkeys, it's at Brownstone Gallery. After shopping, you can refortify at the next-door restaurant of the same name and ownership.
Book collector Jim Taylor opened this field of literary dreams in Rice Village 13 years ago with several thousand of his own books. In February, he moved to his current location, a quaint former fire station with stained concrete floors and a classy, minimalist decor. Taylor specializes in leather-bound books and modern first editions from heavy-hitters like Hemingway, Steinbeck and Fitzgerald. He's also got autographed copies for the serious investor -- A Farewell to Arms with Hemingway's John Hancock runs $24,000. You can get lost for hours amid the simple wooden shelves filled with vintage children's books, Civil War volumes, and even pop favorites like King and Ludlum. Taylor also prides himself on his collection of 4,000 toy soldiers. Chances are, you'll have more fun in this tiny space than in five billion square feet of Barnes & Noble.
Like many boutiques on Yale and Heights, the converted house where Yubos resides probably goes unnoticed by many a driver. Pity. Passers-by are missing out on an eclectic bevy of Latin luxury. Recognized mostly for its gorgeous rustic furnishings, Yubos specializes in custom furniture and can make anything you like. Bring them a picture, some sketches or just your ideas and they can make it happen. There are also plenty of items already in stock, mostly finds from Central and South America, like Talavera pottery from Mexico and myriad religious artifacts, from crucifixes to milagros to gargantuan devotional candles that could probably burn for a week. Other items of interest include hand-painted washbasins and toilets.

Bernard Wolf loves lighting. His store is aglow with table lamps, floor lamps, desk lamps, sconces, chandeliers and ceiling fans. Solid name brands like Artemide, Luceplan and Schonbek are in abundance, with your choice of halogen, fluorescent or incandescent bulbs. Lighting Unlimited offers the widest range of lighting styles in town, from classy to conventional to mod to kitschy. If you're like Mr. Wolf, you'll fall in love with the mood-setting possibilities. Even members of the Rockets have been known to get their illumination on here.

Best Place to Pretend You're Kirstie Alley on a Budget

Pier 1 Clearance Store

If you're living on Cheers royalties, you can afford to buy hundreds of $10 candles. You can wander around Pier 1 dressed like a fairy and say stupid things like "True or false, this whole table setting cost less than my shoes!" But for those of us without the Jimmy Choo shoes, Pier 1's fairly reasonably priced items add up. Fortunately, there's the Pier 1 clearance store, where all the Gerber daisy napkin rings and bamboo candlestick holders that you don't really need but kinda sorta want come to die. Eventually the $10 plates get marked down to $1. Some days, they'll take 75 percent off the lowest price on all wine glasses. Other times it's pillows or bath products or rugs on super-final clearance.

Best Place to Meet People with Large Discretionary Incomes

Neiman Marcus

These are the types who will pay $100 for a pair of socks. There are people in this very store buying $300 T-shirts. The best way to find out who the Richie Riches are is to watch them shop. Now, there is the remote possibility of meeting someone's personal shopper or assistant out doing errands. But chances are, if someone is being fitted for a $17,000 Chanel ball gown or a $7,000 suit, it's for them. Hang out. Sniff the perfumes. Follow people around the store. And find that elusive sugar mama or Daddy Warbucks of your dreams.

Hotel Derek
The new downtown luxury hotels, like the Magnolia and the Sam Houston, could've been contenders in this category if it weren't for one thing: construction. Downtown demolition ruins the luxury. Until the city center is put back together again, the stylish Hotel Derek remains the place to be seen lodging among the elite. Celebrity sightings are commonplace, and the surroundings are chic as ever. The initial hubbub over the Derek has abated somewhat, so you won't feel as if you've walked into a commercial. Houston's only boutique-style hotel has also recently announced that it's okay to bring your dog -- an important feature for the rich and famous who just can't bear to be separated from Fifi for a night.
Trellis is the newest, fanciest day spa in Houston. From the interior float pool to the Mediterranean-style balcony, this 17,000-square-foot spa wraps up luxury and serenity into one nice package. Visitors can relax with a Vichy rainfall shower or a tension relief cocoon body wrap. Those self-conscious about baring their aging bodies before the ultrafit Houstonian crowd can opt for a cellulite or stretch mark treatment. And for couples who can't bear to be separated even for a facial, the Trellis offers treatment rooms and hot tubs for use a deux.

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