This Washington, D.C., suburb hides a secret. Simply turn off Wisconsin Avenue to discover more than 100 home furnishings and accessories shops spread across a 10-block area. Several must-see spots tuck into the out-of-the-way streets.
The neighborhood looks like unfriendly urban sprawl at first glance, but once on foot you'll encounter its pleasingly softer side. Ample parking garages and free Bethesda Circulator trolleys that loop through the district make the neighborhood easy to navigate. You could spend a weekend exploring the diversity of shops and meeting their owners and still not see them all. Here are some of the best.
Tone on Tone
What You'll Discover: This serene gallery features antique Swedish furniture as well as ironstone china, clocks, and garden art. "My shop is personal," says owner Loi Thai. "It's what I know and love." Loi explains how these unusual pieces fit in nicely with other styles, from traditional to contemporary. "The 18th- and 19th-century painted antiques aren't dated," he says. Indeed, earth tones form soothing backdrops that set off the furniture's lines.
For Starters: creamy ironstone pitchers and bowls (from $45)
Where: 7920 Woodmont Avenue; www.tone-on-tone.com or (240) 497-0800
- Random Harvest
- What You'll Discover: A mixture of antique, vintage, and new furniture. Owner Beth Aberg began Random Harvest as a consignment shop and expanded it to include new pieces as well as accessories. Beth offers reconstructed vintage 1920s and 1930s sofas covered in white muslin from $1,800.
- For Starters: set of three silver pine cones ($18) to fill a crystal bowl
- Where: 7766 Woodmont Avenue; www.randomharvesthome.com or (301) 280-2777
More Don't-Miss Stops
- Gallery St. Elmo: Merchandise turns quickly in this crowded consignment shop that offers original art, antiques, and lamps. We uncovered an antique wooden box ($20) as well as a pair of green Chinese Foo dog figurines ($80). 4938 St. Elmo Avenue; (301) 654-0576
- Bella Italia: Step into a showroom with the best collection of Italian pottery, linens, and foods this side of Florence. 4844 Bethesda Avenue; www.bellaitaliaonline.com or (301) 654-2667
- The Blue House: More "gift shoppy" than the others, this happy place emphasizes smaller decorating ideas, such as kitchenware, cookbooks, aprons, desk items, and girlie stuff such as handbags, bangles, and unique clothes. 7770 Woodmont Avenue; www.thebluehousebethesda.com or (301) 656-6088
- Sloans & Kenyon: This is mainly an auction (five times per year) and appraisal house. Its backdoor consignment shop may have the best prices in town on furniture, estate jewelry, and vintage collectibles. 7034 Wisconsin Avenue; www.sloansandkenyon.com or (301) 634-2330