Part urban, part suburban, Bethesda is a walkable community full of retail surprises.
Although many people come to Bethesda to eat (about 200 restaurants serving Afghan to Vietnamese) or see a movie (two major theaters with a total of 18 screens), there is more: small home design shops, consignment stores and home furnishings repair experts sprinkled throughout the downtown area. The Wisconsin Avenue corridor has kitchen and bath showrooms, tile sources and hardware specialists.
Destination Design: 14th Street
One of Washington’s close-in shopping destinations, Bethesda offers lots of home accessories and furniture, consignment finds and kitchen suppliers.
The modern Bethesda was born whenMetro opened a station there in 1984. The place is booming now, from the Woodmont Triangle to the north to Bethesda Row in the south. Lots of residents are moving to the many new high-rise apartments and condos. The shopping district is lively with outdoor cafe tables and pocket parks. A nice place to rest between stores is the pedestrian walkway Bethesda Lane, where you’ll see people checking e-mail on benches under flowering trees. Dogs amble by and help themselves to water bowls. Not quite Palm Beach, but you might catch a whiff of Santa Monica or Nantucket.
Shoppers include young moms with strollers headed to the playground and cyclists in Spandex, just off the Capital Crescent Trail. “Bethesda is very family-oriented,” says Jillian Roth, an owner of Bethesda home-furnishings shop Urban Country. “There’s a great mix of stores. You can find hip, preppie and fun things.”
Check out the party and home basics at the new Bruce Variety location (8011 Woodmont Ave.), where you can find plate display hangers and drawer organizers. One day last month, I popped into Lenore Winters Studio (4911 Cordell Ave.). I found the decorative painter carefully applying an antiquing patina on a large replica of George Washington’s personal bookplate for installation at Mount Vernon’s new Fred. W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. She also has her painted furniture on display.
Not far away, high-end tableware purveyor Consider It Done (7806 Old Georgetown Rd.) sparkles with Baccarat chandeliers and Versace plates. Loft Living (7215-B Arlington Rd.) displays rows of reasonably priced modern chairs and stools. And at Creative Parties (4822 St. Elmo Ave.), get help planning and ordering invitations for celebrations from baby showers to 100th birthdays.
The Blue House (7770 Woodmont Ave.)
If the window boxes overflowing with pink and purple flowers don’t get you to stop in the Blue House, the brightly colored home furnishings will. In 2003, Connie Cissel opened the store to sell casual, beachy furniture, eye-catching accessories, earthy tableware, and bed and bath items. Recently, I saw Scout rubber floor mats ($49 for a 2-by-3-foot mat that would work in many rooms) and $129 drippy plastic jeweltone chandeliers for closets, baths or kids’ rooms. It’s hard to leave without a girlfriend gift. I succumbed to a set of two polka-dot cutting boards ($14). Not telling for which girlfriend.
Random Harvest (7766 Woodmont Ave.)
If you fall in love with the oval-backed armchair with the gray linen fabric at Random Harvest, you can put it in your trunk and take it home. This is one of the consumer-friendly features of this store, which opened here in 2001. It’s one of four in the area. The stylish pieces, a mix of upholstery and tables of their own design, plus antique and vintage finds and contemporary accessories, are handpicked by president Beth Aberg. Her sharp eye focuses on uncovering pieces for small spaces. Sofas range from $1,800 to $2,400; chairs are $900 to $1,400.
Tone on Tone (7920 Woodmont Ave.)
Walk by the windows of Tone on Tone and you’ll be drawn in by the soothing arrangement of antique Swedish furniture in pale colors, garden ornaments and simple white ironstone tableware. For nine years, owners Loi Thai and Thomas Troeschel have built a following of folks who seek out the 18th- and 19th-century painted cabinets, mirrors and clocks they unearth on trips to Sweden and other European countries. “I love neutrals, so the shop is full of shades of grays, blues, greens and white,” Thai says. Cast-concrete urns ($900), graceful dining chairs ($700) and chalky painted chests ($2,500 to $4,500) make this a favorite of interior designers and collectors. The shop’s line of pillows ($50 to $375) will debut this fall.
Urban Country (7117 Arlington Rd.)
Since 1991, the Roth family store has been a mainstay of Bethesda’s home-furnishings community. In 2008, the store moved from Woodmont Triangle down to Bethesda Row, where shoppers enter through nine-foot oak doors modeled after Tuscan gates. Inside, they linger at vignettes that mix sink-down upholstered sectionals, carved French mirrors, Old World side tables and modern lighting, plus lots of eco-friendly products. Rachelle Roth and her daughters, Jillian and Sascha, show how to take neutral upholstery and bed linens and pump up the look with piles of pillows by designers such as Trina Turk and Allem Studio, plus knitted throws and Dash & Albert striped rugs.
For 60 years, Gaylords Lamps and Shades (7833 Woodmont Ave.) has been supplying Washingtonians with the perfect lampshade: It has 6,000 in stock. Former first lady Laura Bush has shopped here. Many small lamp repairs can be done while you wait; call ahead for curbside pickup. The day I visited last month, a designer from Darryl Carter’s firm was selecting white and black lampshades. And if your Tory Burch flats need fixing, too, Fortunas (7835 Woodmont Ave.) shoe repair next door is one of the best.
Capital Consignment (4909 Cordell Ave.)
Judith Carrig, co-owner, says her consignors appreciate her wide variety of customers: new homeowners, Georgetown antiques store owners and collectors. Opened in 2006, the store has lots of furniture, silver, accessories, art and good upholstery. Recent sightings: a framed movie poster of the “Last Tango in Paris” ($125), a set of three nesting tables ($145), a chestnut 1840s apothecary chest ($1,200) and a silk velvet sofa ($1,200). Check out the Facebook page for recent consignments.
Gallery St. Elmo (4938 St. Elmo Ave.)
Jill Martin has owned this consignment store for two years, but it was already a well-established place to buy and sell furniture, lamps and accessories. Dealers from Maine stop in, and so do people upgrading or redecorating embassies. Merchandise changes daily. Follow the store on Twitter (@GalleryStElmo) or sign up for the weekly e-blast. Sofas are $699 to $900; club chairs $375 to $500. Recently spotted: a small round Pottery Barn wooden end table for $125.
S&K Consignment Gallery (7034 Wisconsin Ave.)
Upstairs from Sloans & Kenyon auction house is a floor chock-a-block with consigned treasures that beckons black-belt browsers. Paintings (a portrait of an instant ancestor is $40) are stacked in rows, and tables are laden with transferware platters, teak salad bowls and brass candlesticks. Setting up a bar? You can usually find a nice crystal decanter for $30. Last month, I spotted a funky wing chair in red crushed velvet ($250) and a dozen nice wine glasses ($45).
Union Hardware (7800 Wisconsin Ave.)
Shopping for kitchen and bath fixtures has never been so luxurious. This shop displays high-end kitchen and bathroom hardware as though it were jewelry.
Design Within Reach (4828 St. Elmo Ave.) rocks its former Johnny Rockets corner location with curved windows and cool modern design. This chain, which has one other area location in Georgetown, is known for bringing the best of modern design to the retail market. Find such classics as the Eames molded plywood lounge chair in a richly grained palisander wood.
Class up your next outdoor party with stylish and cheap Michael Aram-designed tableware for Madhouse. Eight buffet-size paper plates $8, 12-piece Twig plastic cutlery $6. From Urban Country.
Get coffee and a treat at Tout de Sweet Pastry Shop (7831 Woodmont Ave.), where croissants drip with sliced almonds. My lunch at Newton’s Table (4917 Elm St.) was highlighted by beef won tons. Breakfast is served 24/7 at yummy Tastee Diner (7731 Woodmont Ave.).
Bethesda provides county parking garages and metered street parking, according to Stephanie Coppula, spokeswoman for the Bethesda Urban Partnership, which manages the downtown area, but you have to follow the rules. You’re not allowed to feed parking meters past the allotted time, so Coppula urges visitors to seek out long-term parking spaces if longer times are needed and use the Circulator bus to get around. County lots are free on Saturday and Sunday; street parking is free on Sunday.