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America's Best: A Designer's Favorite Spots

Whenever I talk to Europeans who are here to see America, I tell them how important it is to explore the rest of the country, not just New York, Washington, Chicago, and Los Angeles. What about the rustic charms of Lake Tahoe and the Adirondacks, or the sophistication of San Francisco, where nothing ever has to rush?Texas alone is practically a nation unto itself -- it probably should have seceded -- and each city has its own distinct character. Amarillo is as different from Austin as they both are from El Paso. I've been fortunate to get to know so much of the country (even if I've seen more of Troy than I ever have of Detroit). One thing is certain: no matter where you go in America, you'll never be bored.

Boston

Not a city but a town, a college town, with a wonderful intellectual atmosphere. From the days of Isabella Stewart Gardner and her clique-- for more on that, read Douglass Shand-Tucci's fascinating new book, The Art of Scandal, from HarperCollins-- there's been a sense that the very best of American content is here. Frankly, I'm not sure you could find it anyplace else.

Moreover, I'm a highly visual person, and Boston just plain looks good. The scale is so appealing. Nothing disturbs the eye. There's a permanence-- Cleveland and Kansas City have a similar solid American feeling. If only I could find somewhere to have lunch.

Which Cities Have the Best-Dressed Women?

1. Houston
2. Santa Barbara
3. New York
4. Lake Forest, Illinois
5. San Francisco
(Did you honestly think I was going to say Washington, D.C.?)

Kansas City

Tight and tough, with a lot of civic pride. It's the ultimate Midwestern town; it has all the admirable values one would expect. You can see the amount of money and affection and spirit that's been passed back to the community by the main industries. The people help build up a company-- in Kansas City's case, Hallmark-- and the captains of that industry, the Halls, give back to the town, making everybody happy and proud to live there. It's a marvelous thing. You also find it in other cities-- in Omaha, in Cincinnati, in Pittsburgh, with Carnegie and Mellon. It'll be interesting to see if Bill Gates and the new Seattle billionaires keep up the tradition.

10 Great Small Museums

I wish more people realized that museums offer a kind of travel: one hour in the Chinese Temple Room at Kansas City's Nelson-Atkins feels like a miniature trip to Shanghai. That said, I prefer small museums, mainly because I cannot stand to stay for more than an hour.
1. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Boston (280 The Fenway; 617/566-1401)
2. Fogg Art Museum Cambridge, Mass. (32 Quincy St.; 617/495-9400)
3. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Williamstown, Mass. (225 South St.; 413/458-9545) The Clarks' collection includes a bit of everything: Impressionism, old masters, English silver and porcelain.
4. Yale Center for British Art New Haven, Conn. (1080 Chapel St.; 203/432-2800) It has all the elements of an English family's private collection, with some paintings hung floor-to-ceiling.
5. Pierpont Morgan Library New York (29 E. 36th St.; 212/685-0008) There's an excellent assemblage of drawings.
6. Frick Collection New York (1 E. 70th St.; 212/288-0700) The Frick has recently been enlivening itself with more exhibitions.
7. Phillips Collection Washington, D.C. (1600 21st St.; 202/387-2151) You must see Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party.
8. Bayou Bend Houston (1 Westcott St.; 713/639-7750) Ima Hogg had an amazing collection of American furniture, which she donated -- along with her house -- to the Museum of Fine Arts.
9. Gilcrease Museum Tulsa, Okla. (1400 Gilcrease Museum Rd.; 918/596-2700) It's a museum of the American West -- with many noteworthy Remingtons -- but there's nothing rustic about it.
10. Millicent Rogers Museum Taos, N. Mex. (1504 Museum Rd.; 505/758-2462) Anyone interested in fashion should go: her jewelry was exquisite, especially the silver and turquoise.

Where I Buy Antiques

San Francisco I bought a pair of 1935 Art Deco chairs -- all blond wood and black leather -- at Ed Hardy San Francisco (188 Henry Adams St.; 415/626-6300). Therien & Co. (411 Vermont St.; 415/956-8850) is a great source for Scandinavian furniture, hard to find in this country.
Woodbury, Conn. British Country Antiques is good -- my decorator, Chessy Rayner, buys tables there (50 Main St. N.; 203/263-5100). The shops on Main Street in nearby New Preston are also fun.
New York I love downtown, from 14th to Grand Street. I picked up an English railroad-station bench at Niall Smith (96 Grand St., 212/941-7354; 344 Bleecker St., 212/255-0660). H. M. Luther Antiques has a shop in the Carlyle Hotel, but few people uptown know about his less expensive one in the Village (61 E. 11th St.; 212/505-1485).
Dallas I just bought some 19th-century French crystal glasses from a good shop called East & Orient Co. (1123 Slocum St.; 214/741-1191). It's very sophisticated stuff, not necessarily indigenous to the area.

Where to Eat?Ask My Friends

I always rely on recommendations, especially when I travel. Here's what three of my friends have to say.
Oatsie Charles Washington, D.C. Mr. K's is an elegant Chinese restaurant (2121 K St. NW; 202/331-8868; dinner for two $50); Café Milano is quite jolly (3251 Prospect St. NW; 202/333-6183; dinner for two $70); and La Femme in Chevy Chase, Maryland, is just wonderful (7101 Brookville Rd.; 301/986-5255; dinner for two $80). I know Willie would love it.
Alyne Massey Nashville Quails Restaurant has light European food and small portions -- then again, I wonder if Bill would like it (4936 Thoroughbred Lane, Brentwood; 615/376-2799; dinner for two $100). And I can't forget Sperry's! Everyone loves Sperry's (5109 Harding Rd.; 615/353-0809; dinner for two $50).
Shelby Marcus Dallas Sleek new La Valentina (14866 Montfort Dr.; 972/726-0202; dinner for two $60) serves the kind of food you really get in Mexico -- I absolutely adore it. Going Gourmet is a little French-Italian bistro in a strip shopping center (4345 W. Northwest Hwy.; 214/350-6135; dinner for two $30). You have to take your own wine, which can be fun. Love the owner's accent.

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