Referring to Connecticut's fabled Litchfield Hills as the country is a bit like referring to Buckingham Palace as a house. Nestled into these pillow-shaped remnants of prehistoric mountain ranges are dozens of white-painted villages whose all-American good looks belie A-list levels of urbanity. Thanks to an influx of big-city weekenders and corporate refugees with a taste for the good life, little roadside markets now stock the International Herald Tribune, and jewelry boutiques sparkle with topaz-encrusted brooches and ancient Roman rings. Here, a dozen of the area's best places to shop. But do call ahead—after all, this is the country.
New Preston Kitchen Goods Marty Rook, a former pâtissier at New York's La Grenouille restaurant, stocks a dream list of culinary delights in a slickly renovated fifties pharmacy. "I like tracking down basic items from restaurant kitchens that you don't usually find in home kitchens," says the clean-cut Rook. He has enameled cast-iron Staub cookware from France (Le Creuset is "too ubiquitous" in Rook's view), all-steel pots by Iittala, de Buyer copper pans, boldly colored flyswatters, and a snazzy assortment of stainless-steel flatware with sturdy plastic handles in patterns ranging from Arabic motifs to acid-green stripes. 11 E. Shore Rd. (Rte. 45), New Preston; 860/868-1264.
R. T. Facts There's a good reason that the designers of Equinox gym recently came here to stock up on 1930's German leather exercise mats to put instant patina on the walls of a new Chicago location. R. T. Facts' owners, Natalie and Greg Randall, specialize in accent pieces that have powerhouse presence. The store's front yard is chockablockwith iron gazebos, rose trellises, millstones, and picturesque cast-cement benches. The main building holds 1960's cork table-lamps, a life-sized Newfoundland dog made of cast zinc, and grand Victorian panoramic photographs of the Roman Forum. 22 S. Main St. (Rte. 7), Kent; 860/927-1700.
Richard J. Lindsey Bookseller Where else can you find a 1942 first edition of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's Cross Creek Cookery, with recipes for alligator-tail steak and gopher stew?Lindsey's airy bookshop, a few steps back from a busy stretch of Main Street, is a trove of tomes essential to any guest bedroom: memoirs of Alice B. Toklas and the Sitwells, charming cookery books from the 1930's, presidential biographies (both critical and hagiographic), travel guides, and mouthwatering garden porn. 15 N. Main St. (Rte. 7), Kent; 860/927-3025.
Judy Hornby Decorative Antiques "There are only three things to do when you move up here, darling," says a laughing Hornby, a transplanted Brit with a Mayfair drawl and a ready wit. "Open a restaurant, sell antiques, or write your memoirs." Though she's had enough experiences to fill a best seller—back in the 1980's, she was a fashion designer ranked alongside Zandra Rhodes and Stephen Burrows—Hornby now spends several months of each year trawling Europe for art, furniture, and decorative accessories. What she's got inside her 5,000-square-foot emporium spans centuries: sturdy 200-year-old armoires from the south of France, a Thonet Art Nouveau love seat with original printed-velvet upholstery, and disco-era mirrors framed in bands of python skin.725 Bantam Rd. (Rte. 202), Bantam; 860/567-3162.
Dawn Hill Antiques Pieces with their original finishes are not only more valuable to collectors, they also have the kind of soul that no amount of French polishing can provide. This sunny little shop with creaking floorboards and sparkling chandeliers stocks refreshingly unrestored 18th- and 19th-century furniture from Sweden and France, from the humble farmhouse variety to Neoclassical Gustavian examples fit for a manor house. The finishes have poetically faded, the gilding is often lyrically tarnished, and some pieces are charmingly decorated with painted dates, initials, and primitive sprays of flowers. 11 Main St., New Preston; 860/868-0066.
Adeptus Arts The giant glass flowers sprouting from the ground in front are a key to what's indoors: art glass, pure but not so simple. Hanging from the beams are mirrored blown-glass squid more than five feet long. Shelves flaunt Italian Renaissance-style goblets and neo-Murano tumblers,and a group of little gourd-shaped vases in searing shades of red and orange stands by the register. Timothy Hochstetter, who opened Adeptus last April and has been commissioned to create pieces for Royal Caribbean cruise ships, makes nearly everything in his pristine studio, where he uses color-saturated raw glass from the Czech Republic and New Zealand. 38 Bee Brook Rd. (Rte. 47), Washington Depot; 860/868-2326.
Ragamont House Antiques Taking the notion of working from home to its stylish extreme, former Sotheby's furniture expert Pete Hathaway has put price tags on the contents of his suave 1830's house (a former inn) and opened its doors to the public. The handsomely restored rooms are filled with aristocratic oddments, including dashing oil portraits, Regency tureens, Louis XVI armchairs, and hunting trophies. Hathaway occasionally puts the rooms to use for exhibitions as well—such as last year's show of ceramic gourds by artisan Greg Kuharic. 8 Main St. (Rte. 44), Salisbury; 860/435-8895.
Grape in the Shade Joanna Lombardi has been wearing vintage clothes since she was 15 and wonders why all fashion-conscious women aren't similarly obsessed. A perusal of her mint-condition collection turned up Pucci dresses from the sixties, a 1930's Schiaparelli-style white ottoman jacket spangled with black velvet hearts, a peacock-green taffeta gown fit for Hedy Lamarr, and a pair of red-polka-dotted sling-backs that are pure Gina Lollobrigida. 13 River Rd., Washington Depot; 860/868-9119.
Barry Strom Antiques & Restoration Strom deploys his cache of antiques, art, and accessories in a foursquare Colonial-style house. An expert craftsman, he restores and builds furniture in a picturesque outbuilding. His spare sense of exhibition—clean-lined pieces, foggy mirrors with strong silhouettes, flaky bits of ironwork for the garden, all staged against pale floors and paler walls—is a lesson in design as compelling as what the dealer stocks. 595 Bantam Rd. (Rte. 202), Litchfield; 860/567-9767.
Personal Best Monogram Shoppe If it can be embroidered or engraved, Personal Best has it. Stacks of Egyptian-cottontowels and citrus-colored linen guest towels trimmed with grosgrain line a wall. Tropical-print totes share space with stylish boxed sets of boccie balls, kicky woven sandals, and red leather travel journals. The shop also offers smart clothes for toddlers, like Graham Kandiah hats made of splashy Indian cottons, and kids' upholstery fabrics by Pamela Kline printed with 1930's-style storybook illustrations. 2 Green Hill Rd., Washington Depot; 860/868-9966. 4 N. Main St. (Rte. 7), Kent; 860/927-7171.
Finial Home & Garden A fresh-faced shop owned by Liz Kay and Britt Pendergast, Finial traffics in stunning floral arrangements as well as country furniture and accessories that can be used indoors or out—but nothing rough-hewn, mind you. Here the elements are straightforwardly chic: American Empire-style pedestal tables clarified with coats of crisp white paint, custom ice-blue silk lampshades, throw pillows made with tidy blue-and-white mattress ticking, and mirrored wastebaskets. 13 River Rd., Washington Depot; 860/868-2577.
Michael Trapp Small wonder Trapp was chosen to decorate a room at The Mount, once the residence of the novelist Edith Wharton and now a museum that preserves her memory. Trapp is one of New England's premier antiques dealers—as well as a noted landscape designer and interior decorator—and his Greek Revival house-shop is a shrine to eye-catching funk, from architectural fragments to aristocratically worn tapestries to strangely glamorous seashells. And Trapp's grandly Gothic garden, whose black and purple plants and chipped bits of statuary give it a Morticia Addams charm, surrounds the store. 7 River Rd., W. Cornwall; 860/672-6098.
MITCHELL OWENS writes for the New York Times and Elle Decor.
WHERE TO STAY
387 E. Shore Rd. (Rte. 45), New Preston; 800/455-1565 or 860/868-0541; www.bouldersinn.com; doubles from $350, including breakfast.
118 Woodbury Rd. (Rte. 47), Washington; 860/868-9466; www.mayflowerinn.com; doubles from $420.
WHERE TO EAT
20 Bee Brook Rd. (Rte. 47), Washington Depot; 860/868-6633; lunch for two $25.
223 Litchfield Tpk. (Rte. 202), New Preston; 860/868-7763; dinner for two $85.
23 Maple St. (Rte. 341), Kent; 860/927-4145; dinner for two $60.
West Street Grill
43 West St., Litchfield; 860/567-3885; dinner for two $90.