IF YOU LOVE THINGS shaped like other, unrelated things, you’ve got two go-to options: SkyMall (also useful if you like clocks attached to random objects), or your local museum gift shop. Need a whistle in the shape of a toothbrush? A laser pointer that looks like an arrowhead? A uterus-shaped pillow? All of these can be had at Houston’s museums, which provide, in addition to the pleasures of random mimesis, some of the city’s most underappreciated shopping opportunities.
Two shops in particular stand out. We love the one at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, where dancer and jeweler Tana Acton brings a sense of movement to her extraordinary hand-strung bracelets (Strung sterling silver cuff, $272, HCCC), and artist Connie Roberts whittles whimsical wooden pieces that look like everything from pill bottles to teabags, all of which happen to function as whistles (Pill bottle, $35, HCCC). We’re also taken with the tucked-away treasures of the gift shop inside the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, specifically its dapper, wearable wooden bowties (Bow tie by Wood Thumb, $38, CAMH). For kids, skip the forgettable shop at the Children’s Museum Houston and head to CAMH to pick up some hand-carved alphabet blocks (Alphabet blocks by Pat Kim, $72, CAMH).
There are also plenty of surprises to be found in the Czech Center’s gift shop; you’ll probably be the only wedding guests gifting the bride and groom with antique Czech crystal goblets (Set of six goblets, $389.95, Czech Center) from the former nation’s First Republic. And if you can wade through all the kitsch (read: uterus pillows) at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, you’ll find striking one-of-a-kind high-end items, such as onyx lamps ($2400, HMNS) hand-carved in Mexico. They may be disappointingly lamp-shaped, but they’ll cast a warm, inviting glow on that pillow.