Eclectic style, by design

New Canaan makes local shopping a one-stop delight

Story and photographs by Mary Shustack

Bricks are a common design thread of downtown New Canaan, from the trademark sidewalks to quite a few of the buildings themselves.

Behind the classic element, though, is a burst of color and a genuine friendliness in this charming business district.

New Canaan is certainly noted for its connection to the modern-design movement that thrived in the middle of the 20th century. Philip Johnson, Marcel Breuer and Frank Lloyd Wright are just a few of the notables with ties to the community.

And even today, there is a sense of balance and style as one wanders the downtown, with most shops nestling into Main and Elm with some worthy detours off those primary streets.

This morning, manager Dottie Gardiner is at work in Irresistibles, a longtime women’s clothing shop that recently relocated from one part of Main Street to another. Right now, she says, dresses are in, with the new collection from Saint James, a French company, in the spotlight.

“I’m seeing a lot of color,” Gardiner says of seasonal trends. “We’re showing a lot of orange, the aquas, the blues.”

Irresistibles is a 25-year local favorite, and like New Canaan itself, has a wide appeal.

“Some of our customers are from other parts of Connecticut and they know they can spend the day here,” Gardiner says, noting not only the wealth of shopping but also dining options in town.

Having a wide appeal is also key to Comina, which bills itself as “the world next door.”

Cathy Gallagher, the manager of the home-décor shop, says there is a thirst here for something new.

“We carry things from all over the world, and we do a lot of fair trade products,” she says of the options that range from trays to couches, candles to vases.

She adds that while many still tend to decorate with neutrals, they often look to accessories for those “pops of color… a lot of accents, things that are different.”

Both the shop and the town, she says, kick into high gear as the workweek ends.

“On the weekend, Manhattanites love taking the train up here,” Gallagher says.

And they find plenty, no matter the season. The Beach Corner is a year-round destination “for all your vacation needs and gift ideas,” where a mannequin in a swimsuit brings summertime thoughts to a chilly day.

Vintage offerings, from estate jewelry to porcelain statues, fill the selling floor at The Silk Purse down the block.

Next door, Donald A. Rich Interiors & Antiques offers an escape into an elegant world, a classic shop filled with art, antiques and a refined-though-welcoming sensibility.

Rich says he carries “primarily 18th– and 19th-century English and American antiques and Chinese porcelain… paintings, prints… the whole ball of wax.”

He’s spent the last six of his 35 years in the business in New Canaan, moving his shop from Greenwich. The New Canaan community, Rich says, is supportive of its independent merchants.

“They love coming down and shopping.”

Continue on to Elm Street, the busier main drag, where it’s a mix of stores reflecting national chains, regional outposts and single locations. It’s the home of Taylors Luggage and Skirtin Around, ElmStreetBooks and The Linen Shop but also J. Crew, Ann Taylor and Ralph Lauren, where polo vignettes fill the front windows.

Glittery TOMS shoes in purple, hot pink and chartreuse tempt young girls while their older counterparts might lust over the perfect-for-spring Sam Edelman floral flats at Shoes ’N’ More.

Sallea Antiques, a noted destination for antique boxes, holds court at Elm and South Avenue, where a few steps away another antiques shop, Odesmith & Richards, displays everything from classic silver candlesticks to vintage wedding-cake toppers.

A rocking chair, dog bowl and canister of treats invite shoppers to pause at Sara Campbell, a new women’s clothing-and-accessories destination back on Elm. The ninth store for the Boston-based designer opened in July. Dynamic black-and-white walls set a backdrop for fanciful fashion from a vintage-style jacquard coat to a dress where the twirling stripes were, manager Christy Ryan shares, “inspired by cake decorations.”

You can’t miss the salon-like seating area near the front, a spot filled with magazines, treats and some gorgeous roses. It’s Campbell’s design, Ryan says.

“She loves to make you feel at home, so we’ve got the husband-and-family section here.” And it fits right into the New Canaan mindset, Ryan adds.

“It’s a very family-oriented town. We find it very warm and welcoming. So nice,” she says before adding with a laugh, “and they love the clothes.”

A few doors away, vintage Polaroid cameras and books dot the window at Jack Spade, a men’s clothing shop, while oversize lanterns at Consider the Cook set daydreams of evenings out on the patio in motion.

An oversize wooden toy soldier stands guard outside the New Canaan Toy Store, a destination for puzzles and yo-yos on Park Street. A quick hop away on Pine Street, Beval Saddlery is the destination for all things equestrian, from custom saddles to Barbour jackets, riding boots to tabletop items with a fox-hunt theme.

Cutting back over to Elm, design solutions is a riot of color, eclectic offerings and high style. It’s possible to pick up everything from an out-of-the-ordinary children’s toy or book to a Dash & Albert rug to a fanciful ceramic teapot – or even have a consultation with the interior designer on hand.

Dazzled is also the way you’ll feel after stopping at Pennyweights, where a brick wall sets a sedate (and almost necessary) backdrop for endless display cases bursting with hundreds of earrings, necklaces, charms and bracelets.

So many more options … but one final “must” stop before leaving is Wave. The Main Street boutique, a 20-year destination that had a major renovation in the fall, beckons you inside with words such as “joy,” “family” and “sparkle” emblazoned on its front windows.

“We try to find the newest in design and trends and sometimes we have the trend before the trend begins,” owner Heather Satin says.

Indeed, Wave is a treasure trove of glistening finds, from glimmering cosmetic bags to jewelry at all price points, artful tabletop items to casual-chic clothing. And that’s not to mention the Alex and Ani shop-within-a-shop dedicated to the sought-after brand and its collectible jewelry.

At Wave, the atmosphere is fun – and decidedly low-key.

“Our customers are like friends,” Satin says. “Definitely a lot of people shop locally in this town.”

And after spending a day in New Canaan, it’s easy to see why.

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