A Little Place I Know

Tastemakers of the world unite to share their travel secrets, from Donna Karan’s go-to store for
ethnic cool and Olivier Krug’s Roman wine shop of choice to Singapore’s coolest speakeasy

Illustrations: Jacob Pérez Enciso

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The craft shop in Bangkok by David Yeo

35 Soi 40, Th Charoen Krung, Bangkok

Although most of the shops along this busy, narrow street cater to tourists, this unique store in a former monastery can be found among a cluster of interesting antique shops. Stepping inside Thai Home Industries is like being transported on to a dusty film set back in the days when Somerset Maugham stayed nearby. It’s family-owned –they’ve had it for four generations – and the staff, who all appear to be in their sixties, are laid-back and charming. I don’t think they even have an electronic till; all sales are handwritten on a simple ledger, and their only nod to modern times is a credit-card machine.

One of the things I particularly love is that there seems to have been no thought as to how products are displayed. They are stuffed randomly into whatever space is available, which makes for a very interesting visit because you are never quite sure what is in the next display cabinet, except that it will be whimsical and a delight. In one there might be finely woven rattan fruit baskets and highly polished mother-of-pearl shells; in another, embroidered napkins and hand-beaten wrought-iron platters.

The bronze bowls – or khan long hin – are my favorite. Used to offer gifts in Thai Buddhist rituals, they come from the tiny bronzesmith village of Baan Phu in Thonburi province and are incredibly time-consuming to make. First, raw copper, tin, and a special type of particularly malleable gold are melted together in a charcoal-fired cauldron to create the unique blend of liquified bronze. Once that is set, each piece will be worked and polished by a master craftsman. They are unique not only in Bangkok but in the whole of the country, as are many of the objects at Thai Home Industries.

In 2012 David Yeo was named Asia Pacific Restaurateur of the Year by the World Gourmet Series. 
Your address: The St. Regis Bangkok

A global market in Manhattan by Donna Karan

705 Greenwich Street, New York, urbanzen.com

It’s like a sophisticated global market, every piece selected according to who produces it. There is handmade furniture and pottery from Bali, handcut lace bedlinen from Vietnam, myriad artisanal jewelry made of bead and bone, papier-mâché shopping bags, tobacco-leaf vases…

I’m obsessed with preserving culture through artisanal crafts because they’ve been passed on from generation to generation. And with artisanal pieces you can feel the hand that created it – personal, one-of-a-kind, made just for you. Even when an artisan makes the same pieces, no two are ever identical, so you’re buying something special.

To me, any time you have an artisan make something, you are supporting the artist, their family and, by association, their community. Some projects were set up for specific reasons; for instance, the Urban Zen Haiti Artisan Project was established in conjunction with the Clinton Global Initiative to help create business opportunities for Haitians after the earthquake of 2010.

Another thing I enjoy is the pride with which everyone at Urban Zen works. They’re aware of being a part of something bigger than a typical retail store, that ten per cent of sales goes to support the Urban Zen Foundation – and that there’s a story behind what they’re selling.

I fall in love with the place every time I go in there. It’s so evocative of other cultures, with comfortable furniture to sit on, tribal music playing and the scents of essential oils in the air. It feels like someone’s exotic home. I’m constantly discovering new things, and I have never walked out without a bag in my hand.

Donna Karan’s Urban Zen Foundation is at urbanzen.org
Your address: The St. Regis New York
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The wine shop in Rome by Olivier Krug

Via dei Prefetti 15, 00186 Rome, enotecalparlamento.com

I discovered the Enoteca al Parlamento about nine years ago, walking with my son, whom I had taken to Rome on his own for his 10th birthday. Walking down a tiny street near the Palazzo Montecitorio, the Italian parliament, right in the heart of the city, we spotted three windows: not big, but filled with beautiful bottles. So we went in, and spent hours there. The owners, a charming man, Daniele Tagliaferri, and his wife, Cinzia Achilli, whose father Gianfranco founded the shop, have built it up to be the best wine shop in Rome. It has got more than 10,000 bottles from all over the world and all sorts of spirits, including cognacs and armagnacs from 1800, which they tell me they would never sell. What was wonderful was that, when we went in, they had dozens of empty bottles of Krug signed by my family, who unbeknownst to me had been there before us, as well as photographs on the wall of our old Krug Rolls-Royce delivery car.

Now whenever I’m in Rome I go back. It’s a great combination of a little restaurant, a delicatessen and a traditional wine shop.

One minute you’re walking in, and hours later you’re struggling out having bought almost everything. The food is incredible. I usually end up having four courses – mostly pasta – and then spend ages deciding what to take away: they have 80-year-old balsamic vinegars, pickled mushrooms, grilled onions, olive oils, honeys and jams. And incredible cheeses. I always leave with mozzarella and parmesan (although I’ve learnt that you can’t take mozzarella in your hand luggage, so now if I’m going to Rome I carry check-in luggage).

Cinzia is also a chocolate specialist, and I usually leave licking my fingers, having been given one of her premier-cru chocolates as a treat. The family have become friends, and now often come to stay just before Christmas, bringing with them a little picnic of treats for us. When we walked into that shop the first time, we never dreamt that would happen.

Oliver Krug is a sixth-generation champagne producer
Your address: The St. Regis Rome

A cool hardware store in London by Bruce Pask

85 Redchurch Street, London, labourandwait.co.uk

Since I started exploring Shoreditch in East London a few years ago, it has undergone a transformation not unlike that of Williamsburg in New York, where an authentic, formerly “textured”, shall we say, neighborhood has become a bit of a scene. Labour and Wait is on the corner of a great street, which has changed almost out of recognition in recent years. The rounded facade is covered in beautiful green glazed tiles which make it look as though it’s been there for many years. The interior feels like a cross between an old hardware store and a design museum: full of utilitarian items and household gadgets carefully curated and beautifully presented.

The staff wear these great work aprons, which lends it the mood of a dry-goods shop from yesteryear. They also maintain a hushed, respectful air, allowing customers to quietly ponder their purchases. I find it all quite relaxing and so contrary to the craziness one finds in most stores these days. When I walk in, time slows down. It inspires a pensiveness, a quiet reverence for beautifully functional, everyday objects that have stood the test of time by being well made and utterly useful.

I often seek out hardware stores when I travel because each country has its own unique everyday objects. The products here are specifically English and although they may seem quite old-fashioned, they are very useful: handmade brushes, pendant lamps, enamel kitchenware and beautiful wooden toilet brushes paired with a slender galvanized bucket. They also carry the loveliest vintage Welsh blankets.

I love walking up Brick Lane on a Sunday, popping into Labour and Wait, followed by another great clothing store, Hostem, followed by the Owl and Pussycat for the most delicious fireside Sunday roast. It’s my favorite way to spend a Sunday in London. I never leave the city without paying a visit.

Bruce Pask is men’s fashion director of T: The New York Times Style Magazine 

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A pottery paradise in San Francisco by Michael S. Smith

2900 18th Street, San Francisco. heathceramics.com

Right in the heart of Industrial San Francisco, this shop is near the Mission District and Franklin Square, and is painted a soft concrete grey with dramatic red awnings outside. The original Heath Ceramics was started in Sausalito, California, by an artisan potter, Edith Heath, in 1948. It is now run by the creative couple Catherine Bailey and Robin Petravic, who opened this San Francisco outpost in a converted laundry building a year or two ago. Whenever I take clients there, they love it because it has incredibly high ceilings and large windows, so it is airy and open, and has lots of space they can wander round for inspiration.

Everywhere you look, there are not only amazing hand-fired rustic ceramic dishes and cookware, but gifts, vases, glasses, maple boards and place settings in beautiful linen. The walls of tiles are useful because you can see what they look like en masse, or in combinations. For me, the go-to products are the coffee mugs – they fit my hand really comfortably and coffee and tea just seem to taste better from them. Sometimes fine porcelain just won’t do in a casual setting, whereas these always feel comfortable and relaxed.

I think their merchandising team has done wonders to highlight the soft yet brilliant colors they offer. And they always have seasonal highlights, so the products are never exactly the same – this summer they had pretty, soft greens and powder blues (although I would also recommend the Aqua and Redwood ranges).

All the staff are extremely helpful and attentive. I’ve used them to help send gifts, and they take care of everything, from suggesting place settings and style options to wrapping and delivery. It helps that they send it in wonderful packaging, because it makes every piece feel even more special.

Michael Smith has been decorator to the White House since 2009.

His book, Building Beauty: The Alchemy of Design, is published by Rizzoli
Your address: The St. Regis San Francisco

A speakeasy in Singapore by Wei Koh

583 Orchard Road, Singapore

Entering the Horse’s Mouth is like going into a speakeasy – you feel like you’ve discovered some kind of hidden gem. The entrance is actually inside a ramen restaurant, where you least expect to find it. What always amazes me, and what I especially love about this bar, is the fact that it is on Orchard Road, which is an absolutely teeming part of Singapore – a city reknowned for the density of its population – and yet for some reason not that many people seem to know about it. In reality it’s a cross between a classic cocktail bar and a Japanese izakaya – the kind of little place you find everywhere in Japan where they serve snacks as well as drink, and where people go after work. But at the Horse’s Mouth they serve seriously good food. In fact, everything they do, they do well, with care and an attention to detail and style – including really good cocktails. For me, the Horse’s Mouth makes the perfect transition from day to night, from business to pleasure, and from week to weekend. I always recommend it to anyone visiting Singapore, and I tell people to ask for the bartender, Louis, and his Bison Grass martini. You can’t go wrong with that.

Wei Koh is editorial director of The Rake and Revolutions

Your address: The St. Regis Singapore
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