Interior designer Frances Merrill steps inside Phukaw, a new import shop chock-full of traditional Thai home goods, apparel and vintage textiles. It's one of those inexplicable Hollywood Boulevard juxtapositions — authentic design from Thailand's northern hill tribes, adjacent to Jumbo's Clown Room, the pole-dancing club where Courtney Love worked. Merrill grabs a roll of indigo-colored embroidered fabric, a handmade necklace and hair fob to be repurposed as room decoration, and a gingham towel.
A few blocks west, in the Silom Supermarket that serves as the anchor to Los Angeles' Thai Town, the designer smiles at a wall of jasmine tea tins, glossy and graphic. She puts one in her cart. She discovers a 22-inch brass Thai cooking pan and envisions it as a dining table centerpiece. She spots artificial marigolds strung like golden garlands and imagines them atop a tepee in her daughter's room.
Playing tourist gives Merrill a rush, so after a lunch of larb and pad kee mao (spicy pan-fried noodles) at Red Corner Asia, she heads farther west, deep into Walk of Fame territory on Hollywood Boulevard. A man on the street hawks a tour of the neighborhood.
"Sorry, I live here," says Merrill, who got her start working for the hip L.A. design firm Commune and has since launched her own company, Reath.
The tour salesman looks at her incredulously, as though he never had encountered a local on Hollywood Boulevard before. Maybe he hadn't. Indeed, it's so rare for Los Angeles residents to shop this street that many may not know what they're missing.
That was our challenge to the designer: Browse the trinket shops of Thai Town and the souvenir emporiums that flow forth along one of L.A.'s biggest tourist traps and find objects of genuine beauty. Look for budget buys that could be used in amusing ways. Surprise us. Here's a look at what Merrill found during one recent excursion.