It's a Wednesday afternoon at Tuesday Morning, the off-price outlet that takes its name from its weekly deliveries of new merchandise, and Museum of Contemporary Art curator Brooke Hodge is stopped dead in her tracks. The object of her inspection: A Madame Alexander doll wearing a felt dress with an embroidered spider.
"This would be the perfect Christmas gift for Louise Bourgeois," she says of the artist known for monumental bronze spiders and currently featured in a MOCA show.
The price tag, however, is a buzz kill: At $40, it's 10 bucks shy of Hodge's self-imposed $50 budget. She is consoled by a tiny $7.99 Steinbach wooden reindeer in retro German Christmas packaging.
"It reminds me of that 'Frosty the Snowman' cartoon on TV," she says, also scooping up polka dot foil wrapping paper.
Emerging from the holiday section with $30 to spare, Hodge is pleasantly surprised to find glassware by Barbara Barry, kitchen tools by OXO, linens by Sferra and other brand-name pieces. But the architecture and design specialist raises a Polish art-glass goblet and proclaims that it has an "Addams Family stem." She also passes on a $10 set of Irish crystal salt-and-pepper shakers shaped like acorns. "Not quite good enough," she says.
Instead, Hodge selects a chartreuse glass ice bucket by Reed & Barton, marked down twice, from $40 to $14.99 to $6. "This is an example of how something streamlined can be decorative without having too much ornamentation," she says, admiring a silhouette that tickles her fancy for midcentury Danish design. "I am going to take this home, put gravel in the bottom and bulbs on top. It will look beautiful with paper whites."
She imagines it will take a place on her mantel alongside an Atwater Pottery vessel, a reissued water pitcher by Finnish designer Kaj Franck and midcentury gems including Lisa Larsen ceramic cats.
"If it looks right, it doesn't matter how much it cost or where I bought it." says Hodge, whose work in exhibition design leads her to display objects in clusters based on shapes and materials rather than colors.
Her advice on what to look for? "Clean, simple lines made from materials that look more expensive than they really are."
Hodge brings a curator's eye to the process but does not deny herself that which is cute. A $3.99 metal container engraved with a bee -- a match for her personal stationery -- goes into her cart without hesitation. "I definitely have been known to get things that aren't necessary," she says, designating the purchase as a paper clip holder. "I'm a modernist who enjoys a sprinkling of kitsch and nostalgia, but good design that is aesthetically pleasing or elicits a personal connection is my No. 1 criterion when shopping."
Other pieces that could pass as designer goods: hand towels that imitate the signature stripes of fashion designer Paul Smith, Paul Smith and a journal that looks like it's from the celebrated Finnish textile company Marimekko.
Oh, wait, it is Marimekko, Hodge discovers as she looks at the $1.99 tag. "If there were 10 of these, I'd buy them all."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times