The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston gift shop has gotten a spiffy new makeover — and a big burst of color.
Under the direction of new general manager of retail Chris Goins, the spacious window-lined shop in the museum's Beck Building has been opened up and decluttered, with fewer items displayed more prominently as "the best of the best," and wildly colorful objects, from the gigantic pink and red cardboard animals in the store window to lucite cases filled with stuffed bears or spheres in Crayola shades, scattered around as focal points.
"Essentially what we've done here is what everyone should do with their closet: Take everything out and only bring back the items that you are committed to, the items that actually enhance your life," says MFAH director Gary Tinterow.
"I pay attention to shops when I travel and (I believe) the best shop offers this promise: If you go into it and you select something from it, your life will be enhanced. In order for that magic to occur, the environment in which we present merchandise has to make that promise. I think our shop has to articulate that clarity, that ease, that comfort that we hope people will experience."
While the big picture window at the storefront evokes the colorful mood, a large 85-inch vertical screen on the back wall, which flashes pictures of important pieces in the MFAH collection, ties the shop with the museum-going experience.
Display cases to the left upon entering highlight four of the museum's curatorial departments — Latin American Art, Decorative Arts & Design, Modern & Contemporary Art, and Photography — with products inspired by each specialty.
The back of the shop is filled with neatly displayed art books — usually just one of each on display — while a selection of rare and out-of-print books line one wall — all chosen by longtime book buyer Bernard Bonnet. Several lecterns are set up, each holding a large book, so that customers can look through the pages instead of having to pick up an oversized tome.
Interesting design items are arranged in glass cases and on tables in groupings. One "gold"-themed display includes gold playing cards, a 14-karat gold Slinky and a Tom Dixon bookmark in the shape of a quill, along with a Georg Jensen bowl with Elsa candleholder.
Amid another colorful grouping of items is a Lego-like universal adaptor. "It's a beautiful design but it's also a functional object," says Goins.
Goins, who previously was the store manager at Tootsies, also has brought in a few eye-catchers, like the orange-and-yellow custom-made Martone bicycle, which retails for $1,495, plus shipping — the most expensive item in the shop. (As with all items in the store, museum members get a discount; it this case, the bicycle retails for $1,345.)
But she emphasizes most items cost far less. Among some of the fun ones we noticed: Red, white and blue spatulas in the shape of the American flag ($8.50 each), a color-blocked cutting board ($26.95), colorful stuffed bears from Germany ($18.95), distinctive jewelry from African artists ($30 to $125) and stylish reading glasses ($49 - $59), which are a popular item as museum-goers sometimes forgot their readers and are looking for new ones quickly.
And for those looking for a memento of Texas, there are some kitschy but fun salt and pepper shakers in the shape of the state and other vintage Texas souvenirs. "You want a token of something of significance to take away with you to remember that experience," Goins says. "And that's really what we are trying to do here."
One side of the shop has long benches, so customers can sit for a spell. Or visitors can head downstairs to the new MFA Café, a revamped restaurant from Paolo Fronza and Matteo Alessandri, formerly of popular Fellini Caffè in Rice Village.
The restaurant offers Northern Italian-inspired fare, including panini, pizza, soups, pasta and cold plates, along with freshly brewed drinks, including espresso, cappuccinos, flat whites, lattes, and frappès.
The MFA Shop is open Tuesday–Wednesday, 10 am to 5 pm; Thursday, 10 am to 9 pm; Friday–Saturday, 10 am to 7 pm and Sunday, 12:15 pm to 7 pm. Closed Monday, except most holidays.