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All the Comforts of Home

No two visits to Aldea, a hip home furnishings store in the Mission, are apt to be the same. Well, there may be one thing: you are bound to find something that tickles your fancy and may leave the sensory-rich experience with an inspiration for redesigning your home. Store proprietor Johanna Bialkin moved to San Francisco from New York inspired by a project where interior designers and architects redesigned an apartment every six months, and the results are fresh and dazzling.

Everything inside this welcoming establishment is for sale -- from the Moroccan chandeliers hanging from the ceiling to the bag hanging in the window to the table displaying dinnerware and candles. Even the bed neatly made with the enchanting Camelia Duvet cover topped with jewel-toned pillows is for sale. When I stepped into the shop on a Wednesday afternoon, a couple had just finished packing a glass coffee table Johanna special-ordered from a catalog for them after they’d fallen in love with the matching table in the entryway. In addition to a selection of products from over 350 vendors, Johanna will go great lengths to help you find the perfect piece to complete your living room even if it means ordering something not displayed in the shop.

Most people dread moving, apprehensive of the packing, unpacking and disposing of junk. But Johanna puts a fresh spin on things: it’s also the opportunity to completely redesign your living space, and that’s the approach she takes with Aldea. When a piece of furniture is sold, she never replaces it with the same piece. She may order six of the whimsical knitted animal baby mobiles by BlaBla and when they are gone, replace them with something entirely different. This approach has won Aldea many repeat customers who will stop by just to see what’s new and to get ideas on how to freshen their home.

Aldea is furnished like a home with all the standard rooms: bath, kitchen, dining, office, bedroom, nursery and garden. To your right as you enter the store is the bath area, complete with a faux shower. Push back the colorful shower curtains and you’ll find a bath mit and brush, as if you could hop right in and come back out sparkly clean. The wall houses a variety of bathing and personal toilette accoutrements -- shower gels and body crèmes from natural Greek luxury line Korres and holistic face and body products from Ahava and Dr. Hauschka. The shower gels and lotions from Blue Q make great gifts or additions to your self-pampering kit. I couldn’t resist the violet and quince body wash and lotion from their Cute as Hell line. Priced affordably at $40 is Loo-Read, a clever toilet roll holder doing double duty as a magazine rack, designed by black + blum of London, and a lively selection of vinyl or cloth shower curtains and non-slip bath mats ensure bathing will never be dull again.

The surprise hit over the holidays was Home Chic Home’s line of damask-patterned garbage and sandwich bags -- yes, disposable bags so popular that Johanna opened a waiting list. Aldea stocks a comprehensive line of Home Chic Home’s damask-themed accessories including a step stool ($65), sewing kit and the covetable Tool Kit that includes a hammer, screw driver, scissors, tape measure and box cutter all finished with a shiny damask print ($69). But the current rage is all about the patterned packing tape ($6) -- a fail-safe way to jazz up any gift box.

Glass dining and serving ware pieces in creamy pastels sit alongside sparkly jeweled coasters and candlesticks from Morocco and brightly colored table linens. The pastel dishware from German line Love Plates is so much nicer than anything you could find at Ikea. Further romanticize your dining setting with some mood lighting and glass goblets -- you can find all of that here, as well as aprons, silicone pot-holders reminiscent of Mickey Mouse gloves, crazy salt and pepper shakers and an array of fun colorful flasks I have yet to see elsewhere.

Johanna’s affinity for textures is reflected in her arrangement of the bedroom and nursery -- both a study of contrasting and complimentary tones and materials. The nursery supplies baby as well as parents. Mom or Dad are freed from stodgy cookie cutters with items like skull-and-crossbone stenciled diaper bags, Rockin Baby Slings (real name) and Hooter Hiders (also real name). The latter allow Mom to nurse as subtly as is possible with Spirograph-inspired cover. There are many patterns to choose from, including white eyelet for the more conservative.

Some unique items in the office department include Lee Allison ties Johanna and her husband brought back from New Orleans. The all-over skull and crossbone embroidered and suitcase-wielding shark ties are a few standouts. Here you will also find (if it hasn’t been sold yet) one dark wood pillow box from China circa 1900 ($70).

Johanna’s current favorites are a one-of-a-kind solid walnut buffet table with sliding glass doors and hand-blown glass bowls and vases by Palmer Glass of California. As for me, I fell in love with everything by Pylones Paris. This French imprint supplies brilliantly imaginative umbrellas, gardening tools, dog leashes, flasks and a myriad of other everyday objects in mind-boggling new bodies.

Since opening in December of 2005, Johanna has sought to inspire and delight her customers with an ever-morphing selection and arrangements of goods sourced from local artisans, design firms from all over and her global travels. Her quest to provide shoppers with items that are truly unique, special and at prices suitable for everyone from the frugal to extravagant shopper has met with spectacular results. Try stopping in after a stressful day at the office -- the trickling water fountain and eye candy everywhere are a surefire guarantee that retail therapy will magically melt your woes away.