Curious and Beautiful Gifts for Curious and Beautiful People
By Gracie Carricarte
Walking by, you might easily miss this store. But since 2011 it has been a shopping gem for its loyal customers. It is literally packed with items, from jewelry with semi-precious stones (think agate and quartz), to strings of cultured pearls, to rare and unusual kitchen implements and carvings from Africa. It is as much a curio shop as anything else; proprietor Maria Villar, a warm and engaging presence, simply calls it a gift shop.
Most of the merchandise is on display in shelves that line each wall – including vast arrays of necklaces – but there are great selections of unusual items in drawers that line the lefthand side of the shop as you enter. Here you can find strangely shaped pear knives, an array of men’s cufflinks, unusual rings, a precious baby silver comb set – a cornucopia of unique pieces hand selected by the owner.
Born in Cuba, Villar grew up in Caracas, where she had her first store featuring clothing, handbags, and custom jewelry. She became a Coral Gables resident 30 years ago, but after a couple of decades, missed her previous life in retail. “My husband retired, and I decided I had to open something, to go work,” she says. “And so, I did.” She purchased and remodeled the storefront space where Casa Maria resides, on the first floor of a Salzedo condominium building.
Villar’s vision was to open a gift shop with custom jewelry, impressive designers, and rare finds. She also carries lines found in Nordstrom and Bloomingdales, including Spain’s Salvatore Plata and Paris-based environmental collection Coloco. But what makes Casa Maria a fun place to shop is the array of housewares, necklaces and earthy collectables she brings from Africa, Thailand, Israel, Columbia, and elsewhere. Her choices, she says, are based on a balance of land and sea, constructed with mixed artisan materials, including wood, metals, corals, and stones. Here you can buy a necklace with a boar’s claw, or a serving platter for your next dinner party.
“Customers ask you for something special… you call them, it becomes a relationship. It’s great. I love it. I’m enjoying my time here,” says Villar. Most customers have been around for years; some stop by for a cup of coffee that Villar brews behind the desk, walking over after lunch at Villagio in the nearby Shops at Merrick Park.
They arrive to peruse Villar’s finds for themselves, to do holiday shopping, or to search for a last-minute party gift. Depending on your purchase, there is also the convenience of having it placed in a gift bag or wrapped for you on the spot. Prices range from $15 to $600.