Natavidad Avila arrived here from Guadalajara forty years ago, and he's been making custom cement floor tiles ever since. He specializes in traditional Mexican and Aztec motifs and translucent, out-of-this-world colors that he carefully pours into intricate patterns copied faithfully from any sample. What makes Avila's craft especially difficult is its form and mechanics: To re-create designs, he must apply pigment -- and that includes every line, dot and flourish -- by pouring the colors rather than painting them on with a brush. The results, displayed at Mosaico Mexican Tile, are beautiful and precise, artful in a way that's rapidly being lost in a high-tech world. Well, almost. Avila, who first apprenticed in the craft at the age of fifteen, is now passing on his secrets to his grandson, who -- in spite of having a college degree -- asked to be taught.
Herpetophobes, beware: The cast-iron lizard that snakes its way up a stairway at the Native American Trading Company, a venerable old gallery of Indian and Southwestern art and artifacts, is hard to miss. Herpetophiles, on the other hand, won't be able to handle it enough. The beautiful house-designed and hand-forged rail is a work of art for the ages, and it'll keep you from falling -- or slithering -- down the stairs.

Next time you need a rock around your clock -- or even a bunch of small, random ones to line your garden path -- head to Longmont, where Colorado Stone stocks more colors and varieties of slate, granite, sandstone and other fancy finishes than you could possibly want or need in a lifetime at, well, rock-bottom prices. In addition to having a great selection, the store is also easy about small-quantity purchases, and they'll cut stone to order, just like it was a loaf of bread. They've got the deals, any way you slice it.
How to thwart those pesky, persistent meter people: Get yourself a CashKey. The handy card key, electronically programmed and available from the City and County of Denver's Department of Public Works in replenishable amounts of $10 to $100, fits on your key chain and is debited a quarter each time you insert it in the meter. You also pay an initial key deposit of $15 that's refundable if you return the key. No more fumbling for change or constant meter-feeding. The only catch? You still have to find a space. Good luck.
Almost anyone who's bought an old decorative has had to ponder this question: Why in the heck did they wreck that beautiful fireplace? We've all seen our share of painted-over, stripped-down, once-magnificent hearths in ruin. Too bad the owners didn't pay a visit to Victorian Treasures, a shop located in a little old house that lives up to its name. Homeowners can buy all the gear to retrofit their old inglenooks with modern gas and electric fireplaces, cast-iron coal grates, fire baskets, decorative tiles and mantels designed to look just like the old ones. They ain't cheap, but boy, are they pretty; better strike while the iron is hot.

We're a stay-at-home generation -- Internet shoppers and TV watchers. But we can still travel, or at least have a sense of travel in our homes, by shopping for furnishings at places like Foreign Accents International Furnishings, where exotic looks are everyday fare. Stock up here on kilim chairs and pillows, Moroccan oil jars, Oriental carpets, prayer benches, rustic painted furniture or even an Etruscan fainting couch with gilded brocade patchwork pillows; varied accents include a beaded West African wall hanging with a raised lizard design, copper basin bowls, Mali mudcloth runners, Sumatran beaded hats and Java gamelan gongs. To name a few. After a visit like that, you'll never want to leave home again.

The best life is one in which you never have to worry about a lampshade. Ideally, your lampshade blends unobtrusively into the atmosphere, invisible in its pure functionality. That is, until one too many moves leaves it hanging from its frame, held together by Scotch tape, or a particularly acrobatic cat makes its indelible mark on what had heretofore been some inconsequential piece of fabric. Now just try to replace that lampshade. Go ahead: Go to Kmart and pick up a suitable replacement. Lampshades aren't cheap, you'll quickly find out; even more frustrating is that they're all sorts of befuddling shapes and sizes -- how do you know which one is right? You just need a lampshade, for God's sake. The people at Lampshade Gallery in Wheat Ridge implore you to bring in your lamp, and when you get there, you'll see why that's so important: Lynda Ferris, a former hairdresser, will cure your room's beauty needs, but she needs to work with the lamp. Discern its unique lines and colors. Talk with you about its role in your life. Point out that, really, "the most fun you'll ever have" is picking out a finial -- the little knob that goes at the top, which can truly complete a room. And those brief moments with Lynda are the most fun you've ever had...finding a lampshade, at least. You may leave poorer, but you'll be a richer person for it.

Undoubtedly, you've seen them -- glazed-eyed zombies wandering the bath-fixtures aisles at Home Depot or walking stiffly, loaded down with catalogues on "tile row," hoping for a miracle. Forget it, home renovators -- cast your fates to the wind. Enter the high-end idea center at the Bath & Kitchen Design Center, which shows off anything from sleek, minimal modern toilets to hand-painted porcelain sinks befitting the finest lady's boudoir, but walk on by: Head straight to the Mickey Mouse line by Kohler, featuring the iconic rodent's smiling face and/or silhouette on sinks, tiles and fixtures. Walt Disney must be turning over in his bathtub.

Perhaps there's something that interests you in the amused, ironic Czech sensibility, and you want to track it in film, from Jiri Menzel's 1966 Closely Watched Trains through Jan Svankmajer's surreal Alice (1988) and Faust (1994) and culminating in 1996's Oscar-winning Kolya, by Jan Sverak. You could go further and rent all of expatriot Milos Forman's movies to see how Central European ways of thought refract through an American lens. Maybe you're nostalgic for those old Alec Guinness movies from England, or you missed such TV shows as Prime Suspect, Cracker and A Touch of Evil

and want to get caught up. You may be working on a term paper about the history of the American musical. You may have a new flame who dotes on Hitchcock, Peckinpah and Mazursky. Or maybe you just want the latest and best from Hollywood. Chances are you'll find what you want at Video Station, where over 50,000 titles are available for checkout, making the place one of the five or six best-stocked video stores in the nation. The staff is quirky, friendly and knowledgeable without being condescending. Since the store is locally owned, there's no corporate presence to put a damper on things or dictate what movies can and can't be on the shelves.

Late last year, this Denver tradition celebrated its 21st year under current ownership -- but it came of age long ago. Wax Trax continues to offer the finest mix of best-sellers and hard-to-find independent or import obscurities of any business of its kind. As an added bonus, stores featuring used recordings, vinyl and videos are mere steps away. Why not stop by today and buy the place a drink?

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