Appreciating Arango

When I was growing up in Miami, there was a singular store in Dadeland Mall, a place of elegant surprises called Arango. It was airy and colorful, austere and welcoming, clearly adult with a spritz of child-like whimsy. It was the kind of place that, even at 8 or 9, you could wander around alone in, looking at things that were intially puzzling, and then resolved themselves into… a tea kettle. Or a jewelry box. There were lamps and art, napkin rings and puzzles. None of these things were tchotchkes. It was all high-quality design. And there was nothing off-putting about the place — when I was a boy, turned loose in the mall (it’s okay — this was 1970), no one ever shooed me out of Arango, or told me not to touch. The store is still going strong, and I poked my head in there last Christmas with my own young son.

So this morning, when the name Judith Arango caught my eye in a New York Times obituary, I thought, “Hmm, can’t be too many people named Arango.” And there it was: The story of Judith Arango Henderson, the woman who created Arango — and who turns out to have been a pioneer and advocate of quality design in everyday objects. She wrote a regular column for the San Francisco Chronicle that captured her insistent focus on the value, the need, to mix beauty and functionality. Here’s a column from earlier this year, in which she reviews the new line of Master Lock padlocks.

“Arango” has always stuck with me as a delightful store name; it shouldn’t surprise me that it was attached to such an interesting person.