Property: Museums for mantelpieces

Rosalind Russell reveals a legal way to take gallery and museum exhibits home with you
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Indy Lifestyle Online
On 1 April, a new shop opens within the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. It is described by marketing types as a destination shop. That is, you don't have to pay entry into the gallery or museum to buy a memento. They are already hugely popular in America. In New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art not only has an in-gallery shop, it has another busy Design Store on 44 W53rd St selling products for the home, including furniture and lighting.

It's the equivalent of buying the T-shirt without having to go to the gig: useful, on a tight weekend break schedule.

The new National Gallery shop will sell goods inspired by works in the gallery, including a specially designed range of "image lights". They are ultra modern and feature detail from paintings in the gallery. They'll cost pounds 25.

It's hardly surprising museums and galleries are turning themselves into department stores when you consider the amount of money to be made. Last year more than pounds 97m worth of V&A brand tableware, furnishings and fashion pieces were sold worldwide. That includes everything from the V&A brand name talcum powder, sold in Marks and Spencer, to duvet covers by Dorma, carpets by Ryalux and wallpaper by Osborne and Little. Not all the branded goods are sold in the museum, but the licence fees have boosted the V&A's fortunes and made it a formidable business partner. In the annual report last year, the museum reported a growth in profits of 45 per cent. Sales at the shop were 47 per cent up, proving, says the museum, its "maturity" as a gift buying venue. And with more than 5 million objects in the collection to inspire designers, the opportunities appear limitless.

The Craft Council takes up some of the V&A shop space, selling one-off pieces by young contemporary British designers. Plates, cups, saucers and teapots are sold as individual pieces, making the purchase feel more like patronising young design than just buying a boxed set from Ikea. Prices cover a wide range, from pounds 15 for a ceramic mug to pounds 1,000 for a large red decorative plate by Rupert Spira, a collectable designer.

A new range of Limoges porcelain called William Morris Kensington Fruits is expected to appeal to customers comfortable with a classic design logo. The theme is apricots, peaches and cherries painted on a crackle glaze mustard-yellow background. The collection covers everything from a thimble at pounds 8.95 to a set of dessert plates at pounds 75.

The V&A's Iznik ceramics collection in the Islamic and Ceramic Galleries was the inspiration for an Iznik Revivals collection of five plates, made by craftsmen in Kutahaya and Bursa, Turkey. The designs use the traditional shades of turquoise, aquamarine, green and red. At pounds 120 a plate, they're more likely to be decorative than functional. A range of green Weldon ware is made by the grandson of the original maker, whose work is displayed in the museum. Prices go up to pounds 76.95 for an oval plate.

You might think the Imperial War Museum would find it well nigh impossible to muscle in on this destination shopping business, but it has risen to the challenge. The Cabinet War Room in Westminster - part of the IWM - has just had its shop re-fitted in time for the Easter holiday rush. The mahogany fittings echo the War Rooms, as do the goods for sale.

Old-fashioned telephones, in red, green or black, cost pounds 49.95. A radio, with the carcass designed to look like the 1930s and 1940s radios and showing the old wave bands, but with modern interior, costs pounds 29.95. For your very own war-torn office desk you can buy an electric fan (pounds 99) like those in every civil servants' office in India, or a banker's lamp with green shade at pounds 29.95.

Other retailers have been quick to copy. The mail order firm The Art Room offers a shower curtain printed with Alma- Tadema's A Favourite Custom, painted in 1909 and hanging in the Tate. With detachable waterproof liner, it costs pounds 39.95.

Contacts: Cabinet War Rooms, Clive Steps, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AQ (0171-930 6961); The Art Room 01993 770444.