Butter-soft curtains cascade to the floor, begging to be touched. A brushed-copper oval light fixture offers a playful dining room idea. Custom throw rugs and easy chairs tease. Stepping inside the new Indiana Design Center in the Carmel Arts and Design District feels like entering a home-decorating wonderland where designers curate the best ideas and products and inspire you to spruce up your home. Even if you don't buy a thing, the scene (20 miles north of downtown Indianapolis) sparks your synapses into thinking, What if?

That creative spirit thrives in this tony city of 79,000, where shops and art galleries rub shoulders downtown. At the new Carmel City Center, restaurants flank a piazza that buzzes with special events and concerts, all within sight of the new Palladium, an acoustically perfect domed theater led by artistic director Michael Feinstein.

Ways to spend the day:

Start at the Indiana Design Center; some galleries are ripe for shopping, others are to-the-trade only. You can walk from the design center past brick-paved intersections to ReStyled, an affordable, locally sourced decor shop. Bub's Burgers and Ice Cream snuggles alongside the Monon Trail, a railbend-turned-path for walkers and bikers. (Another fun place to burn calories? The impressive Monon Community Center, which has indoor and outdoor water parks.)

The Old Town Antique Mall thoughtfully displays well-kept goods. Standout galleries include ArtSplash Gallery, with its lovely glass-tile mosaics and inspired paintings. Lifelike sculptures - a man reading the paper on a park bench, a violinist playing for money, a couple kissing - dot the downtown. Hop in the car and head less than 1 mile south to Carmel City Center. Choose from dozens of scents to create lotions at Bath Junkie. Clever wordsmiths penned Divvy's menu of fantastic salads, sandwiches, entrees and desserts meant to be shared. Outdoor concerts encourage lingering with glasses of wine on Saturdays as the sun sets over The Palladium, where Midwestern rock band Kansas will perform on August 9.

For more information contact the Hamilton County Convention and Visitors Bureau (800/77608687; visithamiltoncounty.com).

Midwest Living Magazine

by: Kendra L. Wiliams