It's hard to believe Surry Hills and Darlinghurst were once Sydney's grittiest districts and home to the city's most dangerous and undesirable characters. These days, the most dangerous things are the BMWs and Vespas rushing through the narrow streets. Surry Hills is now 'design central' and Darlinghurst is rapidly catching up. The former's reputation was confirmed towards the end of 2004, when St Margaret's Hospital Chapel (designed by Ken Woolley in 1955 and one of Sydney's best examples of high modernism) was transformed into the Object Gallery (415 Bourke Street, tel: 61 2 9361 4511; www.object.com.au ) by architect Sam Marshall. Object supports and promotes contemporary craft and design by showcasing the work of hundreds of talented Australian designers and makers every year. Entry is free. For an eclectic assortment of homewares take a look in Beautiful on the Inside (45/322 Bourke Street, tel: 61 2 9360 7733; www.beautifulontheinside.com.au ), where you will find such striking items as the Wellington boot porcelain vase (from A$290/HK$1,900) by Czech designer Maxim Velcovsky and the golden pig money box (A$215) by American Harry Allen. Continue along the street to Aero (479 Bourke Street, tel: 61 2 9380 8856; www.aerodesigns.com.au ) for an affordable range of Australian-designed and -made furniture. Check out the award-winning coffee tables (A$585 each) in red, yellow, blue, orange, white and silver. The name of each colour is etched into the powder-coated steel form. Perhaps Sydney's best-kept secret is Koskela Design, situated in a stunning New York-style loft showroom (level 1, 91 Campbell Street, tel: 61 2 9280 0999; www.koskela.com.au ). Koskela sells gorgeous Australian-made and -designed contemporary furniture, lighting and rugs. The recently released AC Series tables (from A$2,800), in new birch ply, are simple in form and beautiful to behold, with expressed laminations. Those in the know head to C20 (78A Campbell Street, tel: 61 2 9212 2557; www.circa-c20.com.au ) for the best vintage glassware and ceramics from the art deco period through to the 1980s (from A$100). Schamburg & Alvisse (level 1, 116 Kippax Street, tel: 61 2 9212 7644; www.schamburgalvisse.com.au ) is similarly prized by Sydney's architects, designers and project managers. Its smooth Tub Chair (A$1,600) has just won the Australian Design Award. Another place worth visiting is Ici Et La (588 Bourke Street, tel: 61 2 9699 4266; www.icietla.com.au ), if only to see Marcel, the French bulldog, one of Surry Hills' local characters and imbued with Gallic charm. While you're there, take a look at the elegant French haberdashery (from A$35), zinc metal letters (A$45) and candy-striped deckchair fabrics (from A$44 a metre). Darlinghurst has welcomed Twig on Burton (110 Burton Street, Darlinghurst; tel: 61 2 9368 1694). The beauty of this little terrace-based boutique is that everything is displayed as it would be within the home and garden. There are gorgeous Chilewich doormats (from A$72), outdoor lamps (A$25) and teak log outdoor furniture (chairs from A$325). Finally, head to The Artery (above; shop 2, The Westbury, 221 Darlinghurst Road, tel: 61 2 9380 8234; www.artery.com.au ), one of Sydney's newest Aboriginal art galleries. It has original acrylics (from A$150) as well as a range of Aboriginal-designed homewares such as cushions (from A$69), baskets (A$25) and rugs (from A$295). The owner, Alesha Glennon, takes regular trips to the Outback to source pieces from up-and-coming and well-established indigenous artists.