Gift wrappers tend to fall into one of two categories: Either they buy standard paper and ribbon from a local pharmacy and a bag of those trusty peel-and-stick bows, or they go full Martha Stewart, slaving over a home gift-wrap station stocked with rotary cutters, handmade tags and reindeer stencils.
But for those who want their gifts to look elegant and thoughtful without investing weeks of effort, here are a few practical tricks from the experts:
“To me, the presentation of your gift is as important as the gift itself,” said Courtney Cox, who co-owns the Alexandria design firm and retail store Ivy Lane. “I had an aunt who always hit it out of the park. She dabbled in antiques and would tie ornaments or glass knick-knacks to the ribbon, and write directly on the wrapping paper. Each gift, no matter what was inside, felt special.”
Cox keeps the accessories simple — she collects berries, twigs and sprigs of holly while on afternoon walks with her children, ages 3 and 6 — but gets creative with paper. “This year, I’m using leftover wallpaper,” she says. As a designer, she often winds up with extra rolls, but notes that “you don’t have to be a decorator to buy cheap wallpaper anymore. Just go to Target or Jo-Ann Fabrics. And if you like that home-spun theme, use curtain trim instead of ribbon.”
Adele McDonald, an interior designer with Kelley Interior Design in Bethesda, rejects the idea that gift-wrapping has to be complicated and expensive to make an impression. “It just has to be polished and personal,” she says. McDonald takes style cues from her mother, an interior designer in Mobile, Ala., who has been known to tie feathers, magnolia leaves, candy canes or pine sprigs from the back of her tree onto bows.
“They’re like toppings for your presents,” she says. “People always notice.”
Of course, it’s best to settle on a theme before hitting the craft store; that way you’ll make selections that work well together. And that’s why Paper Source, a national craft store famous for its holiday gift wrap, organizes its festive offerings into themes: Glitter and Gold, Winter Woodlands, Classic Red and Green, and even Fa la la Llamas, a selection of colorful papers and tissues covered in llamas.
“We try to compartmentalize looks so you don’t get overwhelmed,” says Rebecca Burick, Paper Source’s head of marketing, who works out of the company’s Chicago headquarters.
In the decade that she’s worked for the company, she’s opened more than 50 stores (including the Bethesda location) and managed the brand’s workshops, including the popular gift-wrapping classes that cover everything from tying bows to adding sparkle. Wrapping, she says, makes your gift memorable: “You can buy gifts with one click now, so thoughtful gift wrap is a way to show someone that you put time and thought into their gift.”
Recently, Burick says, the company has seen renewed interest in plaid, marble and glitter paper. In fact, solid glitter paper sold so well last year that this year they added glitter to many of the prints, too. And even though she says customers “always, always gravitate toward holiday patterns,” Paper Source is better known for its nontraditional offerings: bold fuchsias, plant-inspired motifs, and papers with maps of D.C., Portland, Ore. San Francisco and Hollywood.
It might help to think about gift-wrapping the same way you’d think about decorating a room: After you’ve picked a color or print to work around, you’ll want to vary texture and shine. This year, McDonald is using a rustic paper that looks like wood grain ($3 for a sheet or $8 for a roll at Paper Source) with white and red trappings. When she needs a little glitz, she’ll use a shiny, foil-like gold wrap on small boxes.
Most important, gift wrap should reflect your taste. If you’re a minimalist, skip the paper altogether and just buy white or brown boxes (Michaels has more than 20 options from $1 to $5). Then glue a single strip of trim or ribbon right onto the box. Greek key trim ($7 per yard, www.buyfabrics.com) is a simple departure from the usual slate of Rudolphs and snowballs, or try a traditional red-and-black plaid ribbon ($8 per 10-yard roll, www.save-on-crafts.com). If you prefer a natural look, burlap and recycled paper are having a moment. World Market carries burlap fringe ($7 per five-yard roll) and linen ribbons ($8 for two five-yard rolls) and the Container Store sells totes, boxes and wrap made of recycled brown paper. Use white cotton twine for ribbon and tie glitter-dipped pine cones to the top.
There are a few easy rules of thumb. McDonald, who worked at a flower shop during college, says “a good wrapper only uses three pieces of tape: at the top and each end of the box.” And Cox’s business partner, Alex Derringer, suggests keeping a roll of plain white craft paper in your closet. If you get into a pinch, have your children draw on it or write a note on it, and use it as paper. “It eliminates the need for a card,” she says, “and it has that ‘aww’ effect.”
And yes, what about those peel-and-stick bows?
“To me, those are what people end up wearing on their head at the end of the holiday party,” McDonald says. “If you’re panicked, the thick, wire-edged ribbons are the best cheat. Tie a two-loop bow, snip the ends, tug the loops, and you’re good to go.”
Buerger is a freelance writer.