The crush of obligatory gift-giving is upon us, when you want to do something thoughtful for the neighbor, the sister-in-law, the boss, but you have no idea what to give beyond the usual. Maybe this year, it can be more like a game, like a treasure hunt with the prize of knowing your gift recipient better.
“Where did they go to school? Where did they grow up? Where do they like to travel? Be a detective about the clues in someone’s life and connect a gift to those topics,” says Amanda McClements, owner of home goods shop Salt & Sundry in Washington’s Union Market (and now Logan Circle). Try studying the colors in someone’s house or finding out which sports team he or she follows.
Amy Rutherford, owner of Red Barn Mercantile in Alexandria, goes a step further. “Look at their social media account, if they’re on Pinterest or Instagram, or if they like something on Facebook,” she says. “Those are good ways to get to know somebody better.” We’re here to take some of the guessing out of the game, though, with gift ideas and ways to make them personal. And if you just can’t figure a person out, McClements suggests giving something with a great story behind it, such as a candle by a local artisan or a scarf that you bought on an international trip. “It’s really the step beyond the thought that counts,” she says.
● Pair a special bottle of wine with something other than the usual bottle opener; try the completely unexpected Bottle Stopped Candle, a candle-cork that you can put in the bottle once its been drained ($17 for a set of four, www.neo-utility.com).
●Fleur de sel, Himalayan salt, orange pepper — upscale artisanal salt and pepper lovers won’t take themselves too seriously with a set of Pig Shakers ($24, www.shopmerch.com). A cork stuck in the piggy nose makes refilling easy.
For a co-worker with style, the Jonathan Adler-designed Metallic Zebra Dish makes a chic place to display business cards ($32, www.furbishstudio.com). Pick up a few quality office supplies to accompany the dish.
●Portland, Ore., glass artist Lynn Read’s Glass Salt Bowls can hold more than just salt ($14, www.canoeonline.net). Fill them with earrings or cuff links for the traditionalist, gourmet nuts for the foodie or designer matchsticks for the bohemian in your life.
●You could give a green-thumbed friend some gardening gloves. Or you could surprise him with a gift of gloves and a mentally stimulating Bonsai Forest Growing Kit ($50, www.momastore.org).
●When you’re potlucking at a friend’s house, take the hostess a gift alongside the dish. World Market’s laser-cut Red Felt Snowflake Placemats could even be used for that very occasion ($16 for a set of four, www.worldmarket.com).
●Clearly, the Woodland Friends Wine Stopper would make for a quirky addition to a bottle of wine ($24, www.propertopper.com). To put a gift like this over the top, McClements likes to pair it with a bottle of wine from the recipient’s birth year.
●Drosselmeyer’s Nutcracker in red or black is a contemporary version of a holiday favorite, a throwback to holidays past made new. Pair it with nuts and call it a nostalgic win ($40, www.thegrommet.com).
●Slip a gift card for a spa into Fringe’s elegant Ginger Rosewood Soap Tray Gift Set and really pamper someone, Rutherford suggests. Or pair it with monogrammed hand towels for a gift that’d work for just about anybody ($25, www.papyrusonline.com).
●Bringing over a pasta dish for a shared holiday meal? Serve it in the Tomato Serving Pasta Bowl, hand-painted in Portugal, and please a friend or family member by leaving it behind on purpose ($50, www.crateandbarrel.com).
●A book is a good gift. A book and an object related to its subject are even better. Try a book on celestial navigation with a set of four linen Sky Map Napkins to make any astronomy lover smile ($58, www.anthropologie.com).
●For a friend who just moved to a new city — or left one behind — the City Maps Rocks Glass, etched with the streets of 30 available cities, is the perfect glass to raise to new adventures ($12.50, www.nordstrom.com). Pair with locally made spirits, of course.
●Artisanal bitters are having their heyday. Pick up a few, showing off your good taste, and then use them to fill the Bleaker Bar Ice Bucket ($59, www.williamssonoma.com). Have the bucket monogrammed and give someone a head start on a class-act bar.
●A bottle of champagne is a given. But pair it with the ceramic Cheers! Bottle Coaster and you’ve really got something to toast ($28, www.henribendel.com).
●Put some gourmet maple syrup and a pancake mix together with the Bunny Williams Casserole Dish & Holder and you’ve got a breakfast-themed gift ready for any host of overnight holiday guests, McClements says ($79-$89, www.ballarddesigns.com).
●Have the Handmade Ceramic Growler filled with your favorite local craft beer for a special touch ($76 for 64 ounces, www.kaufmann mercantile .com). Find a list of breweries that offer growler fill-ups at wapo.st/1tfpmG9.
●The Fatwood Crate full of kindling comes with its own wrapping; the rustic crate can serve a decorative purpose afterward ($40, www.llbean.com). Tie some evergreen sprigs to the crate for a festive touch.
●The Garden Essentials Tool Set plus heirloom tomato seeds equals one happy amateur homesteader ($68, www.shopterrain.com). Attractive steel-and-bamboo tools include a spade, cultivator, triangle hoe and ambidextrous scissors.
●For a cheese lover, pair a favorite variety with the marble-and-sheesham-wood Sailor Marble Boards ($54-$84, www.jaysonhome.com).
●Any host would love the matte-glazed Roscoe Nesting Bowl Set — which appears ombré-gray when all the bowls are together — especially when given with a few of your handwritten family-favorite recipes, Rutherford says ($30, www.crateandbarrel.com).
Need a big gift for a new homeowner? The durable Waxed Canvas Log Carrier adds warmth to any hearth; for the dad who loves making fires for his family, add a monogrammed stainless steel lighter or long matches ($60, www.llbean.com).
●Help a teenager personalize his or her room with the Chalkboard Door Hanger in a stocking ($18, www.restoration hardware.com). Be prepared for the teen to write “Keep Out!” with the included chalk, though maybe not if you include a bit of cash with the gift.
The Tree Bark Tea Light Holder will look good on a mantle from the beginning of fall to the end of winter ($39, www.thecompanystore.com). Tie an ornament on the wrapping for a holiday-specific decorative addition, Rutherford says.
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Roberts is a freelance writer. She can be found at www.lindseymroberts.com. Megan Buerger, Margaret Ely and Jura Koncius contributed to this report.