If bottles of wine and scented candles have been your go-to host or hostess present for years, consider a gift reboot. Not that many people don't love wine, but why not give a little extra effort? "You walk into a party and there are 10 bottles of wine on the kitchen counter. Do you want to be the guest who adds the 11th bottle?" says Candace Ourisman, who with longtime friend Ashley Bronczek founded the Secretly Gifting gift concierge service in March.
"I love burning scented candles," Bronczek says. But that gift category has lost some of its magic. "It's not like you are going to enter the party with your gift and feel, 'I really crushed it, and I can't wait for you to open this candle I picked out for you.' "
Presents and presentation are important to Ourisman, 34, and Bronczek, 35. They frequently host baby and bridal showers, birthday parties and holiday dinners. "We are always hosting something," Ourisman says. They launched their Washington gifting business after they realized they both were giving endless advice to friends and family looking for the perfect gift. "We figured we had our fingers on the pulse of great hostess gifts, bridal gifts and birthday gifts," Ourisman says. They knew there were lots of personal shoppers for clothing, but not so many for time-strapped people looking for appropriate and original presents.
For a standard fee, Secretly Gifting will find a present to suit your recipient, wrap it and deliver or mail it. Their clients fill out a questionnaire to tell them details about the giftee. Fashion plate? Bookworm? Nature lover? They have private Pinterest boards full of gift ideas from sources across the country.
Their philosophy on host and hostess gifts: As opposed to what they call the "easy grab," give your gift selection more thought. "If it's someone you know well, play to their passions and interests. If it's not, share one of your favorite things," Bronczek says. Such as: Give a box of cheese straws you fell in love with on a visit to Savannah, Ga., or a hot sauce you discovered, or your own Chex mix combo. Also, if you know your hosts well, recall the things they have in their home, the colors they love or a dream vacation. Make sure you securely attach a card with a short, handwritten message.
We asked Ourisman and Bronczek for some fresh ideas for this holiday season. Many of their suggestions would make great gifts for other occasions as well, and for the most part they're $30 and under. Their favorite gifts as hosts? For Ourisman, it's chocolate truffles she can indulge in at the end of a hectic evening when she finally kicks off her heels; for Bronczek, it's a box of breakfast pastries and fresh-squeezed orange juice for the next morning's family breakfast.
Seeing Double bar towel and cocktail shaker ($30) Hand-stitched linen towels are perfect for any bar or kitchen; the plastic cocktail shaker is a bonus. The Secretly Gifting ladies think it's a great two-for-one gift (augustmorgan.com).
Maldon sea salt flakes ($10.95 for 8.5-ounce box) and acacia salt cellar ($9.95) This all-natural English sea salt is well known among serious cooks (williams-sonoma.com). The acacia wood holder with swivel top is nice enough to keep on the counter (crateandbarrel.com).
Marble and acacia cheese board ($68) This handmade wood serving board is shaped like a pineapple, the symbol of hospitality (anthropologie.com).
Paper place mats ($29 for 30) Graceful evergreen trees decorate these sturdy place mats that are sold in a pad. No ironing needed! Shop online (hesterandcook.com) or locally at Le Village Marché, 3318 Wisconsin Ave. NW, and 2800 S. Randolph St., No. 110A, Arlington, or Periwinkle, 3815 Livingston St. NW
Gold bowls ($34.99 for set of four) The insides of these porcelain bowls sport beautiful saturated tones. The size is just right for snacks or dessert (yedihouseware.com).
Letterpressed winter coasters ($25 for 100) Four charming designs have you set for the season. The Secretly Gifting duo love the thick, high-quality card stock and sophisticated motifs (hautepapier.com).
Luciano silicone drink markers ($11.24 for a dozen) Reusable decals will help identify party guests' drinks. They work on any shape of glass or smooth surface (amazon.com).
Artsy ornaments ($25 each) These one-of-a-kind porcelain holiday ornaments are handcrafted by Logan Ledford, a young New Orleans artist. Ourisman and Bronczek chose them because of their modern, artisan look (loganledford.com).
Beerd bottle opener ($9.99) Not just for lumberjacks: This cheeky bottle opener pairs with a six-pack of your favorite IPA. Shop online (amano.bz) or locally at A Mano, 1677 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
Hot chocolate on a stick ($15 for three) Just add hot milk to create a rich beverage, either salted caramel, vanilla mint or French truffle flavor. Made of an extra buttery Belgian chocolate by Ticket Chocolate in California (ticketchocolate.com).
Organic maple syrup and pancake mix gift basket ($25) A special breakfast packed in a berry basket, featuring Hudson Valley syrup, can be enjoyed the morning after the party. Find it online (findinghomefarms.com) or locally at the Cookery, 3414 Wisconsin Ave. NW, and 4017B Campbell Ave., Arlington.
City playing cards ($30) Artist LouLou Baker painted the watercolor scenes that capture landmarks and her memories of places such as Washington, Baltimore, the Chesapeake Bay, Nantucket and New York City. Shop online (peepspaperproducts.com) or locally at Tuckernuck, 1053 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Succulent garden ($24.99) A white ceramic planter full of a variety of succulents will last a lot longer than a bunch of flowers (1800flowers.com).
Selfie stand ($19.99) You want a photo of your dinner party or family but can't figure out how to take it? This rotating wood stand fits major smartphones and will guarantee you have an Instagrammable memento of the evening. Shop online (amano.bz) or locally at A Mano, 1677 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
Jewel caramels ($29 for box of six) Phillip Ashley's dark chocolate edible gemstones are filled with handcrafted caramels flavored with fruits, herbs, spices and sea salts from around the world (neimanmarcus.com).