I’m not sure about you, but I always seem to find myself doing my holiday gift shopping in the final days of December; maybe it’s a New York phenomenon, everyone finds themselves busy wrapping up the loose ends at work, between parties and social engagements.
Finding the “perfect” gift for family and friends can be a highly stressful and expensive proposition. I have selected some items in the market place that are unlikely to be re-gifted or given away to charity right after the holiday madness is over.
These items resonate for me in how they can impact people’s lives, in the normal course of their days, where the impact may truly belie the cost.
And with the money you have left over I have two recommendations on two charities to make a difference in the world – a great gift to everyone – rather than contributing to the local land fill…
#1 — Louis Bourgeois Coasters — $28 (less if you are a member at MoMA)
Louise Bourgeois was a renowned French-American artist and sculptor best known for her emotionally charged spider structures, titled Maman, named for her mother, a weaver. Over her lifetime, Bourgeois amassed an incredible collection of all manner of textile, from humble tablecloths and napkins, to lavish clothing and bed linens. Of all objects, fabrics in particular resonated with the artist on a deep, personal level. Bourgeois grew up in the outskirts of Paris, the daughter of parents who had a booming business restoring tapestries rescued from deserted chateaus. While reminiscent in style to the web-like paintings and sculptures created earlier in her career, the intricate textile “drawings” created by the artist in her 9th decade reflect a departure from anger to acceptance of her past. Follow this link for the coasters on the MoMA website.
# 2 — The ‘Kugel’ Thermos from Alfi — $35 – $200
While the purity of its form might suggest it might have been designed at the Bauhaus, (or even earlier by Dr. Christopher Dresser), it was designed in 1986 By Ole Palsby. A pure and classic shape, this chic stainless steel vacuum carafe is fantastic for hot or cold beverages, and will look handsome on your, or your loved ones table! If the price tag or shiny surface don’t do it for you, there is a very chic matte black plastic version that is hardly slumming it! Follow this link for the details, and this link to Amazon to see all the Alfi carafes available.
#3 — Pine Tar Candles from Eleish van Breems — $25 a pair
The pine tar candles found at Eleish van Breems, a Nordic furnishings and design store in Westport, CT, are mottled in subtle textures and tones. Marbled in various shades of blue, green and grey wax, the candles conjure images of the stones, woodland and seas of Finland, where they are handpicked specially by designers Rhonda Eleish and Edie van Breems. “Pine tar is evocative of the long candlelit Scandinavian nights”, says van Breems, “and these candles have just the right amount of smokiness to seduce and delight the senses.”
Special Holiday Colors Red and Purple are now in! Follow the link to the company website for store details.
#4 — Paper Airplanes from Flying Tiger – $4
To engage and entertain kids (of all ages) I don’t think you need a plastic gizmo that requires batteries and cost $50. The alternative? Beautiful paper airplanes (with stickers!) for $4!
#5 — Books — $3.99 to $28
Published in 1934, this book chronicles Sara and Gerald Murphy’s many years of living as expatriates in France (I think of them as the ‘original’ expatriates although it might not be true.) Their time in Paris is like a dream – taking the notion of ‘living well’ to mean a magical life first in Paris and then Antibes where their life was immersed with some of the leading artists of the early 20th century Serge Diaghilev, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Andre Derain, Fernand Leger, Cocteau, in addition to Cole Porter, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. For those interested in early 20c cultural and artistic adventurers it is a delightful read.
It is hardly a secret that I love Patti Smith, so this book totally rocked my world; but don’t take it just from me – it is a widely acclaimed memoir that The New York Times recommends it too, and it is national Book Award winner.
There are many reasons this book, and others in the series, hold special meaning for me. The author Astrid Lundgren is from the historical region of central Sweden where my grandfather was born (also known for the painted wood Dala Horses) but perhaps more importantly the spirit of Pippi is infectious, especially to a young boy who had an off-beat creativity. It is a great book for children of ALL ages
First published in 1959, ENDURANCE: Shackleton’s Great Voyage is an incredible book that creates a first-hand sense of the saga of Ernest Shackleton’s yearlong exploration and story of survival in Antarctica. This is a book that can significantly reduce the drama of our personal challenges by putting them into perspective. It was also the inspiration for plaster artist Stephen Antonson’s latest collection.
#6 — Pot Pourri from Santa Maria Novella — $35
Officina Profumo – Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is one of the world’s oldest pharmacies, first founded in 1221 in Florence by the Dominican Friars who started making herbal remedies and potions to use in the monastery. The world famous Pot-Pourri with its pungeant, spicy scent, is still hand made and left to ferment in large terra cotta jars as has been the tradition since the 1200’s.
And here’s a note: Since publishing this post my friend Anthony Costa informed me the website is sold out of the potpourri at the moment — but it is in stock at the Lafayette Street location in New York. Here’s the store information.
# 7 — Sale/Pepper shakers, by Wilhelm Wagenfeld – $36
A student of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy at the original Bauhaus, Wilhelm Wagenfeld went on to become a very important industrial designer in German. Even though it was designed in 1924, this lean and stylish salt & pepper shaker set will look great in environments that celebrate mid-century design. Available through the MoMA store.
#8 — Lella & Massimo Vignelli glassware – $ 10 each
The renowned modernists Massimo Vignelli (American, born in Italy, 1931–2014) and Lella Vignelli (American, born in Italy, 1934) count among the world’s most influential and prolific post-World War II designers. They originally conceived this glassware in 1979 as part of a larger design commission for an Italian hotel chain. The Vignellis’ graceful, lightweight design is masterful in its geometric simplicity; rounded ribs catch and reflect light, bringing an inviting and celebratory sparkle to the glass. This piece was reproduced from the original glass in the Met’s modern design collection. Elegance at a modest price available through the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
#9 — Dagobert Peche women’s slippers at Neue Galerie — $250
The brilliant shopkeepers at the Neue Galerie have used a remarkable fabric designed by the early 20th century Austrian designer Dagobert Peche to create some extraordinary women’s’ slippers – slippers being one of those personal items that last a very long time, and as such can make a delightful visually experiential difference in the quality of life of a loved one.
#10 — Jim Hodges Blanket — $ 200 (less if you are a member at MoMA)
Artist Jim Hodges originally created this blanket for the annual Peter Norton Family Christmas Art Projects, seeking to create an imaginary landscape in the form of a blanket meant to appear like a body of water. The blanket “reflects” a poem written by Hodges which reads, “If there had been a pool it would have reflected us.” The blanket measures 52” h x 72” w, the exact dimensions of Hodge’s own bed and comes in a half-silvered mystery sleeve. While Hodges artworks are quite expensive, Jim has always worked from his heart so this wonderful piece is a way to include his unique artistic vision in your – or a loved one’s – home.
#11 — The ‘Standard’ Tote from Lance Wovens — $650
I purchased this schlepping bag last year, because it was handsome and sophisticated, and while not inexpensive it was a bag that can hold a lot and that I could carry for work with dignity. However, I never imagined that it would draw so much attention from people on the street – I have been stopped dozens of times by people telling me that they liked my bag?! (P.S. It is NOT Bottega Veneta) Follow this link for the details.
#12 — Charities
It can be overwhelming living in the world today with so many people in need. I have found two charities that I support to make a difference in big and small ways. Both have very good ratings for low expenses, spending more on actual programs than administration. Making a donation to either of these worthwhile organizations in a friend’s name might be the perfect idea for spreading holiday cheer.
Doctors Without Borders
Doctors Without Borders helps people worldwide where they determine the need is greatest delivering emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters or exclusion from health care.
Sponsoring a child through Children International is a way to connect directly to the challenges underprivileged children face, and to be part of the solution to help create a better life by giving them education, clothing, medical care and more.