Finding a completely unique gift for home and garden
Choosing gifts for someone else's home can be a bit tricky. Just because you love a piece of art doesn't mean everyone you want to surprise will.
If you enjoy shopping, we have ideas from spots as diverse as Randolph Street Market in Chicago and Steinhafels in Vernon Hills (yes, a furniture store).
And if you don't, take a little time to find the perfect book about decorating or gardening that is oh so easy to slip into the mail. You could also stop at the gift shop when you're visiting the Morton Arboretum or your favorite museum. And online shopping provides more options all the time.
Teri Kalis, accessories buyer, is our guide at Steinhafels Furniture, where she says the collection of accessories distinguishes her employer from other furniture stores.
Whether inspirational, holiday themed or funny, wood box signs fit almost all gift requirements, and several work if the "man cave" theme fills a hole on your list. Block letters declare "This home runs on love, laughter and bottles of really good wine," or "Alcohol. Because no great story every started with someone eating a salad." These vary from $12 to $39.
Families seem to need sectional sofas these days, and sectionals need ottomans. Ottomans, in turn need large trays to hold the remotes, drinks, books, etc. Steinhafels presents the trays in many styles, sizes, and colors with prices from $79 to $99, said Kalis.
Concentrating on color is a way to make Christmas décor go farther. In other words, a red vase says Christmas season almost as much as a Santa bowl does, but it can also decorate at Valentine's Day or many other times of the year. The same can be said for green wineglasses or the ever-popular mercury glass, which now is also available in red and green layers with silver or gold.
If your idea of a gift is something unusual that your friend won't find in every shop, check out the Randolph Street Market with its indoor holiday events at Plumbers Hall, 1350 W. Washington in Chicago. Visit randolphstreetmarket.com. The market features vintage, antique and custom-made gifts and will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 12 and 13.
While it may seem dangerous to purchase artwork for someone unless you are very sure about their taste and décor, who could resist a vintage print selected just for them. For example, a nurse should be able to find some place to hang a heroic portrait of one of her professional forbearers.
Useful items found at recent markets include silver plate serving dishes that bring holiday sparkle while serving food or drink, vintage decanters for your host's bar, covered milk glass dishes that brighten a space while holding treats, or pillows crafted from vintage sweaters honoring favorite sports teams and schools.
The gift shop at the Morton Arboretum specializes in nature-oriented items like a mesh snowman to fill with black oil sunflower or safflower seeds for feathered friends to feast on.
Gardeners can always use tools like a Cobrahead weeder and cultivator with a single sharp blade that the manufacturer calls a "steel fingernail." Used for digging and weeding, it is made in Wisconsin and costs $24.95 at garden centers and www.cobrahead.com. A long-handled version for working while standing is $59.95.
Joseph Bentley nestles its gift set of three hand tools with steel heads and oak handles in a wooden box for gift giving. The U.S. branch of the English company sells the set of trowel, hand fork and larger transplanting trowel for $39.99 at shops and online at shop.josephbentleyus.com.
The Chicago Flower and Garden Show will be March 12-20 at Navy Pier, but you can buy gifts from vendors before then.
Seed Keeper Company sells containers and accessories to help store seeds and keep track of what and where they are planted. Kits start at $29.99 and are available at local garden centers or online seedkeepercompany.com/Home_Page.php
Flip Flop Flowerpot is a system to let a gardener stack four of his or her own pots at intriguing angles. It is $19.95 and available at www.flipflopflowerpot.com.
The website lilsweetyfeeders.com sells hummingbird feeders that fans fill with sugar and water to attract these magical birds. They start at $34.95.
Anyone can bring flowers or a plant to holiday festivities, but what about an Australian Lime Tree? The elongated fruits are filled with hundreds of little pellets that have a sparkling lime flavor. Nature Hills, www.naturehills.com, sells them for $64.95.
The trees stay inside during the winter and can move outside in the summer.
"The Art of Gardening: Design Inspiration and Innovative Planting Techniques from Chanticleer" presents the work of crews at the public garden in Wayne, Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia. The hardworking gardener can bring some of the estate's magic to his or her own home, promises the publisher. Timber Press, $34.95.
The do-it-yourselfer who doesn't need to work on his or her house might be ready for "Color Concrete Garden Projects: Make Your Own Planters, Furniture, and Fire Pits Using Creative Techniques and Vibrant Finishes" by Nathan Smith and Michael Snyder. Inside are 20 step-by-step projects for furniture, planters, and art. These include a tabletop planter, a birdhouse and a child's chair. Timber Press, $19.95.
If a gardener on your list is not yet happy with his or her tomato crop (and who is ever completely satisfied with their harvest of this classic fruit?) the answer could be "Epic Tomatoes: How to Grow and Select the Best Varieties of All Time" by Craig LeHoullier. Storey, $19.95.
"Essential Perennials: The Complete Reference to 2700 Perennials for the Home Garden" by Ruth Rogers Clausen and Thomas Christopher is an example of the plentiful information a book from this publisher brings. The volume helps gardeners decide which perennials to invest in and how to care for the ones already planted. Timber Press, $39.95.
"Grow a Living Wall: Create Vertical Gardens with Purpose" is the latest book from Shawna Coronado, who lives and gardens in Warrenville. Vertical container gardens for flowers, vegetables and herbs are very popular. Coronado gives tips for each of the 20 featured gardens and shows how you can stretch a small space by planting up. Cool Springs Press, $24.99.
Don't you love gardening books designed specifically for our region? No falling in love with a plant's photo and description only to find it doesn't survive north of Atlanta. Edward Lyon, director of Reiman Gardens at Iowa State University, presents "Growing the Midwest Garden." Timber Press, $24.95.
From classic gorgeous terrariums to Mason jars and midcentury ceramics, Maria Colletti shows how to use indoor gardening to get through Midwest winters. "Terrariums: Gardens under Glass" is a how-to book that includes easy examples too. Cool Springs Press, $24.99.
Francophiles will be transported to the French countryside with "French Chic Living: Simple Ways to Make Your Home Beautiful" by Florence de Dampierre. She includes discussions of how to do household chores so you can live like elegant French people. However, as the gorgeous photos show, in reality this could require a move to Burgundy. Rizzoli, $50.
Barbara Westbrook shows how to create homes with polish and patina, says her publisher. While she is known for bringing a European touch to Southern charm, "Gracious Rooms" should play well among Midwest traditionalists. Rizzoli, $50.
The young couple who stretched their budget to purchase a new house might find something to build for that empty living room in "Guerilla Furniture Design: How to Build Lean, Modern Furniture with Salvaged Materials" by Will Holman. We're talking cardboard, metal, plastic and wood. Consider a hanging light made from empty prescription pill bottles, an elegant (really) bowl from used license plates or a 12-foot long scrap wood dining table laminated with glue and rods. Storey, $19.95.
"Simplicity" by Nancy Braithwaite, an Atlanta interior designer, could be the book many are waiting for. Braithwaite features rooms in three categories of style -- country, classic and contemporary. And among her secrets, "every room must have a level of power that comes from commanding scale, repetition of elements, subtleties of color, or the sheer beauty of forms," says her publisher. Rizzoli, $50.
Anyone with a new-home or remodeling project in their future could use "Sustainable Environments" by architect Yenna Chan. The book focuses on architectural details in sustainable homes around the world. Rockport Publishers, $25.
"The Tailored Interior" by Greg Natale brings the work of the Australian architect and interior designer to the United States. A note on the publisher's website explains: "His bold signature style juxtaposes clean lines with repeating geometric patterns, unadorned walls with highly embellished feature pieces, and empty space with vivid splashes of color." Rizzoli, $55.