Perfect Gifts, According to Phoebe Cates

ByABC News via logo

June 1, 2006 — -- Many people may remember Phoebe Cates from 1980s films like "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "Gremlins."

More than two decades later, she has found her true calling in life and runs the Blue Tree, a gift boutique on New York City's Madison Avenue.

Cates, who is married to actor Kevin Kline and has two children, Owen and Greta, lives on New York City's Upper East Side. At her store, she is in her element, able to brainstorm and find the perfect, often-unexpected gift her patrons are seeking.

Cates has become well-known for her ability to select just the right gift for any recipient and now offers tips for "Good Morning America's" viewers.

According to Cates, gifts should be given out of a genuine desire to bring happiness and should benefit the recipient.

"Think about the recipient in a broader way," she said. "Don't push your own agenda. … Think about them. Too many people are buying gifts for themselves when they pick out a gift for a friend. And one way to do that is to focus on their habits."

For example, Cates said, if someone plays with his or her dog all the time, get the pair something they can enjoy together.

However, she said, it is also important to notice what people do not use.

"How about the last time you brought over a bottle of wine?" she said. "Is it still sitting up on the shelf the next time you went to the house? You probably shouldn't get them a bottle next time."

Other unique gifts can be found if people think creatively about where they shop. Many hidden jewels can be found in the kids' department, Cates said.

"You'd be surprised how inspired you'll be when you go into a different store than the one you normally go to for gifts," she said. "There is some really fun and great stuff in there. One really popular item for us this year was the Abe Lincoln talking doll, which was part of a presidential collection. It's meant to teach kids about history, but was a really popular gift among seniors."

Many people think gifts need to be luxurious and extravagant. Cates said practical gifts did just as well sometimes.

"Practical gifts are another great way to be thoughtful, and they work for anything from birthdays to dinner-party gifts," she said. "For a friend of mine who already has everything, I noticed she loves Sweet 'N Low. So I went to Costco and bought one [of] those jumbo containers of Sweet 'N Low, wrapped it up, and gave it to her. It was a huge hit."

Other practical gifts include dish towels or decorative vintage jars that can be used to store anything from pens to candy, Cates said.

For kids ages 2 to 18, Cates suggests the Buddha Board, which is about the size of a laptop and works like an Etch A Sketch with a paintbrush. She also suggested giving children toys they could look forward to.

"A tea set is good for a newborn girl," she said. "It is a gift that instantly makes the room a girl's room."

Another idea is a junior chef set, which Cates sells at her store. The toy vegetables are made of vinyl, and Cates said toddlers could play with them in the bath.

The chef set, Cates noted, "reminds them of this great gift, a whole big set they can play with when they get older."

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