ASK A DESIGNER: Design-friendly holiday gifts sure to loved

Home decor accessories can make great hostess gifts or holiday gifts

Home decor accessories can make great hostess gifts or holiday gifts, but how do you choose something you know the recipient will want?

Unless you're sure of someone's personal style, it can be hard to choose larger things like vases or candlesticks, says New York-based interior designer Jenny Dina Kirschner. Instead, she says, consider items that are smaller but truly beautiful and chosen with care.

Interior designer Jessica Schuster, also based in New York, agrees: "I think you don't have to spend a ton of money to leave a really good impression with your host," she says. The key is find items that will look great and also perhaps have a practical use.

We've asked Kirschner, Schuster and North Carolina-based artist and home accessory designer Windy O'Connor for gift ideas that will be welcomed — and hopefully also well used.


Kirschner often gives sets of coasters from the design company Anna. They look great on a coffee table, but they're also practical, she says. Many people don't think to buy coasters for themselves and then need them for a party.

O'Connor and Schuster take a similar approach by buying friends small sets of interesting glassware.

"You can set the table so differently with interesting glasses," says Schuster, who often buys sets of four glasses from Laguna B as gifts. "It's a really nice gesture," and if the recipient likes what you've chosen they can buy a few more pieces to add to their collection.

O'Connor looks for small sets of glassware in striking colors and shapes — about the size of juice glasses, she says — which can be used for serving wine or as votive candle holders.

And as an extra bar accessory, Schuster suggests decorative glass straws. Friends have given her colorful glass straws by artist Misha Kahn.

They're beautifuly blown," she says, "and they have amazing colors and funky shapes." As more people are avoiding plastics and using glass or metal straws, she says, "they're useful and they look amazing on a bar."


Buying candles may seem like an easy choice, but these designers suggest choosing very carefully: "Unless you have the best nose in the world, candles can be a hard gift," says Schuster.

The key is finding a brand with truly appealing fragrances and striking containers for the candles.

O'Connor is a fan of Baobab Collection. The scents are "phenomenal," she says, "and their containers are like artwork."

Schuster says the same about Mad et Len. "The nose behind this brand is incredible," she says. The pricetag is high, but the fragrances are "so rich and earthy and incredible."

The brand also offers scented crystals that make great gifts, Schuster says, because they scent a room nicely and also look great on display.


"I always have good luck in museum shops when I'm looking for home-related gifts," says Kirschner. "They always have really good home items, and they're not crazy expensive." She suggests stocking up when you see beautiful small items, so they're ready when you need a hostess gift.

Schuster agrees: On her travels, she likes to "pick up interesting vintage pieces along the way."

People appreciate receiving a tiny piece of art or decorative item found while traveling "because it's sentimental, it's foreign, it has a story," Schuster says, "and no one else has it."

Art-focused gifts can be a great choice, says O'Connor. She often does small paintings as gifts for friends or she'll give one of the acrylic trays she's designed that include images from her past paintings. Along with her own art, this year she's planning on giving friends copies of the new book by pop artist Ashley Longshore.

Along with buying art-related items, this year consider making your own creations, O'Connor says. Even if you're not a working artist, she says, it can be lovely to give something you've made yourself. "I would rather have something that someone made," she says, than store-bought gifts.


O'Connor and Schuster suggest combining practical home items with edible treats to create a beautiful package. One example: A basket that includes a bottle of wine, nice cheese and good crackers can also include a beautiful wine stopper or cheese spreading knife.

During past holidays, O'Connor has given loaves of French brioche bread with a small bottle of local bourbon maple syrup and organic eggs from a local farmer's market for friends to make French toast during the holidays. To add something permanent, you can include items like pretty dish towels.

Another edible items that's also beautifully designed: Kirschner often gives chocolates from MarieBelle that have works of art on them. "People who have an appreciation of design love them," she says. A six-piece gift box costs $23, and "it's high-impact."

"They're beautiful and special," Kirschner says, and leave the recipient feeling like you've treated them to something, “and yet not crazy amount of money.”