Thursday, November 29, 2012

Presents That Present

When in gifter doubt, here's a suggestion: go for the kitchen display item. A well made and elegant tray makes a gift most will love. The reason? Trays are versatile items. Currently, I have a tray under my coffee maker and grinder to corral any mess, a tray under three little pine trees I picked up as holiday decor (thanks, Trader Joe's), and a tray holding various items on my coffee table. The genius of this is, in a matter of seconds, I can switch them over to holding cheeses for a party, organizing incoming holiday cards, or as part of a buffet. Trays are hard workers.

Here's the best trays (and cutting boards, which do double duty as trays) I've found.

A Marimekko tray: It's Finnish, or Swedish, or something Scandinavian anyway. And those people have taste. This one is both clean and modern, yet folksy and woodsy. Plus, the plastic makes it super tough. The price isn't bad, either. At Finnstyle starting at $28.
It's a peaceful woodland scene, right on the dining room table.

Kaleido Tray: This isn't just one tray, it's a whole spectrum of them. These range in price from $16-$78, depending on size, so you can design your own configuration. So pretty! These are powder coated steel and not intended for food, so scrap the fromage plans. At A+R.
Use your creativity to create your own display puzzle.

Lostine Bagette Board: For some reason, these look vaguely nautical to me. Or, they look like something designed to paddle unruly British schoolchildren in the days of old. Whatever. Fashioned in Philadelphia of sycamore and food safe milk paint, these rustic yet clean lined boards are the ultimate bread and cheese display items. At Home Remedy NYC for $108.
Break bread or paddle unruly children: your choice.

Wud trays: Made of either walnut or maple with your choice of colored edges, these David Rasmussen Wud trays morph styles from Craftsman to post modernist. And they're totally food safe. I could see one left out on a table, holding some persimmons. At The Shop in East Liberty for $62.
This Wud does not include a woodchuck. Sorry.

Teraforma Anise Serving Board: Asian inspired, this double sided serving board gives you a neutral and a dark side to match decor and mood. Made of laminated Swedish birch wood, again food safe. At YLiving for $38.
Add some Wabi Sabi to your holiday cheer.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Psychedelic Toile

What are these noble people doing in the vivid Francoise woods?
The Toad is always hopping around looking for the strange and unusual, especially when it relates to home decor. And one of the hardest things to find for a home is a really good, really different throw pillow, one color and verve but lacking prissiness.

Speaking of prissiness, I've always felt toile, with its snooty French origins and sedate color ways, falls into this category. I'm always impressed when someone, like Richard Saja, for instance, finds a way to elevate a traditional design material like toile into a fun piece of decor. Thus, I present the Frankentoile pillow. Each pillow is pieced together from different toile elements and colors (some traditional, some decidedly not), and turned into a rather psychedelic French country tableau. I simply love it, particularly because each Frankentoile pillow is unique. Throw this puppy onto a modernist couch or sectional and up the design ante considerably.

Frankentoile (I just love writing that) is an 18x18 pillow for $160, putting its price point in line with items of far lesser quality; I think it's something of a deal. That being said, it's still a luxury item, so buy for a giftee with caution (or just buy it for me). At The Future Perfect.

Monday, November 26, 2012


We all scream for tagine!
There's always some culinary wunderkind on your list, the one who knows how to use those grains of paradise in your spice drawer (I'm still waiting for this information), and who makes preserved lemons from scratch (pretty easy, in fact). This person is a beloved food source but not the easiest of giftees.

If your budget allows some busting, let me recommend this uber modernist Revolution tagine by Revol. Unlike other, more fragile or fussy versions, this tagine withstands everything from induction to oven to microwave, freezer, and dishwasher without complaint or worry. It'll turn humble chicken, olives, spices and that annoyingly homemade preserved lemon into a masterpiece. Plus, its super sleek design means it'll look good just sitting on the countertop.

What's not to love? The price. At $300, it's steep. So this isn't a casual acquaintance type of gift, because you want to be invited to all the dinner parties this tagine inspires. At Dwell.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Give Art Objects to Arty Friends with Artware Editions

Happy holidays, people!
I have a fair number of arty friends, but generally art is too pricey, and too subjective, to give as gifts. Enter Artware Editions.

This wonderful site features mostly useful ( or at least interesting) objects designed by real artists. Take, for instance, the coasters and placemats by art legend Louise Bourgeois that would look smashing in modern or craftsman homes alike. How about the funny cat head vessel by one of my favs, Kiki Smith (this item, at over $600, has been on my personal want list for years, but to no avail). For a more affordable option, give these cocktail napkins by Nancy Dwyer (the General Malaise theme is perfect for nursing a New Year's Day hangover). And where else can you find a beach towel designed by Yoki Ono?

Browse through Artware Editions and find art to suit just about anyone, unless they're primarily a fan of paint by numbers. Then, you're on your own.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Toad's Super Indy Store Holiday Shopping Guide

Yes, every year I deliver you a list of the best online shopping sources I can find. I always try to think local and shop independent stores; I'd rather give some small interesting token than a mass produced t-shirt from Target. Sometimes the cost is about the same, but the impact, on both the giftee and the little store making some money, is far greater.

This list is heavy on the Los Angeles based stores, because I'm an Angeleno and have a great fondness for our style sense. As always, there's an emphasis on spareness, modernism, and a bit of a minimalist bent. You won't find chintz here, unless it's the edgiest chintz in creation. I've tried to just give an overview of each store without specific gift recs, although I break my own rule every now and then (there's no fun in making rules unless you can break them, too).

Shop early, shop often, and shop indy this holiday season!

Hemingway and Pickett: This fairly new store in Silverlake, right on the Echo Park border (and next to the yummy Food Lab, in case you're shopping in person and need lunch), is a gift giver's dream. With an emphasis on Australian goods, H&P stocks some stuff I've never seen before, like charming yet sinister resin rabbit boxes (see pic). With a ton of reasonably priced leather pouches and jewelry, it would be easy to organize a one of a kind grab bag gift. They also have funny profanity laced cards. Browse and find a bevy of choices here.

Store secret and sinister things in this not so innocent bunny box.
Reform School: Charming and weird, Reform School is a storefront that exists in spite of itself, but I mean that in a good way. The goods lean almost crunchy at times, and are intensely curated. There are funny prints if you're into giving affordable artwork, lovely block sets for toddlers (alas, made of wood, not foam rubber, so give to the kid and then step back fast), and odd camping gear that seems designed for the backyard survivalist.

New High Mart: I'll be the first to admit that New High Mart isn't really my style. It has a hippie vibe, if the hippie in question were a millionaire. The purposefully rumpled shirts and sweaters here look like they've been prechewed by organic mice, but are actually very high quality. It's sort of the ideal gift source for your elegant but artsy aunt. On the less spendy side, there's some pretty nifty knit socks and awesome brass key chains, plus groovy knit hats for bad hair days.

A+R: If you follow this blog at all, you know what a fan I am of A+R. I consider it the single best modernist goods store in the country. If there's something interesting, functional, graphic, and unusual (and maybe Dutch), A+R is the first to have it. From fairly classic to highly edgy, this store offers something for anyone who likes clean lines and maybe some splashes of intense color. The jewelry is always interesting, the Pantone mugs are plentiful, and they even carry larger items like chairs and lighting (for you, not your relatives. There's limits to generosity). Plus, they carry exclusives like the Zepplin seasoning shakers pictured above.  If there's one single site to visit for holiday gifts, I'd be hard pressed not to pick A+R.

Shake up a dinner party with these spice shakers: exclusive to A+R!
Mohawk General Store: Upon first glance, Mohawk looks similar to New High Mart: neutral colors, slightly urban forestry vibe, but that's as far as the similarities go. Mohawk goes for understated elegance. You'll find Rachel Comey shoes and boots, Commes de Garcon wallets, and Aesop toiletries.  Oh, and if you want to buy gifts for people other than yourself, the store has other things, too, like scarves and Santa Maria Novella soap.

Of A Kind: This is an exclusively online store that only sells goods made exclusively for it by some established and some up and coming designers. All the items, ranging from accessories like jewelry and bags to all sorts of clothing, is limited edition, virtually guaranteeing that the fashionista giftee on your list gets something special. One of the site's latest offerings is a jacket by one of my favorite leather designers, Veda. Prices range from around $50 on up to the hundreds. Just remember: if you see something, snag it, because these pieces go fast and they don't make any more after they're snapped up.

Perfume that scents your skin, not stinks up your purse.
Mollaspace: Fun and weighted heavily in the personal accessory and homegoods categories, Mollaspace offers small but practical gifts. There are little planters shaped like concrete buildings (just fill with succulents of your choice for the ideal green thumb gift), tons of different portable iPod speakers, and weird solid colored decks of cards (a funny stocking stuffer. The standout, for me, is the perfume stick roller that's tiny, elegant, and fits in any bag.

Plastica: So, there's plastic like the kind you see not rotting in people's yards (aka, outgrown kid's toys) and then there's plastic that's practical and stylish and you'll never throw away (which is good, because, as I previously mentioned, it does not biodegrade). Plastica sells the latter type of plastic. This site and store is bursting with amazing household items and toys for kids and pets alike. Tubtrugs recycled rubber baskets are fantastic and can serve just about any purpose, and you can stuff one with goodies for a present bonanza. The store also sells cardboard items like the shipped flat Casa Cabana, a kid sized cardboard house they can scribble on. It's also a good source for the MYdrap disposable cloth napkins and placemats (wash and reuse up to six times), which come in easy to tear rolls (an ideal hostess gift).

ThinkGeek: This online only store is the absolute best place to pick up the geekiest hardware around. It's perfect for gifting your Star Wars obsessed kid and your Dr. Who obsessed grown up alike. Plus, this site has all sorts of dorky practical joke items, like a device that surreptitiously changes the channel on any TV (perfect for amusing oneself during layovers in the airport sports bar). There's also an entire Caffeinated Goods section for the perpetual up all night student.

This Is Why I'm Broke: Basically a blog, this site gathers the weird, the offensive, the hilarious and the ridiculously overpriced together in one over the top catalog. While you might find a Free Willy submersible boat on sale for a cool 100 grand, there's also ten dollar items for stocking stuffers. Try the glow in the dark Uranium soap for a science nerd. Or the handy "Baby Mop" for the new mom. This site is full to bursting with immature items for the sophomoric at heart. Be sure to indulge, if just to get a good giggle going while online shopping at work.

Lost and Found: Behold, a collection of the most understated yet high quality goods available. The taste is elegant yet earthy, the materials are luxurious yet casual, the vibe is tres L.A., and the prices are astronomical. Yet, this collection of stores in the heart of Hollywood always beckons me back, if just to tease me by dangling some shiny object just out of financial reach. The children's clothing is also fantastic. Rest assured, you'll find something to purchase here. Then you'll need to take out a loan.

The most elegant way to crack open a beer.
OK: One of my favorites, OK just keeps on trucking with excellent modernist wares, hard to find art books, lovely jewelry, and a wonderful holiday selection. If you visit the store around the holidays, you'll discover that OK has pre-wrapped affordably priced gifts you can simply snatch up, pay for, and deliver. It's one efficient little store, and most of its goods are available on its site. Shop for Heath Ceramics, brass Japanese bottle openers, gorgeous votives, and much more.

Behold: a humiliated squirrel.
Jonathan Adler: There's no question this upscale pop cultured ceramics studio store is no longer a tiny indie entity. But, Adler's cheerful Palm Beach style and wit is always appropriate, especially when doled out in small, controlled doses. Maybe a funny banana pillow here, or a ceramic animal lurking around. I like his bathroom accessories, too, even the ones more R-rated for grown up holidays. My favorite this year, though, is the super affordable $10 giant purple squirrel eraser. It's perfect: first, Adler humiliates the curly tailed rat by making it purple, but then he renders it useful rather than a simple pest. I love it.

Not for holidays at Grandma's house.

Home Remedy: This New York based store sells things I haven't seen before, like deer antlers covered in stripes of colorful acrylic paint (announcement to anyone reading this: the Toad wants one), or the completely mismatched china by Seletti, making a dinner party into a mad hatter endeavor. Are these things too edgy and useless? Try the paddle shaped cutting boards instead. One of those will turn any cheese selection into high dairy art.