Giving a gift is easy. Giving a gift that is well-received is much trickier. That’s why we’ve invited our staff to share the gifts they’ve personally loved giving or receiving over the years. These items range from practical to whimsical, but all have one thing in common: Each one has already brought joy into our own lives and is something we would want to give to people we love and care for.
That said, remember that giving a gift that’s meaningful to you won’t necessarily convey meaning to the person receiving it. American essayist Charles Dudley Warner once wrote: “The excellence of a gift lies in its appropriateness rather than in its value.” It’s an important reminder that the most appreciated gifts aren’t necessarily the most expensive nor surprising, but likely something the recipient already wanted. Research shows that no matter how sincere and heartfelt the gift, people prefer the predictable rather than unsolicited surprises. So if your mom makes it explicitly clear that she really wants a chainsaw and your dad has his eyes on a pair of Pokémon-shaped slippers, don’t argue—just get them what they want. The heart wants what it wants. But if you need inspiration, we’ve got your back.
Beautifully defied expectations
Jacquard Indigo Tie Dye Kit
Who it’s for: Give this to a friend who feels stuck in a creative rut. Include a rain check for an afternoon hang where you bring an open ear and a large bucket filled with bottles of their favorite beverage.
Why it’s special: For the cost of a burrito, the Jacquard Indigo Tie Dye Kit includes everything you need to try shibori tie dye at home—including gloves, rubber bands (although I prefer kitchen twine), and illustrated tying and binding instructions. All you need to add is a 5-gallon bucket of warm water and fabric goods to dye. White cotton and linen shirts are the easiest for beginners to work with, but you can use almost anything made of natural fibers. I’ve tried Vans sneakers, canvas tote bags, and linen curtains with great results.
The beauty of the shibori technique, when practiced by untrained hands, lies in its resistance to expectations. The fun lies in embracing its unpredictability. You could tie the same pattern into two identical shirts and come out with two unique outcomes. Whether it’s a streak of chartreuse that failed to oxidize fully, a splash of cyan in the midst of a solid navy blue, or an asymmetric star where one had envisioned a perfect circle, the end result rarely aligns with the artist’s original intent. But among the dozens of garments and fabrics I’ve dyed, I’ve yet to be disappointed with any of the results.
Ease stress and wipe away worries with every gentle swing
Hammock Sky Brazilian Double Hammock
Who it’s for: If you know someone in dire need of a vacation—but for some reason can get only as far as their own backyard—here’s an affordable ticket to some rest and relaxation.
Why it’s special: A few years back a friend gave me a Hammock Sky Brazilian Double Hammock as a housewarming gift, and ever since, its length has stretched across our small backyard as both a reminder and an invitation to occasionally stop working and start living. Within the soft comforts of a cotton hammock, conversations come easy, but relaxed silence comes even easier. Even in increments of a few minutes, the cocoon of a backyard hammock can ease stress and wipe away worries with every gentle swing. The invitation to gaze upward into the trees and sky, instead of a screen, is its universal appeal.
At 98 inches long by 59 inches wide, and with a weight capacity of 475 pounds, this hammock has room aplenty for one but is also spacious enough for my wife and me to lie side by side, or facing one another from opposite ends. During backyard parties, friends like to sit in it sideways together as a swing, while children are immediately drawn to its playful promise. Naps are guaranteed. And because it’s made with tightly woven cotton—versus an airy string-style design—it’s great to wrap around the body to create a cozy burrito effect, keeping out both chilly air and biting bugs.
A one-handed critter catcher
Carson HU-10 BugView
Who this is for: Give this to anyone who would rather relocate than smush pests, critters, and other uninvited houseguests. It’s especially helpful for the squeamish and those with small children.
Why we like it: This one-handed critter catcher has been in our house for nearly a decade and is our go-to housewarming gift. The miniature vivarium has a built-in magnifier for looking at the bugs you catch outside, but the true magic is that it lets you easily catch bugs inside, at some distance, without resorting to the glass-and-paper trick or having to clean roach parts off the floor. Creatures you like but don’t want in your living space (spiders, bees, moths, little lost lizards) can be safely observed and then released gently outside, and pests like roaches can be flung with satisfying force, as from a bug atlatl. We use ours weekly, and if your giftees live somewhere with lots of creepy-crawlies, they will too.
The field guide every birder needs
Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America
Who this is for: It’s perfect for anyone who wants to learn how to quickly and easily identify birds in their backyard, at the park, or on vacation just about anywhere on our continent.
Why we like it: Over 60 million Americans watch birds, making it one of the most popular hobbies in the US. But the term “bird-watching” isn’t quite accurate: What folks are really trying to do is identify birds—in their backyards, on local holiday counts, or in parks. I’ve been a bird-watcher since I was a kid, mostly because my father, Richard Koeppel, was one of the world’s best at the activity, amassing a life list of more than 7,000 of the world’s 9,500 known species. You likely don’t want to—and probably shouldn’t—go that far. But whether you’re a beginner or an expert, a pair of great binoculars isn’t enough.
Every birder needs a field guide that’s well-organized, authoritative, portable, and easy to use. Though you can find dozens of such guides out there, the Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America by Kenn Kaufman is my personal favorite. It’s exceptionally easy to go from seeing a bird to narrowing down the possibilities to making an exact identification using the guide’s unique digitally simplified photographic illustrations. The bird images are modified to accentuate specific points of differentiation so that you can quickly focus on the distinctive elements of any bird’s appearance before it flies off. For me, this is a superior approach to standard photographs, which show one specific bird that may or may not look much like the avian specimen you’re viewing in the wild.
The Kaufman guide is comprehensive—you don’t need to buy different editions for different regions—and pocketable. The paper stock is rugged too, and the book’s vinyl cover will withstand the elements. I love this guide so much, I have two of them: one for the glove box of my car, and another for my windowsill.
Tea for two, forever
Sori Yanagi Tea Kettle
Who this is for: Give this to lovers of great design, tea, and coffee—and the pleasure of making them without a machine.
Why we like it: I had been using a Le Creuset enameled tea kettle for a decade, but this summer it finally began to rust out. I can’t complain—that was 10 years of reliable service. But for my birthday, I asked my wife, Lindsay, for the matte-finished stainless tea kettle by legendary Japanese designer Sori Yanagi. (It also comes in a polished version.) It’s a design masterpiece that graces millions of homes in Japan and is likely to last beyond my own lifetime.
I would never spend $77.59 on myself for something so simple as a kettle, but since Lindsay and I both celebrated milestones this fall by promising each other a special gift, I figured, what the heck? I love it every time I use it, and she loves knowing that she gave me something I enjoy and treasure.
The kettle is beautiful, and exquisitely engineered and constructed: The sinuous spout pours smoothly and never dribbles, as it’s welded seamlessly to the wide, shallow, flat-bottomed body, whose form delivers more rapid boiling than typical squat-bodied kettles. (I timed mine: 2 minutes, 45 seconds to bring a pint of water from tap cool to a full boil.) The lid has a pair of discrete holes on its edge to let out steam and prevent rattling—the sort of thoughtful design Yanagi was known for. And the ergonomic resin handle (the same material as is used on top-quality kitchen knives) fits the hand perfectly and stays cool when the kettle is heating water. Being made of steel, the kettle will work on any type of stove—induction, infrared, glass-top, exposed-coil electric—though I think it’s especially pretty reflecting the cornflower blue of gas flames in a dark kitchen. I’m an early riser, often up before the sun; my first act is to put the kettle on. It’s a pleasure to begin the day with this simple but lovely tool.
The only watercolor set I ever want to use
Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors, 36-Color Set
Who this is for: Give this to a loved one who is into watercolors or someone who is trying to pick it up for the first time. Adult and kid painters alike will truly appreciate the opacity, pigment, and gloss—they can even paint on dark paper.
Why we like it: Kuretake watercolors are not like any other watercolor paints. Made by a 115-year-old sumi-ink manufacturer in Nara, Japan, these paints occupy a space somewhere between watercolors and gouache—they can flow, dilute, and mix like watercolors but have the opacity, pigment, and impressive vividness of acrylic paints, making them brighter and more glossy on the paper than pretty much any other watercolor you’ll find.
Since I picked up painting a few years ago as a meditative practice, I’ve personally gone through numerous watercolor sets on my own personal Wirecutter quest. The Kuretake set is the only one that has prompted me to buy multiple sets, and the only one I ever want to use. And if you want your giftee to stay in touch, give these paints along with a set of Strathmore Watercolor Postcards and some Pentel water brush pens to complete the circle.
Whoever has the chillest vacation wins
Who this is for: Choose this for anyone who could use a relaxing evening activity with friends or family, or anyone enjoys board games (but not games that force you to be a backstabber).
Why we like it: Tokaido is a board game with beautiful art and a relaxing concept: Whoever has the chillest vacation wins. You and your companions journey through Japan, staying at inns, eating delicious food, taking baths, buying trinkets, admiring art, and visiting temples along the way. Many competitive board games encourage cutthroat tactics, but Tokaido’s simple concept and peaceful atmosphere make for a wholly pleasant group activity.
The base game is straightforward and easy to learn, so it’s a great gift for any skill level, from your board game group to your extended family. The expansions (Crossroads and Matsuri) add some strategic depth by offering even more ways to relax and to attend exciting festivals. And the Collector’s Accessory Pack includes character figures, metal coins, and even a soundtrack that can accompany your journey and make the game feel even more thoughtful and special.