It's the week before Christmas, and you still haven't found the perfect present for your closest friend. She's just redecorated her living room, and you'd like to give her something special for it. Or you're spending the holidays with cousins out of town and need a wonderful -- but not too expensive -- hostess gift.
And you're running out of time.
Not to worry. We've done the legwork for you, by visiting home-furnishings and decorative-accessories stores and finding gifts for the home and garden for $25 and under.
We know it's tough out there. One shop told us to come back when we're doing a story on gifts for $100 and under. But several of the most exclusive stores in the area had some excellent suggestions.
Not all of these gifts are mass-produced; but if you can't find -- say -- the exact candlestick described, the shop will have something very much like it in the same price range.
Of course we didn't get to every store in the area. This is just a sampling of what you'll find. But at the very least, we hope we've given you some good ideas to look for at your favorite home accessories shop.
Looking for a gift with a bit of sparkle? Dahne & Weinstein (10749 Falls Road, Lutherville,  296-7004), has silver-plated candleholders in holiday shapes: 8-inch poinsettias (two for $20), 4-inch stars (two for $20) and 3-inch florals (two for $12). Silver-plated votives with holly-leaf cutouts are $25. Silver-plated baskets ($12 and $15) hold candy and baubles.
An unusual "pineapple light" ($15) in green wrought iron has a base with a spike to hold a fruit or vegetable (pineapple, artichoke, cabbage), while the top holds a candle.
Japonaji (6322 Falls Road,  823-0236), which specializes in items related to Japanese design, has three-tiered lacquered boxes ($24), about 8 inches square, in bright colors that look great on a coffee table.
Small Japanese-style white porcelain bowls painted in different colors ($25 for a set of five) and in fish shapes (five for $20) are decorative and useful for holding keys, paper clips or rubber bands.
Japonaji has a variety of ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) containers, including natural slate ones with the pin holder built right in ($16).
Looking for something for the gardener in your life? Over the Garden Gate (Gallery at Harborplace,  539-8839) has cans of White Swan wildflower mix ($12) for various conditions: partial shade, to attract hummingbirds or butterflies and so on.
One of the store's most popular gifts is its Poopets ($13), cute little animal figurines made of fertilizer that look decorative in a garden. When it rains they dissolve slowly, fertilizing a bush or tree.
To help the winter blues, give an indoor-gardening window box ($14), with soil, seed and instructions included (herbs or flowers).
From Crosspatch (Village of Cross Keys,  435-3131) you can get the Mud Glove ($12), rubberized gloves with a soft cotton inside and oversized cuffs. Machine washable and dryable, they're a great present for the serious gardener.
Its sister store, Littlefield's (Village of Cross Keys,  435-3132), has small bone-china pieces decorated with flowers, bows, bugs and berries (all under $25), a Littlefield's exclusive from England.
An assortment of unusual Christmas tree ornaments is a wonderful hostess present. Most decorative-accessories stores have them this time of year, but you might not think to look for them at Pottery Barn (Towson Town Center,  337-8264). You can get ornaments in silver and gold and ones with rustic motifs made of wood and birch bark ($4-$9).
Pottery Barn also has an all-natural cinnamon potpourri made from pine cones, dried pomegranates, bay leaves and, of course, cinnamon sticks ($10).
You could delight a wine connoisseur who has limited space with Pottery Barn's Curly Wine Rack ($19) made of wrought iron. It holds six bottles.
Are you a MacKenzie-Childs fan but find their accessories too pricey? The Designer Showcase (Stevenson Village Center,  484-3993, and 8014 Bellona Ave., Ruxton,  583-1190) has hand-painted glassware by Liza Jarrett reminiscent of the company's whimsical designs (from $20).
Give a small, individual work of art when you give the Designer Showcase's hand-painted polymer clay dresser knob ($15.50) in multicolors.
Satin padded hangers decorated with flowers and ribbons ($15) will delight anyone who loves pretty little luxuries for the home.
If contemporary is more your style, stop by the Store Ltd. (Village of Cross Keys,  323-2350). You could give a tiny musical wind chime of wood and metal ($11) or a clear plastic and aluminum bird feeder ($21). Check out the wonderful fishing cats ($20) of painted wood. Someone who has a wild side will love the Museum of Modern Art's vinyl place mats in six different shapes and explosive colors like citrus green and magenta ($22).