Thanks in a Box

Here's what to buy a host or hostess when you need just a little something to show your gratitude.

Focus On Hostess Gifts

November 16, 2003|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN STAFF

Hostess gifts, like fashion, have trends. Who knew?

Well, Steve Appel, co-owner of Nouveau Contemporary Goods, for one.

"People are getting away from wine charms and martini glasses," says Appel, who has two home accessories and gifts stores located in Mt. Vernon and Canton. "Things are a little lighter. We're selling more [fun items], more coffee table books, more great candles as hostess gifts."

The point is that if you're like a lot of people, you don't think beyond bringing a bottle of wine. Not that there's anything wrong with a bottle of wine (unless your host or hostess is a teetotaler), but there are more creative choices.

But don't get too creative. Host and hostess gifts are bound by certain rules of etiquette, which Lorraine Bodger, author of 1,500 Great Gift Ideas (Andrews McMeel, 2003) sums up as "no lingerie, no massage oil." Nothing too personal, in other words.

Whether you're showing your appreciation for dinner or for a week's visit, the principle is the same. Gifts for the home or food and drink work best - preferably something both your host and hostess can enjoy.

Bodger likes seasonal gifts. She suggests a bouquet of fall flowers, a jar of gourmet apple butter, or a tree ornament to thank the hostess of a dinner party this time of year; a beautiful grapevine wreath, a welcome mat in fall colors, or a large basket of seasonal treats for a longer stay.

"A really great gift is all about being observant," she says, "figuring out what he or she would love to have."

No matter what you give, it should be wrapped - even if just with a pretty bow. Wrapping makes the gift festive and a pleasure to receive. You can bring the present with you or send something after your visit.

Having a small gift for your hostess when you're invited to a party is thoughtful, but no longer an obligation, says etiquette expert Letitia Baldrige, whose latest book is New Manners for New Times (Scribner, 2003). "People are less grateful than they used to be," she mourns. Weekend guests, however, must bring something. Her suggestions include games for the children, a pretty serving bowl, hand towels, books, and difficult-to-find gourmet goodies.

"And you still need to send a beautifully written note after your visit," she warns.

Baldrige likes sending her hostess gifts. If you have flowers delivered before or after a dinner party, you don't have to worry about inconveniencing the hostess, who may have to stop cooking dinner to find a vase. (Bodger likes to get flowers; she hands the guest a vase asks him or her to arrange them. "It keeps them out of the kitchen," she says.)

If you send a gift after a longer visit rather than bringing it with you, you'll also have the opportunity to find out what the house needs - matching wine glasses, perhaps, or new placemats. But if you do wait, cautions Baldrige, you should send the gift immediately when you get home.

Web help

If you like the idea of a sending your hostess gift, here are some Web sites that can help:

Selected items that work as hostess gifts for under $20. Check out the antique replica tin plates for $19.95, gift boxed.

A whole Web site dedicated to the subject

Click on "occasion" and then "housewarming." Good selection of gifts to send after staying at someone's home for a long weekend or holiday visit.

1. Gourmet goodies are always appreciated, like these jars of Graul's Market pepper relish, artichoke relish, and green tomato relish, $2.99 each. (Graul's Market, Towson, Parkton, Lutherville and Annapolis)

2. Hostesses will love a beautiful book that can be used as a guest book. This one has a cover hand-stitched in India, $18.95. (The BMA Shop, the Baltimore Museum of Art)

3. The pottery cream pitcher and sugar bowl with pear and apple design have a seasonal feel to them but can be used year round, $8.50 each. (April Cornell, area malls)

4. No, it's not a bottle of wine; it's Napa Valley candles with wine label in merlot or chardonnay scent by Zodax, $6.75 and $9.50. (Hannah Elizabeth, Lutherville)

5. Hostess gifts don't have to cost an arm and a leg. These elegant silver oval napkin rings are $2.50 each. (Crate & Barrel, Towsontown Center)

6. What could be better than an objet d'art that will make your host or hostess laugh? Too Young to Die dish by artist Yoshitomo Nara, 10-inch diameter, $34.95. (Nouveau Contemporary Goods, Mt. Vernon and Canton)

7. The Dutch Connection's unusual hand-tied arrangements will delight your hostess and don't need to be arranged. She can just stick it in a vase, $25. (The Dutch Collection, Homewood and Belvedere Square)

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