Decorator-Approved Gifts at Big Box Prices

Basalt rock flower vase by Tel-Aviv-based ceramicists Yaholomis.

By Danielle Crittenden Frum

If you've spent this early fall helping your son or daughter set up a college dorm room (or in our case, my son's first grown-up apartment) you've probably spent hours driving between Target and Ikea, and many more hours pushing an oversized, overloaded shopping cart up and down their aisles.

By now, these outings have become sentimental journeys for me: My son, Nat, is the second of our children I've helped through setting up a home of one's own (our eldest, Miranda, 25, is well beyond her first "Billy" bookcase). I'm flattered he wants my decorating advice, and happy to see him so serious about making his new place nice (I knew he'd left the Frat life behind him when we had a discussion about color schemes). Armed with measurements of his bedroom and living room, we recently set out to the old familiar places, to buy the old familiar things. 

"Remember our Ektorp in the family room?" I said to Nat as we passed through Ikea's sofa section.  "And we had to assemble the stupid, pull-out sleeper part?"

"Yeah, I still remember your scream when you dropped it on your foot."

Nat preferred the newer, more modern "Kivik" sectional to the traditionally styled Ektorp. We duly noted the model number on our little furniture form before proceeding to the bedroom section. We both dreaded the moment when we'd come to the end of Ikea's "Heavenly Showroom World" and be spat out into the "Circles of Hell"  warehouse section. There we'd merge with the other tortured, wandering souls pushing wayward flatbeds, searching for the correct "Aisles" and "Bin Numbers" of boxes too heavy for one person -- and even two! -- to lift off the shelves. 

As we paused to balance a shrink-wrapped, "impossibly priced!" 20-piece set of mass-produced crockery on the other items filling our cart, I suggested that after we'd nailed the basics, we should seek out some quirky, one-of-a-kind items that would soften the Big Box Hex of the decor -- pieces that would give his place its own personality.  A flea-market-find desk chair, a cool poster, a unique, artisan-made fruit bowl for the kitchen counter.  

Vintage posters from Tel Aviv's Piece of History collection.

These touches, however small, always create a feeling of home in even the shortest-term rentals. Some become heirlooms that follow you through life. At age 13, I was given two delicate, Japanese tea cups as a birthday gift. I felt very grown-up pouring tea for my best friend in these special cups, and for years, I carried them from apartment to apartment.  They now rest in a china cabinet, and are used on occasion by our youngest daughter to entertain her teenage friends. 

Ever since I created Fig Tree & Vine, I've been mindful of seeking out original, fun, and meaningful home products that will deliver a "wow" factor without breaking your budget. That's a factor that becomes especially urgent when you're shopping for gifts at holiday season. But we like to offer those products all year round.  Maybe you're looking for something unique for your own place or a housewarming gift for another's. Maybe you're creating a wedding registry, or shopping for a special baby, bar or bat mitzvah present. You'll find many of these items in our "Gifts Under $100" section. We have many others for which you don't need an occasion at all! But here are a few of our favorite things, pulled from our ever-growing Home collection.

Clockwise from upper right: "Zenab" Bedouin Platter with leather stitching by MASKIT Home; Colorful ceramic candle holders (in Star of David design) by Studio Armadillo; Polished stainless steel "O" combination vase and washing cup by Uvtuvo; Salt & pepper shakers from Yaholomis

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