It’s always nice to show up at someone’s home with a present, but the standard bottle of wine can seem predictable. The following stores carry unusual, often handcrafted gift ideas. From bookends shaped like balloon dogs to earrings that resemble Alexander Calder mobiles, these gifts will be remembered long after the party has ended.
1430 K St., NW; 202-783-0022
It’s fitting that the “queen of laser,” dermatologist Tina Alster, would name her downtown DC boutique with the French for “after skin.” But her offerings are more than skin-deep. Alster’s love of Washington is evident—from crisp note cards featuring the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial to sterling cuff links with original DC trolley tokens or wood from old RFK Stadium seats set into them.
921-J Ellsworth Dr., Silver Spring; 301-495-3425
ArtSpring came from the efforts of five crafty neighbors, who in 2008 organized a neighborhood art show, invited friends, and donated a portion of the proceeds to a local charity. The founding spirit remains: The sales of all handiwork—jewelry, pottery, glass, and recycled leather bags—support Pyramid Atlantic Art Center.
The Blue House
7770 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda; 301-656-6088
If pure whimsy ever exploded, the dust would settle in the Blue House. Within this fun jumble of a store, gift hunters can find melamine cheese boards and spoon rests in bright French Provincial patterns, kitschy souvenir glasses and dish towels from practically every major US city, and too-cute tulle skirts for little girls that, when triggered, play “You Are My Sunshine.”
The Dandelion Patch
Georgetown, 202-333-8803; Vienna, 703-319-9099; Reston, 703-689-2240; Leesburg, 703-443-8810
Shoppers flock here for soft baby gifts from Bunnies by the Bay (the duck-feet flipper slippers are sweet), Mariposa recycled-aluminum cocktail-napkin holders and serving trays, and—a must for graduating high-school girls—personalized terry spa wraps to don on the way to the dorm showers.
Great Wall Supermarket
2982 Gallows Rd., Falls Church; no phone
With armies of teakettles, stacks of chopsticks, and exotic soaps and shampoos—sporting labels in languages you likely can’t read—this place will make you feel as if you’re shopping for souvenirs in a foreign land. But you won’t have to worry about getting the live eels through customs. For the less adventurous, the store offers lovely gift tins of cookies and candied ginger.
Le Village Marché
2800 S. Randolph St., Suite 100-A, Arlington; 703-379-4444
A visit here is like a trip to Paris without the attitude. A recent browse turned up such perfect hostess gifts as retro-print aprons, elegantly packaged candles and bath products, and one of the shop’s bestsellers: La Rochere glassware decorated with applied glass bees and made in the oldest glass factory in Europe.
Now and Then
6927 Laurel Ave., Takoma Park; 301-270-2210
A fixture in Takoma Park for 28 years, Now and Then is the brainchild of Jude Garrett, who fills her store with fun and functional gifts for all occasions, budgets, and ages. Uruguayan hand-dyed yarns and jacquard handbags rub elbows with toys made from recycled sawdust, Brazilian hand-painted earrings, and hand-cut cherry-wood cheese boards. Many items are made by local artisans.
3815 Livingston St., NW; 202-364-3076
What began as a gift-basket enterprise in owner Judy Philactos’s basement in 1996 has become a true gift to the Chevy Chase area. “Nothing in the store is over $30,” she says. Aside from fresh chocolates, regulars love the Seda candles (French tulip and Japanese quince are bestsellers), and body-care products by Thymes.
1350 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-842-3055
From quirky cookbooks and unusually scented candles to a small but carefully curated collection of baby clothing from Imoga, Zutano, and Kate Quinn Organics, owner Anna Fuhrman has created one-stop shopping at its best. The store once was all about hats—and still carries them for both men and women—but these days bestsellers include English tea towels by Poppy Treffry printed with smiling peas or sweetly rendered cupcakes.
1709 Centre Plaza, Alexandria; 703-931-8161
Tucked away in a shopping center, Reunions brings together both vintage and new items. Customers love the selection of jewelry, milled soaps, handbags, and baby presents. The store also giftwraps beautifully.
The Shop at Strathmore
10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda; 301-581-5175
This shop is less formal than its surroundings—it’s in the historic Mansion at Strathmore—and the prices can’t be beat. Freshwater-pearl necklaces dyed in shades of lilac and peach are $14, and chunky stone bracelets in a Crayola array of colors can be piled on for $16 each. Gifts for the musically inclined include spatulas shaped like electric guitars and rhinestone-studded sunglasses worthy of Elton John circa 1973.
1608 20th St., NW; 202-387-7117
At this bastion of midcentury modern, buyer and co-owner Tai Tsang says she looks for anything fun. That includes Xenia Taler’s ceramic tiles painted with Partridge Family–like birds, Jonathan Adler’s banana-shaped salt and pepper shakers, and colorful melamine salad bowls by Joseph Joseph with snap-off serving forks.
6902 Leeds Manor Rd., Orlean; 540-364-7664
Whether you’re heading to wine country or to the weekend home of friends, this destination within a destination is a nice detour. “There’s just a big mix,” says owner Sandy Gilliam. “We have to be different to get people to come all the way out here.” The selection at Gilliam’s Fauquier County shop includes both old and new, from antique sterling-silver vases to concrete garden animals to Baudelaire bath products.
Wake Up Little Suzie
3409 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-244-0700
Kitsch reigns at this Cleveland Park stalwart. A toy store for adults (with actual toys for kids, too), it has tin clocks shaped like robots, jewelry resembling miniature Calder sculptures, and gifts that keep on giving, such as the Mustache of the Week set, a party pleaser with stick-on facial hair ranging from “The Grandpa” to “The Villain.”
West of SoHo
2613 P St., NW; 202-450-1304 Yvette Hausner says that all her years in Manhattan provided training ground for her 300-square-foot Georgetown shop. “I’m good with small spaces,” she says. Hausner has filled her cubicle-size emporium with everything from jewel-tone pocket tape measures to Jeff Koons-ish balloon-dog bookends. She’s best known for her eclectic assortment of jewelry made by artists from all over the country. “I’ve got everything
from industrial to dainty,” says Hausner.This article appears in the July 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.