Your holiday gift shopping can be easier if you arm yourself with a list of some of today's hottest gift items before you tackle the stores. Need some suggestions? Here are my favorite gift picks for this year. Mary Carol Garrity, Scripps Howard News Service
Dessert servers: Everyone needs a beautiful serving piece they can use when they entertain to display things like desserts and appetizers. But few people actually have this essential tool. I adore everything from three-tiered servers that hold removable salad plates to epergnes that feature multiple arms or levels. But right now my favorite dessert server is a reproduction of the French cafe pastry stand I keep on my kitchen island. The frame is made of antiqued metal, and the rectangular shelves are clear glass. This simple but stylish tool also looks wonderful dressed up with seasonal decor, like a crystal compote holding ornaments or a cream pitcher filled with candy canes.
Wooden dough bowls: Whether it's an antique or a reproduction, wooden dough bowls make fabulous gifts because they are versatile and unique. You can place these long, narrow wooden troughs at the center of a table and fill with seasonal fruits, use them atop armoires holding seasonal foliage or tuck them into bookcases for rustic texture. My customers are so wild about them that the bowls are flying out the door.
Matelasse coverlets: Why not give your loved ones the gift of warmth this season? Matelasse coverlets are my favorite throw blankets because they are lightweight yet warm, add a touch of classic style with their beautiful topstitching, come in wonderful colors and patterns, and are easy to care for. The more you launder them, the softer they become.
Aprons: I am so crazy about cute aprons that I almost want to learn to cook just so I can wear one. If you have a chef on your gift list, spoil her with an apron. Get her a cute new one made of bright fabrics, or hunt for a vintage apron at a flea market. You can make the apron even more special by having it monogrammed with her initials.
Glass decanters: When I saw how a friend used a gorgeous crystal decanter to hold kitchen soap by her sink, I was so smitten by this fun and frivolous idea that I went home and copied it. Whether it's made of cut crystal or simple glass, your friends can use decanters to hold mundane stuff like liquid laundry detergent, cooking oils or mouthwash, in style.
Cast-iron planters: Instead of stuffing inexpensive gift baskets with goodies for your friends, use cast-iron planters. I've fallen for beautiful cast-iron planters that are reproductions of antiques because they are super-inexpensive, display gifts wonderfully and can be reused in your decorating. Think of the planters as gift boxes, and fill them with things like note pads and pens, spa products, a rosemary tree, or even fresh fruit or baked goods.
Nell Hill's O Christmas Tree: A must-have for those who love to decorate, this book is so much more than a holiday decorating how-to. It's filled with lots of ideas that will help you dress your home with winter charm. You'll enjoy the sumptuous photos and simple how-tos, like making beautiful wreaths or decorating your Christmas tree like a pro.