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Our Holly Jolly Gift Guide

Just like last year’s roundup of budget-friendly holiday gifts, we’re back to share what tickled our fancy this year. So we set off to three mainstream stores that hopefully many of you have access to (if not there’s always online ordering) and snapped a few pics of our favorite non-fund-depleting finds. The best part is that many of them can be had for just a few dollars and nothing in our roundup is over the 20-something range. Plus some of these items can be adapted or DIYed so you can whip them up for even less at home. Doesn’t that put some seasonal spring in your step? So without further ado, here’s what made us want to rent a Santa suit and utter “ho ho ho” to anyone who would listen…

First we stopped at Crate & Barrel since they’re always a great place to sleuth out pretty glassware, bud vases, and more on a dime. We always walk into the store assuming that things are in the $50+ range but there are so many amazing items that still look super high-end but can be snagged for just a few bucks. Like these stemless wine glasses for example. At just $2.50 a pop you can grab a set of four for $10 and just pick up a bottle of bubbly or cider to round out the gift in under $20. Plus C&B will wrap everything up so nicely for you (in tissue and a chic Crate & Barrel box for free) that we guarantee your giftee will never guess that you only spent a few bucks on each wine glass. Bonus- they’ll think of you every time they share a toast. Plus you can even etch them with a custom monogram for a DIY spin that’s super personal and sure to be appreciated.

These festive under-$5 mugs would make great little gifts full of hot cocoa mix and mini marshmallows or gourmet biscotti. They could even be paired with a tin of fancy tea and an inexpensive tea infusers for a charming tossed-together gift that looks elegant and anything but haphazardly glued and over-glittered.

Then we have these pretty $7 and $10 jars that are made from gorgeous green recycled glass and would look adorable full of homemade cookies (you could tie the recipe on a string around the rim). You can even stuff them with something more personal (like yarn for someone who loves to knit or pretty stationery for someone who sends out frequent letters). We’re always a fan of presents where the packaging isn’t tossed away and actually serves as part of the gift- and these containers would be amazing if they lived on as chic sugar or flour containers on a kitchen counter.

And if the jar-o-cookies thing is a bit too tried and true for you, this cute little recycled cruet (which is under $6) would be a pretty holiday hostess gift full of some sort of handmade dressing or marinade (again with the recipe tied to the rim, so the giftee can whip it up again and again). Or the lucky recipient can enjoy your gourmet dressing and then choose to use their cruet to store olive oil or vinegar in style for years to come. Again, you gotta love when the package is part of the present…

These pretty little $3.95 birch-wrapped votives were so natural and cozy that we instantly fell in love. We could picture one atop a tin of gingerbread cookies for a charming gift that looks and smells as warm and inviting as it tastes. Is there anything better than enjoying gingerbread by the light of the fire- er, candle?

Although the goal was to find as many $5-10 items as we could, these bookends were too cute not to mention. At $29 they shouldn’t totally break your budget, and how great would they be if you gifted them along with one of your favorite reads to a fellow bookworm?

We also loved this trio of small frames for $14.95 (which means they break down to less than $5 each if you separate them). You could frame three memorable photos of yourself and three different giftees to create three personalized presents for under $5 a pop. And they’ll all have heartfelt meaning and some serious style.

We also loved this va-va-voom red bud vase that’s just $8.95. You could fill it with fresh flowers or even pair it with tickets to an arboretum (or anything else that’s flower themed). But it doesn’t stop there, you could also gift it along with a box of red and white striped candycanes or gourmet peppermint candy for a red themed present that’s half edible and half keepsake. And everyone knows someone who proudly proclaims that red is their “signature color.”

These cocktail glasses are even cheaper than the stemless wine glasses we shared above (just $1.95 each) and four of them would be super fun paired with cocktail mix and even one of those sugar-the-rim drink kits for an easily under $20 gift that feels festive and fun.

And not all glasses have to be used for drinking. In fact, we thought these pretty colored glass tumblers (on sale for under $4 each) would make charming little votive holders. Just toss a candle in two or three of them (you could go with one of each color or three of the same hue) and even include another item in that color palette (like a jewel toned table runner for example) to round out the little tabletop decor kit.

And for anyone seeking a slightly more substantial gift for someone special, if that person is a wine lover we’ve got you covered. Who wouldn’t adore this gorgeous, sculptural wooden wine rack that just happens to be on sale for $24.95?

And Crate & Barrel is also great for a few little things that round out a gift that’s almost there but just needs a dash of customization (or even just a little something tucked next to the bow on top of the box). These small leatherbound Sudoku and Word Scramble booklets are under $8 and the chic luggage tags and picture clips are in the $2-5 range so they all qualify as stocking stuffers or gift toppers with more flair than the average checkout-counter find.

Then we dropped in on Pottery Barn which had some really pretty holiday decor (this gleaming moss and ornament filled enclave reminded us of these little moss and ornament decorations that we made last year). Gotta love when natural things like fresh green moss meet seasonal sparkle for an understated and charming effect. DIY alert: you could grab some glitter-spray at any craft store and make your own sparkling seasonal pine cones to add to the mix just like they did here.

But back to the gift guide… sorry for that decorating diversion. We loved these gorgeously European-looking ceramic latte cups, coffee mugs, and cuppuccino cups that range from $8-10 and look so high-end and detailed they’d be gorgeous everywhere from a bathroom full of q-tips to a glass-fronted cabinet in a kitchen. Just like the Crate & Barrel mugs they can be filled with hot cocoa mix and marshmallows or even bags of gourmet coffee or cuppuccino for any coffee lovers out there. Heck you can even toss in some biscotti for extra credit.

And because everyone knows someone glamorous and confident enough to appreciate a $10 faux-fur wine cozy (that’s right, not only do they exist but they made our roundup!), this little sleeve of festive holiday ooh-la-la can be gifted along with a posh bottle of wine or cider. Is it weird that I want to pet it for hours?

For anyone who is a bit more decor obsessed (or even math or science obsessed) one of these elegant hourglasses (the big ones are $18 and the little ones are $9) would make quite a memorable present. Can’t you picture the large one on a cool looking Domino desk and the little one serving as an ultra chic paperweight atop a pile of bills and receipts. Nothing like a little accessorizing to make a stack of unpaid bills look good…

We also especially loved this simple stack of towels bound together with a gleaming ornament, so for anyone who is giving anything that can be folded and corralled with a bit of ribbon (dishtowels? placemats? fabric napkins? etc) channel the PB style gurus and add a little ornament to keep things fun and festive. Again there’s no wasteful one-time-use gift wrap that’ll get all balled up and tossed in the trash- and we love that you can pick an ornament and some ribbon that will work with whatever you’re “wrapping” for a chic little coordinated effect. Note: for more ways to wrap gifts in unexpected ways (that are easy on your wallet) check out this post from last year on the subject.

Finally we slipped through Urban Outfitters since they’re full of hipster-fabulous finds that are quirky, unique and oh so entertaining. Plus they won’t cost you an arm and a leg. First I found these gorgeous ceramic doggy banks (I used to think I only loved white ceramic animals but it turns out I have a thing for black and white ones too!). And at just $18 a pop they’re amazing gifts for anyone who loves dogs, banks, or just having some cool conversation piece on their bookcase or mantel. And they’re actually pretty big too (the photo sort of dwarfs them) so they’re definitely statement-makers for less than 20 beans. And in case it’s not painfully obvious, I want one really bad (are you reading this honey?).

To stick with the ceramic animal theme here for a minute, these $20 cow banks are pretty darn cool too. They’re definitely not for everyone, but you just might know some cute farm guy or gal who would adore one (and you could pair it with a cow creamer or some cow tails to take it even further).

And because we’re both pretty personalization-happy, and John is a lover of all things typography, we couldn’t fail to mention these amazing oversized metal letters that run in the $18-20 range and would definitely be cool gifts for anyone with… oh, a first or last initial for example. You could even get two initials and an ampersand for any paired off friends or relatives that you think would love something so bold and graphic. And maybe we just have babies on the brain, but we’re thinking one (or a collection of a few) would look pretty cool in a nursery too.

They also had these $8 wire letters that make a cool gift for anyone with a modern aesthetic or a love of industrial-chic design (they’d look especially great in a raw studio apartment or loft space). Plus at just $8 for these you could tie one of them to any gift you’ve already wrapped with ribbon as sort of the ultimate gift topper/accessory. They’re pretty darn fun and almost impossible to put down (I had to pry more than one out of John’s hands before we left).

I’m also a big fan of giving a beautiful scarf or a pair of exotic earrings to a good friend or relative, especially if I see something that screams their name. And these textured scarves actually screamed a lot of my friends’ names so I figured they might help you guys find that perfect gift for the fashionable gal on your list, whoever she may be. They’re far more elaborate and posh looking than their $10 price tag, and we also love using beautiful scarves like these as “gift wrap” of sorts, so you could twist them around a sweater or even a clutch with some ribbon and a card and there you have a stylish little gift pack for your fashionista complete with a scarf and another fun accessory.

And last but certainly not least, this $20 jewelry tree was so charming and sweet that we thought it would work for everyone from a coworker to a best friend and even a mother or grandmother. It’s made from white painted metal so it’s substantial and elegant in your hand, and imagine how pretty it would look on a dresser or night table with earrings and necklaces draped over a few of the branches.

So that’s a roundup of all the little tokens of love and friendship that we think could make thoughtful (and affordable gifts) for you and yours. Because there’s nothing like giving a ceramic cow without having to utter “holy cow” when you open your bank statement a few weeks later. Ok, so maybe the bovine joke was a bit of  stretch, but we really hope you enjoyed this year’s little virtual shopping spree with us. And don’t forget to drop in on last year’s Holly Jolly Gift Guide for even more ideas that are as easy on the eyes as they are on the wallet. Happy holiday shopping to one and all!

Note: None of these stores paid us for this mention or otherwise rewarded us in any way. They’re just real places that we actually shop for gifts (in fact we picked up a few things for our family and friends as we went) so they’re perfect sources gift-giving inspiration.



Tackling The Bathroom: Chapter One

As John mentioned on Monday, our full bathroom is in need of the full monty. Sure it’s great from afar…

… but up close it’s a bit more, um, not great. Sadly, after over fifty years of use, the once wonderful black and white basketweave floor tiles are cracked, stained, and worn down beyond repair…

… and the white tiled walls are in pretty scary shape (shattered in some areas and dingy and worn almost everywhere else).

We’re all about saving what you can and working with whatcha got, but in this case we’re sorry to say that after a pretty serious cleaning and recaulking effort a few years back- which certainly tided us over for a while- the time has come to bring the bathroom up to speed. But of course that doesn’t mean that we’ll be bringing in materials and colors that feel all futuristic and out of place in our half-decade-old brick rancher. Our plan is to walk the line between classic and current while choosing tiles and accessories that should fit right in with our 50′s home without feeling “so 2009″ in a decade or so (since we hope to enjoy this new bathroom for at least as long as the old one lasted, which happened to be half a century).

And since we know you guys love the play by play when it comes to our actual planning process, this post is all about the brainstorming and beginning legwork that we put into the bathroom waaay before we even picked up a hammer and got to the smash-em-up demo part. As many of you know, one of our favorite first steps to any makeover is to hunt for inspiration images in magazines and online. We get tons of emails each week from people who just don’t know where to start and we always suggest what works for us: look for rooms that you love and let them be your starting point.

And not just one. It helps to hunt down at least five or so. Sure they might all be a bit out of your price range, but you’ll notice patterns start to emerge as you add more images to your inspiration folder (ex: you’re drawn to white cabinets for example, or you seem to like mosaic tile) and you might even find the “jackpot room” that you can literally follow to the letter if you’d like (grabbing a paint color that matches, choosing similar tile, snagging nearly identical window treatments, etc). And of course you can duplicate the look for less thanks to lots of stores like Target, Z Gallerie, Ikea, TJ Maxx and HomeGoods which carry high-end-esque items that don’t break the bank.

So since we knew a bathroom makeover was in our future for the past six months or so, we slowly but surely built up a little folder of inspiration and recently sifted through it when the time came to settle on tile choices and a color scheme. Here’s the single most inspiring image from our hunt (found on Canadian House & Home’s eye-candy riddled site).

Now at first glance you may laugh because this luxe and spacious floor plan is nothing like our own, but the reason we were so drawn to this room were the mocha floors paired with lots of airy light colors everywhere else. Because our entire house has dark hardwoods (even our half bathroom, laundry nook and kitchen) we loved the idea of carrying the deep mocha tone into the bathroom for a more seamless feeling. No more stepping into a little box of light tile after roaming around a whole house full of mocha flooring. And the bathroom above showed us that you can mix light tile with dark floors for a stunning and open effect. Yes, part of the reason it looks open is because this bathroom is about as big as our entire house, but we’ve learned over the years that contrary to the “lighter’s always looks bigger” rumor, keeping flooring cohesive in a small house makes things flow more easily, breaks things up less, and- you guessed it- can actually make rooms appear more expansive and open because there’s not a hard and fast boundary when you step from one space to another. Plus dark floor tile means dark grout which is a dream to keep clean compared to the white stuff.

So it was settled: we were gung ho about a dark mocha floor. But we didn’t want hardwood in our home’s only full bathroom (tile is notoriously better when it comes to moisture & water- and because it’s the only shower/tub that we have, it definitely gets a lot of use). So we set out to Home Depot and Lowe’s to scope our floor tile options in the dark mocha family. Of course we had no intention of coming home with anything… we were just doing a bit of legwork before possibly checking things out online or hitting up a specialty tile shop. Home Depot had a few basic porcelain and ceramic options in brown-ish tones, but they all sort of mimicked the look of travertine (which is a bit more new-traditional than the classic meets modern effect that we’re leaning towards).

So off to Lowe’s we went. Which is where we literally struck gold. Ok, we did not literally come into a small fortune thanks to discovering gold bars in the tile aisle, but we did find gorgeous mocha tiles (marble ones to be exact!) that were normally over $10 per square foot marked down to $2.50 each in the clearance section. It was love at first sight. And we did save a fortune so we might as well have actually struck gold. Since our bathroom only calls for about 30 square feet of tile for the floor (there are some perks to a small bathroom!) the cost to retile the entire room came in at around $75 (of course we’ll have some other flooring materials to add to that price, but because we’re doing all the work ourselves – well, with the help of John’s dad- we’ll definitely make out like bandits).

But did we just buy 30 square feet of the clearance floor tile? Heck no. We actually employed an old trick from my house-renovation-loving mom and step dad and purchased twice as much tile as we needed. Home Depot and Lowe’s are great about taking back full boxes of tile that have been opened as long as they’re undamaged and not missing any tiles, so my mom her husband always purchase twice as much as necessary when it comes to tile with irregular patterns (like veiny inconsistent marble) because there are always tiles that you love mixed in with oddly spotted or colored ones that you’re less crazy about. And when you have twice as many tiles to choose from, you can hand select the ones you like best and return all the rest to the store unharmed in their original boxes for a full refund. Not a bad system, eh? And it’s totally above board! In fact we’ve heard of many a contractor who does the same thing (and even chats about their approach with store employees as they return half of the tile). As long as it’s undamaged and back in the original box it’s a great way to ensure a floor that you love instead of having to hide a few tiles that you’re less crazy about behind the toilet. Note: buying at least 10% more tile than you need is always a good bet because you might have breakages during installation and will also want to keep a few spare tiles on hand for replacement down the road.

But what about the rest of the room? Well from the beginning we’ve been sold on classic white subway tile for the shower surround (it’ll go all the way up to the ceiling for added height which makes a room feel taller and less broken up). The perks of subway tile are nearly endless. It’s affordable and timeless and perfectly appropriate in a 50′s ranch (in fact the white tile that we’ll be replacing is pretty similar except that it’s square instead of rectangular). And you can’t beat the price. It’s just 21 cents a tile at Home Depot (compared to a few cents more per tile at Lowe’s- yup every penny counts!). And when it comes to the tile you see around the rest of our bathroom (behind the toilet and the sink) we’ll be demoing that out and replacing it with drywall for a less broken up effect so we can paint those walls floor to ceiling in the same tone for a streamlined and open look that’s still totally workable in a bathroom (who needs tile behind a toilet anyway?). Using semi-gloss paint will keep it just as wipe-able as our half bathroom walls (the toilet and sink in there get tons of use and the semi-gloss wall paint is super durable and perfect for the job).

But onto the vanity. From pretty early on we decided that we wanted to make our own using a sturdy piece of furniture like a cabinet or an end table and retrofitting it with a sink and faucet (just like my mom did in her bathroom over ten years ago).

We love the classic lines of a dark wood cabinet paired with a crisp and current clean-lined  sink. And after a full day of driving our bums all over town (we literally visited three thrift stores followed by TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, HomeGoods, World Market, two Pier 1 locations, West Elm, Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel over the course of about five hours) we finally discovered the perfect base for our DIY bathroom vanity. So for anyone at home who wonders how we find what we do, there’s usually a bit of old fashioned legwork involved (and we like to do it all at once in one chunk of weekend time so all of our options are fresh in our minds and we don’t have to spend ten evenings in a row ducking out for a half-hour each night).

But back to the vanity we found after some pretty decent store hopping. We were looking for a very specific size (around 18″ deep , 23″ wide, and 30″ high) so it wasn’t all that easy to find. And of course it had to be sturdy enough to support the weight of a sink full of water and adaptable enough to accommodate the pipes that will need to be integrated into the base. So when we stumbled upon the perfectly sized night table at Crate & Barrel we were both thanking our lucky stars. Plus with a 15% off coupon that we happened to have in the car (tip: keep coupons in the car so they’re most likely always with you- and they don’t clutter up your purse) we snagged it for just $165! Not bad when you consider that many of the wood vanity bases sold at places like Home Depot and Lowe’s are around $500 (which don’t include the above counter sink and faucet, btw) like this one and this one. Heck even this tiny one is $199, so we’re feeling pretty good about our lucky Crate & Barrel find.

And once we add a discount sink that we tracked down (hundreds cheaper than this one from Home Depot) and an affordable ebay faucet, we’ll have a totally customized classic-meets-modern vanity for around $380. Which is cheaper than most of the vanity bases (not including the sink and faucet) sold at Home Depot and Lowe’s! And it’s even more of a deal when you compare it to similar pieces sold for around $1500 at stores like Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware. Crazy, huh?

But enough jibber jabber. Here’s our little mood board of sorts for the bathroom so you can start to see how it’ll all (hopefully!) come together…

1. We plan to bring in soft gray-blues and light taupey-green tones in the accessories and the wall color while the floor is that delectable rich mocha tone and the shower/tub tile (along with the shower curtain) are crisp white for an open and airy feeling. Status: no specific paint colors or accessories have been selected as of yet- we plan to get the tile up before crossing that bridge.

2. Here are our tile choices together (the cheap 21 cent subway tile for the shower walls will hail from Home Depot and the clearance $2.50/square foot mocha marble from Lowe’s will go on the floor). Status: all the tile has been purchased- and our wallet hardly felt it!

3. We searched high and low to find a clean-lined white sink that’s hundreds cheaper than most of the others we hunted down, and when it’s paired with an affordable ebay faucet the savings will really start to add up (without sacrificing an ounce of style). Status: we already received the sink and LOVE IT, and as for the faucet we ended up snagging a similar but less bamboo-ish version right here.

4. Here’s the night table that we’ll be turning into a vanity sink base thanks to the perfect size and sturdy construction (and also thanks to a 15% off coupon that helped us snag it for $165 total). Status: it’s here in a box just waiting to be assembled.

5. We already have an extra long white floor-to-ceiling waffle curtain that we’ll stick with for the new bathroom remodel (you can read about how it came to be right here). And adding some softly patterned towels in taupey-green and gray-blue along with a few accessories, a bit of art, and other finishing touches will really tie everything together. Status: as mentioned we already have the curtain so we just have to grab towels along with accessories after the tiling is completed.

So that’s the plan for the big bathroom overhaul of 2009- and of course we’ll include a big budget breakdown when we actually take things from mood board to reality. We can’t wait to get started and share every detail with you guys along the way. And since we’re all about bathroom steals and deals, we’d love to know what cheap-o projects you’ve completed yourselves. Or what sorts of discounted items and accessories you’ve found that have resulted in a so-fresh upgrade without emptying your piggy bank. Do tell.