NEW YORK CITY — I once knew a drippingly wealthy banker who would impose himself on any commodious household in the Hamptons that would have him as a guest.
He was unashamed of his serial impositions because, upon returning home, he would immediately send what he thought was an appropriate hostess gift — a StairMaster.
This, needless to say, was neither an elegant solution to the problem of what to give nor, for most of us, an affordable one.
Here, by way of contrast, are 15 price-conscious and infinitely more gracious choices for a range of situations when you need a thank-you present.
You were a house-guest
The most committed house-guests I know arrive with special snacks, small kitchen gadgets, wildflower seeds, board games or other playful items. But in many cases, one should send along a special present that will arrive after your stay. A case of wine is always appreciated, especially if your friends are in the country and are frequent hosts. But I love having a reason to visit the cutting edge design store, The Future Perfect, on Great Jones Street and now also in Williamsburg.
I've followed Dutch designer, Piet Hein Eek, since I worked for the interior designer, Muriel Brandolini, who furnished grand rooms with his patch-worked wood-scrap pieces. It used to require a pilgrimage to Rosanna Orlandi's incredible space in Milan to visit them, so I was delighted that Mr. Eek now has a dealer in New York in The Future Perfect. His stools ($368 or $468) will come in handy in any room. (I'd put one in the bathroom.) His palm wood baskets start at $129 make great fruit baskets or table centerpieces.
Cutting boards also make great hostess presents. Edward Wohl's beauties, also at Future Perfect, range from $100-$400.
If you're on a tight budget, a thoughtfully chosen book always makes an impact. I love giving books of short stories to place on the bedside table of a guest room. There won't be enough time to read an entire novel, but guests can usually squeeze in a short story or two. F. Scott Fitzgerald's are so enjoyable. Or how about Saki, an English writer who satirized Edwardian society, especially house-parties?
A colleague did you a favor
A colleague helped you get a job, or donated his or her time to a project, and you want to show how grateful you are. If you're aiming to reward industry with luxury, you can always count on Barney's. Frederic Malle's perfumes and colognes are delicious and have thoughtful titles such as "Portrait of a Lady" ($325).
Lately, I've been in the mood to give bookends. Barney's has two marvelous pairs of giraffes: one glass by the Italian company Spisani for $365, and one leather by the sprightly Zuni for $118. (I love the crocodile as well.)
If it was a small favor, and you want to send an instant token of appreciation, send the digital gift of the new Liberty magazine collection for Kindle. Liberty was one of the great magazines of the early 20th century, with a weekly circulation of 3 million. Now the personal essays by historical figures have been republished, and you can read Babe Ruth on feeling like a has-been, or Gandhi on his sex life.
A friend lent you their beach house
If you need a gift that's beach related, there's Warm, my new favorite store.
Over the new year I was the guest of friends who recently opened a small resort in Bequia in the Grenadines called Sugar Reef. It was like a dream, and I wanted to give something extra special. At Warm, I discovered photographer Martin Parr's Aperture book Life is a Beach, which are photographs he's taken from beaches around the world, and I also found Hotel Il Pelicano.
I fell in love with Alicia Adams' Alpaca creations — the linked pillows for around $255 have beautiful weaves, soaps are covered in alpaca for gentle exfoliation at $18, an Alpaca stuffed toy is $184 — and all come from her Alpaca farm. Someone in my life will be getting the Hole In My Pocket Ship Crew Russian dolls, which includes the Captain, the First Mate, the Mechanic, the Cook, the Cabin Boy, The Ship's Dog and a Sea Gull, made by Scotsman Allistair Burt.
The challenge is to get out of Warm's Mott Street storefront without a gift for yourself. I failed. I know I'll eventually find a use for my new Kate Moss paper dolls and Ryan Gosling coloring book.