For anyone with a keen interest in design, or the discerning eye of a conscientious grown-up, gifting season is an anxious time. That’s because most of the things we get from other people, while well intentioned, just aren’t very nice. Or rather: they aren’t things that will get used, whether they’re as cartoonishly unfortunate as reindeer socks and sweaters, or just unnecessary accoutrements — yet another iPad case, a quirkily colored spatula.
No one, giver nor receiver, wants a gift to be shunned to a corner, quietly racking up dust and First-World guilt. The solution is easy: buy nicer things for the people in your life, and ask for the same in return. Not more expensive things or more uselessly ornamental things. Nicer things: things that have been lovingly, consciously designed to be the best, most functional, most ergonomic things they can be. Things with pedigree. Things that will last for decades, if not lifetimes, because they’re intended to, unlike the stack of mass-produced plastic tchotchkes littering your closets from holidays past. For example: anything on this list right here.
Nick Sadowski Spindent Lamp
Light of Your Life: PTom Dixon needs a break. For a fresher take on pendant lamps, look to Nick Sadowski, a recent grad (as in this year) from the University of Technology, Sydney. His Spindent Lamp, which cleaned up at industrial design trade shows all year, blends anodized aluminum with American white oak in three distinct parts held together without screws or adhesives. That means it’s completely recyclable — assuming you get tired of it, which, given its versatile and minimalist bell shape, isn’t likely to happen any time soon.
Lego Architecture Studio
Armchair Corbusier: A few years ago, Lego introduced its Architecture sets, which let budding young designers recreate iconic Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe buildings. Now, the series has been collated into this 1,200-piece “Studio” set of monochromatic bricks that let you design your own buildings rather than dutifully copying existing ones. There’s also a 600-page studio book with tips from actual architects, architectural teachers and thinkers, effectively a mini-tutorial on design and building principles.
IBM Standard Issue Clock
No Time Like the ’50s: For three or four decades beginning in 1947, every school, hospital, warehouse and gray-carpeted office building in America had one of these clocks hanging on the wall. Now, this once standard-issue timepiece is handmade in significantly smaller quantities in Portland, Oregon, where its true potential as a semi-ironic living room fixture has been fully realized. Perfect for anyone whose own internal aesthetic clock is stuck several decades behind.
Sit, or Stare: The Pollock Chair was first made between 1964 and 1979, and then all but disappeared from our mid-century obsessed minds until this year. Which is great, because it means whoever you’re buying for almost definitely doesn’t have one. Knoll just reissued the piece in classic tubular steel and glossy brown or black leather, and it makes the perfect reading chair or living room statement piece.
Proper Browsing Material: Every coffee table — Noguchi, Eames, Powell or otherwise — needs a good coffee table book. Our picks from this year’s design-centric crop: The Map Design Toolbox, an interactive primer on how to design the perfect visual map; Elements, the 15-volume box set that debuted at this year’s Venice Biennial, which dissects design techniques through architects’ essays and commentary; and Visual Families, which tries to categorize and connect everyday objects through illustration and design. While highly decorative, you can actually read them if you want.
Everlane Twill Weekender
Carry-all: The Everlane Weekender is well known amongst design-savvy Internet aficionados. This year, the LA-based direct-to-consumer studio released a new line of their iconic bags in cotton twill, a subtle upgrade that, in any one of the dozen colorways, makes the bag seem just a bit more grown up. It fits in any carry-on compartment, and looks good on just about any shoulder.
Lenz Pencil Case
Your New Lead Bed: Good design, as we know, is the unselfconscious marriage of function and form. Literal case in point: this pen and pencil case from German leather goods maker Sonnenleder. It’s designed specifically for architects and artists, ready to house all manner of drafting tools with sturdy elastic straps on the inside and vegetable-tanned calfskin on the outside. That leather will develop a patina with years of use — so the more you draw, the better it gets.
Postalco Reversible Belt
Strap Up: These Postalco belts adhere to a Japanese sensibility by way of New York City design — in turn by way of skillful Japanese manufacture. They are unwaveringly austere and refined, with oiled leather (in tan, brown, or black), a square buckle and a single clip. But they’re versatile: easily reversible to show the smooth, flat front or the textured back. And really, who can’t use another great belt?
Oppo HA-1 Headphone Amp
Look Good, Sound Good: Music is a problem for design lovers, largely because most audio equipment (at least within a certain price range) is oversized, ungainly and depressingly matte black. This headphone amp, by contrast, is a welcome addition to any desktop — especially the striking silver version. We won’t dwell on the technical specs — suffice to say, it’s one of the best amps out there. Note instead the clever digital display, which can toggle between spectrum bars and a radial VU meter, seamlessly mixing the best of digital and analog.
Field Notes Colors Subscription
Light Up Your Life: Faithful readers will know Field Notes notebooks; they’re a staple, featuring high-quality paper made in the U.S.A. The Colors series takes note-writing to another level, offering a collection of different colors, paper stocks and limited-edition versions. Subscribers get new notebook sets four times a year — so it’s best for compulsive doodlers and notetakers who are likely to get through their sets at a rapid clip.
Small Cube Terrarium
Get Some Green: Does the person you’re buying for work at a desk? Have a kitchen table? Like plants? Terrariums reached fever pitch a couple of years ago, but they’re still a great option if you’re looking for something non-committal that’s a step up from flowers. These are lovingly crafted by Matthew Cleland on Pender Island, British Columbia, where he builds each plate glass enclosure by hand.
Makr Magazine Rack
Stylish Storage: While every leather goods company these days makes an overpriced iPad sleeve, they don’t all make magazine racks — a tacit admission that the best design is, sometimes, a bit anachronistic. Makr, based in Winter Park, Florida, makes a covetable rack that’s just a wide strap of luxurious saddle-tan Horween leather strung between a powder-coated metal frame: a simple and functional place to stash copies of Dwell and Wallpaper. Hell, you can even keep an iPad in it if you want.