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Top trends in housewarming gifts

If all your friends and relatives seem to be buying houses these days, you might soon be buying quite a few housewarming gifts. And that raises an important question: what to give?

Presents that are fashionable, fun and perfect for homeowners today fall into two main categories--entertaining and gardening--according to Michelle Lamb, co-founder of Marketing Directions, a home furnishings and color trend forecasting firm in Eden Prairie, Minn.

Gifts for entertaining

In the entertaining category, gifts that Lamb says are currently popular include small vases, mini-tasting sets and Champagne bowls, all of which help homeowners welcome their own guests in style.

Small vases are an affordable choice for gift-givers who have a limited budget, Lamb says.

"Small vases are very inexpensive, and mini-vases, even more so," she says. "I'm talking about something really petite, like a bud vase, nothing arranged. It's the kind of thing that you could put a single daisy in or, done the right way, an orchid."

Mini-tasting sets springboard off the trend of "sampling," says Lamb. Examples include mini-dessert bowls, mini-truffles dishes and mini-cordial or mini-cocktail glasses, all of which can be used to serve small bites or sips.

"It's about variety," Lamb says. "It's about tasting. It's about customizing. Instead of sitting down to four big hors d'oeuvres trays, you sit down to 10 little things you can try. It's a fabulous way to try salsas or salads or shrimp."

Champagne has been served in flutes for decades, but Lamb says bowl-shaped glasses, popular in the 1920s and 1930s, are back in style. She describes the beverage as "celebratory," and the shape as "nostalgic."

"Champagne bowls are beautiful," she says. "They've been off the trend radar for a long time and coming back, they just look great."

If you want to splurge on a very special gift, buy crystal -- Lamb suggests Waterford -- rather than glass.

A less costly idea is a bottle of wine, a choice Lamb says is "never wrong." And if your friends or relatives are generous, you might even get to partake of your own offering on the spot.

Wine as a gift is "an opportunity for people to add to their wine collection or open it the minute that you're there," Lamb says.

Gifts for gardening

In the gardening category, Lamb lists two gift ideas that she says are currently "on trend": garden stakes and wellies.

Garden stakes can be both decorative and practical, she explains.

"They're the kind of things that you can write on: 'here is my parsley,'"she says. "They're for labeling, so the deer that come up on your deck and much the food will know exactly what they're eating!"

Wellies used to be worn primarily as rain gear, but these rubber boots now pop up in gardens as well, and not only in the traditional army green, but also a wild variety of fun colors and patterns, including hot pink, polka dots and rainbow stripes. One place to buy inexpensive fashion wellies is Target.

If you can't find wellies or don't know what size to get, consider gardener's knee pads, pocketed aprons, tools, gloves or a hose and reel as gifts for new homeowners. These traditional presents are still welcome, Lamb suggests.

Practical gift ideas

Personalized gifts can be fine for friends and family, but suppose you need to buy a housewarming present for someone like, say, your boss, whose taste might be unknown to you and difficult to guess. In that case, you'll want to take your clues from real estate agents and mortgage brokers, who give dozens of housewarming gifts every year.

Gary Parkes, a mortgage loan officer at Acopia Home Loans in Woodstock, Ga., says he's given some customers gift packs of specialty beverages, bread mixes, soups, condiments, salsas, desserts and the like, and that such offerings "were very well received." His source is Tastefully Simple in Alexandria, Minn.

Stephen LaDue, a senior loan officer at Prime Lending in Brookfield, Wis., takes an even more practical approach, giving some customers a Home Depot, Lowes or Bed, Bath & Beyond gift card.

"Invariably," he says, "new homeowners will be visiting at least one of those places soon after moving."

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