As gift-giving season approaches, I’ve been on my annual hunt for useful and attractive presents made of American hardwood. As always, the range and quality of wood products I’ve been able to find—from graphically inventive alphabet blocks for young children to elegantly rustic picking baskets for grown-up gardeners—is exceptional. Here are six items I’ve put on my gifts list, but there’s whole world of diverse hardwood merchandise waiting for you to discover in stores and online.
Founded in the 1990s, House Industries, a type foundry and design studio based in Delaware, creates wildly inventive typefaces for television (Nickelodeon's TV Land), movies (Mission: Impossible III), and products (Ann Taylor garment tag, Lucky Charms logo). Now you can introduce the youngest member of the family to House Industries’ lively graphic art with Alphabet Factory Blocks. Handmade from replenishable Michigan-grown, kiln-dried basswood and printed with non-toxic, lead-free, child-safe inks, the interlocking blocks are inspired by the original House Industries factory logo and feature letters, numbers, and symbols from the company’s exuberant font collections. Alphabet Factory Blocks, 31 pieces, $70; www.houseind.com
Based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, designers Adam Teague and Tim Paslay have established hardwood as an unexpected and distinctive material for men’s accessories: The inventive duo handcrafts amusingly dapper bow ties from walnut. Laser-etched with a jaunty plaid pattern and accented with a swatch of gray cotton fabric, the woodsy tie has an adjustable elastic band that clips snugly under the shirt collar for a comfortable fit. Etched Walnut Bow Tie, $45. www.uncommongoods.com
Architects have long exploited the pleasing juxtaposition of deep-toned hardwood and pale-gray concrete; tabletop accessory designers, not so much. But IN.SEK, a Brooklyn-based company that designs and makes architecturally inspired home products, has paired the materials to create an exquisite collection of individually cast concrete boxes, containers, and condiment holders with fitted hardwood lids. My favorite is the TRI Sugar/Salt Bowl, a triangular table centerpiece with a hand-cut dark American walnut lid with a natural oil finish. The concrete is treated with a non-toxic food-safe sealer while the wood is finished with natural oil, so the receptacles are as healthy as they are striking. TRI Sugar/Salt Bowl, from $45. www.insekshop.com
For a budding young musician on your gift list, consider a psaltery, a type of zither played with a bow. The psaltery, which dates back to the European Middle Ages and Ancient Greece before that, was traditionally a plucked instrument. The modern American version differs in that the strings are arranged to permit bowing, though the sweet, soft sound it produces certainly evokes the world of the Medieval troubadours. In either form, it’s easy to play, making it suitable for learners of all ages. Handcrafted in Rochester, New York, this attractive bowed psaltery is made of maple and birch. Wooden Bowed Psaltery, $100. www.uncommongoods.com
Who doesn’t like the exhilarating feeling of showering in the great outdoors? With this woodsy shower curtain you can recreate the sensation of lathering up in the middle of a birch forest without giving up the benefits of indoor plumbing. And there’s absolutely no risk of being attacked by a bear. Birch Forest Shower Curtain, $16. www.uncommongoods.com
Woven from strips of New England ash, these gorgeous picking baskets have been handmade by the same company in Peterborough, New Hampshire, for more than a century. Intended for gathering orchard fruit, they serve just as well to fetch produce from the home vegetable patch or roses from the flower garden. But if, like me, you live in a yard-less city apartment, the handsome trio provides useful and attractive storage for all sorts of household items. They can be gently washed with soap and water if they get dirty and restored to full luster with linseed oil if the wood begins to look brittle. Handmade Picking Baskets, $39. www.kaufmann-mercantile.com