Give Good Design: Metropolis’s 2014 Gift Guide

Our top 35 gift ideas highlight the best in design, fashion, cooking, and charitable causes.

We’ll admit it—this gift guide is last minute. (If you’re reading this, you’re running out of time.) But every well-designed object on this year’s guide, from cutting-edge gadgets to handcrafted classics, is well worth the wait. Many of these items can be ordered now to ensure delivery before Christmas morning. Others, alas, cannot, but we advise that a fantastic gift that arrives late is better than no gift at all. So dive into our gift guide, and start showing your loved ones some well-deserved appreciation.

$50 and Under

Eat and Drink

$50 and Under

Mansion Playing Cards, $20
These should be purchased at the Cooper Hewitt’s new gift shop after a visit to the museum’s recently reopened galleries. The graphics, by New York designers Boym Partners, transform the Cooper Hewitt’s Fifth Avenue mansion into a tableau of emoticons. —Samuel Medina

1968: Radical Italian Design, $51
Maurizio Cattelan might have retired from the art world in 2011, but with collaborator Pierpaolo Ferrari at Toiletpaper, he continues to produce things of beauty. This glossy tome pays homage to Italian Radical Design—the works of groups like Archizoom, Superstudio, Global Tools, and 9999—through a series of photographs that brings the era’s irreverent vibe back to life. Alternately shocking and funny, every page is a plastic surprise. —Avinash Rajagopal

Toilet Paper: Calendar 2015, $25
The Radical™ fun continues with this artfully produced calendar, which follows up on Cattelan and Ferrari’s monograph. The subject matter veers from the Superstudio grids and Calka bureaus, cleaving close to Toilet Paper hallmarks—Pop-Art collage techniques, lurid colors, Surrealist mise-en-scène, high-fashion cynicism. And unlike 1968, it’s SFW. —SM

Snarkitecture Broken Ornament, $45
Ring in the holidays with a bit of the blues. It’ll look great on your Charlie Brown tree—SM

Third Drawer Down Louise Bourgeois Plates, $48
Available in four designs—blue circles, red dots, red curve, and a blue & pink pattern—these china dishes are inspired by the artist’s remarkable fabric scrapbook Ode à l’oubli—Shannon Sharpe

Savora Cocktail Shaker, $40
The perfect present for that loved one who loves to host. For those who love to mix up that signature drink, this striking stainless steel cocktail shaker allows them to show off their style as well as their bartending skills. —SS

Greyston Bakery Brownies, $25
Since 1982, Greyston Bakery has provided individuals in southwest Yonkers, New York with employment, skills, and resources to lift them out of poverty. For $25, buy a brownie gift box from the bakery, which employs and supports Yonkers’s homeless and formerly incarcerated. —Paul Makovsky


Backgammon & Checkers Game Bag, $78
Take this backgammon and checkers game bag on all your travels. It’s handmade in premium navy cotton canvas, with a brown leather drawstring cord. The game board is the package itself—just unroll the bag, take the pieces out, and play. —Paul Makovsky 

The Summit Canvas Bag, $248
Last year, Tim Olmstead, an ex-manager of Barneys, took over his grandma’s company that used to make bags in Lincolnville, Maine. He renamed it the Canvas Bag Machine and relaunched the brand in May. The Summit, is a handmade travel bag with durable construction, rugged cotton canvas, and a roomy interior. It has reinforced stitching throughout and comes with a detachable shoulder strap. —PM

Hard Graft Travel Bag$1092
Having won over aesthetes with its collection of smart phone and laptop cases—crafted from hand-stained, vegetable-tanned Italian leather and pure wool felt—British brand Hard Graft recently released its first edition Travel Bag. While also available in the signature brown leather, we’re partial to the brilliance of the Ocean iteration. —Mikki Brammer

Eleven Plus Bottle Humidifier, $60
An antidote to stuffy hotel rooms, this pint-sized humidifier can be handily tucked into your carry-on. Made from ABS and aluminum, the bottle holds up to 18 ounces of water and can run for eight hours. —MB

This is Ground x Freegums MOD Illustrator, $380
Peruvian-born artist Alvaro “FREEGUMS” Ilizarbe has lent his distinct modern style to This is Ground’s classic leather Mod Illustrator pouch. Tuck your tablet, sketch pad, pens, pencils, and ink inside the Mod for when inspiration strikes at 35,000 feet. —MB

Snowpeak Landbreeze Living Shell Shield Tent, $1196
This tent is the ultimate camping pod. The roomy interiors can be transformed in a dining, living, or sleeping areas. What else do you need? —PM


Shinola Runwell Chrono 47mm, $750
That rare beast, the luxury American-made wristwatch, is making its return at the discerning hands of Detroit brand, Shinola. Entirely hand assembled in the Motor City, this dapper timepiece includes an Argonite 5021 high-accuracy quartz movement that drives the hours, minutes, date indicator, stopwatch function, and multiple subdials. —Mikki Brammer

Aesop Supple Gentleman, $90
The cosmetics company, known for its beautiful stores, pays tribute to those finely crafted spaces with a set of gift boxes called The Guild of Artisans. Each one conveys the essence of a material; The Supple Gentleman channels the luxury of fine leather. The box contains Aesop’s Dispense Coriander Seed body cleanser, the Fabulous Face Cleanser, and Moroccan Neroli Post-Shave Lotion, all designed, ironically enough, to save your skin from a leathery fate. —Avinash Rajagopal

Hermès Le Parfum de la Maison
Trust Hermès to make home fragrances a work of art. Its recently unveiled Le Parfum de la Maison Reverie Collection comprises objets d’art by designer Guillaume Bardet imbued with fragrances by parfumeur Céline Ellena. Each of the five scents carries its own (at times esoteric) story, and takes the form of candles, a ceramic origami horse, and a ceramic pebble. —MB

Proper Assembly No. 5 Navy Knapsack, $172
This knapsack is made of tough, durable leather and linen/polymide but is still feather light weight, weighing less than 1.5lbs. An added bonus: In partnership with The Adventure Project, for every bag sold, Proper Assembly will make a contribution covering the approximate production costs of a tote bag used by entrepreneurs in developing countries. —Paul Makovsky

Alpine Headphones, $300
Square earpads, a Star Wars-vibe, and sound that reverberates through your body when it hits that bass—there’s nothing minimal about these headphones. Designed by Lunar, they feature a patented technology that actually uses the structure of the headband to transmit those low frequency sound without damaging your ears. —AR

Battenwear T.S.P. 2 Jacket, $564
Battenwear has a vintage American sportswear look yet all the performance an adventurer needs from well-made gear. The T.S.P. 2 parka will keep you ultra-warm, comfortable, and looking your best no matter where your adventures take you. There are pockets galore to safely stash passports, airplane and train tickets, field notebooks, and pens. —PM


Lumio Book Lamp, $190
This portable light source raised $600,000 when it was successfully Kickstarted in 2013. Now available for purchase, the Lumio isn’t just for book nerds. It doubles (quintuples?) as a table lamp, wall sconce, pendant, emergency light, and outdoor light. Talk about a multitasker. —Samuel Medina

Gramovox Bluetooth Gramophone, $400
What to give to the person who has everything? This nostalgic blue-tooth speaker appeals to all generations with its bold design and vintage sound, which were inspired by the 1920s Magnavox R3 horn speaker. —Shannon Sharpe

Vase by Ben Medansky, $160

This wonky vase seems inspired by a grade-school craft class. The blue “packing peanuts” are actually grips, positioned at different angles that offer several opportunities to hold or prop up the base. The speckled buff clay recalls Memphis, albeit more rugged. Each vase is handmade. —SM

Faribault New York City Vintage Map Wool Throw, $220
Inspired by a vintage street map of New York City (read: Manhattan), this intricately detailed throw is both a work of art and comforting. The throw is made in America from fine Merino wool and just a touch of cotton. —Paul Makovsky

New Friends Mesh Swish
Brooklyn weavers New Friends turn to new textile inspirations this season—Navajo weaving techniques and, in the case of Mesh Swish, Ikat. They put their spin on the ancient technique by painting the dye onto the cotton before creating the loose weave. The fabric exaggerates the effect of handcrafting in a soft, poetic manner—perfect for channeling some tranquility into your space. —Avinash Rajagopal

MASH Studios LAXseries 5 X 5 Bookcase, $1980
Looking for that big impact gift? This solid English walnut bookcase is it. The shelves provide collectors with ample space for displaying anything from books to art to records. —SS

Eat and Drink

Columbia Pepper Mill, $46
The odd construction of this pepper grinder from Fletchers’ Mill may seem a mere case of aesthetics, but in fact it’s very clever—by being stored upside-down, the grinder doesn’t leave peppery residue all over the table. The Columbia Pepper Mill is one of many American-made treasures to be found at the Charleston-based nook, The Commons. —Mikki Brammer

Joey Roth for Blue Bottle Moka Pot, $100
At first it was the experience of tea drinking that inspired designer Joey Roth, who released the minimalist Sorapot teapot almost five years ago. He’s since turned his focus to coffee, collaborating with Blue Bottle to reinvent the iconic Italian Moka Pot, using a ceramic serving chamber and cork handle that remains cool to the touch. —MB

Muuto Push Coffee Maker, $150
A new spin on the French press, this well-wrought coffee maker employs a sculpted stone jug whose shape invites handling and use. Its designer alleges that the Push will elevate “coffee drinking to a higher level”—I wouldn’t know, I don’t even drink coffee. But it seems like an instant classic, and that counts for something. —Samuel Medina

Dana Bechert Coffee Funnels, $1400
At her studio in rural Nottingham, Pennsylvania, Bechert produces vitrified porcelain that manages to be both ornamental and edgy. These coffee-making tools were first dipped in a heavy slip, which was then scratched away to reveal the white clay underneath. The etching process has a functional advantage in the pour-over funnels—a spiral on the inside surface channels the coffee exuding out of the filter down to your cup. —Avinash Rajagopal

Waring Tomato Press, $149
For the person who spends those long winter days creating soups and sauces, you need this powerful tomato press. With a 300-watt motor that quickly separates skin, core, and seeds from juice and pulp, the press can process up to 50 pounds of tomatoes in 30 minutes. —Shannon Sharpe

Cuisinart TOB-135 Deluxe Convection Toaster Oven Broiler, $159
An indispensable tool in the kitchen, this convection oven is the best I’ve seen. It can go from 0 to 400° in a matter of a few minutes, and the Exact Heat sensor keeps an accurate reading on things. Programmed with nine different cooking modes—all easily activated by the electronic dial—the oven can handle any culinary project, from a cake to a roast and everything in between. —SM


Evidence Action
More than 780 million people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water, and every year, more than 3.4 million people die from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. In fact, unsafe drinking water is also a leading cause of diarrheal disease with nearly two billion cases each year globally. Dispensers for Safe Water are a proven, innovative, and low-cost approach to increase rates of household chlorination. The dispenser is a plastic tank with a valve which delivers a precise dose of chlorine into the user’s container, which they then fill from their usual community water source; the chlorine kills 99.99% of harmful bacteria and keeps water contamination-free for up to 72 hours. Dispensers for Safe Water has delivered safe water access to over 2 million people, with a goal of 25 million in sub-Saharan Africa by 2018. (They currently work in Kenya, Uganda, and Malawi.) In 2015, it will cost around $0.90 per person per year for access a chlorine dispenser provided by Dispensers for Safe Water, but the price will drop to $0.50 per person per year when the program is operating at full scale in three years time. —Paul Makovsky

First Book, $50
The nonprofit organization connects book publishers and community organizations to provide access to new books for children in need. Give one child twenty books for a year today. —PM

Cure Violence, $125
The Chicago-based organization is focused on addressing violence through an innovative model developed by its founder, epidemiologist Gary Slutkin. For $125, you can fund one inner-city community workshop that engages ten high-risk youth in addressing neighborhood conflicts nonviolently. —PM

Youth Villages, $250
This leading national nonprofit is dedicated to providing the most effective local solutions to help emotionally and behaviorally troubled children and their families. A $250 donation will help give five at-risk young adults life-skills training in personal budgeting, writing resumes, and interviewing for jobs. —PM

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