The Sound of Design
While listening to your tunes, good looks are just as important as the sound, which is why the Samsung DA-E750 (starting at $570) is a must for the audiophile in your life. Probably the sexiest wireless speaker on the market, the DA-E750 is finished in cherry and measures just a tick over 17 inches wide, making it refined and diminutive. A 100-watt vacuum-tube digital amplifier, which is visible on the top through a crystal window, gives the sound a warm, rich quality while the digital precision ensures maximum efficiency. It powers two 20-watt glass-fiber front speakers and a 60-watt down-firing woofer for sound quality rivaled only by its handsome features.
As for connectivity, this speaker has it all. Supporting AirPlay, Bluetooth 3.0 and AllShare, the wireless dock also has WiFi built in, a composite audio input and USB Direct Play, with decoding format compatibility with WAV, MP3 and WMA. For mobile devices and tablets, there is a retractable dock that is compatible with iOS devices (iPhones and iPads) and Samsung devices. For a total home entertainment experience, SoundShare allows for select Samsung televisions to broadcast audio directly through the DA-E750 wirelessly.
When the Weather Inside is Just Right
This gift is for those who are constantly fiddling with the thermostat to find the perfect temp. The Nest 2 Learning Thermostat ($250) is likely the most intuitive device to come to the air-conditioner since, well, the original thermostat. An improvement from its Nest forebear, Nest 2 is compatible with 95 percent of air-conditioning systems, and its design is even sleeker, slimmed down by 20 percent. But the most astounding characteristic about this tiny device is its ability to adapt and learn its user's likes and quirks. By learning these preferences, Nest 2 will adjust itself to a general schedule and habits, like knocking it up a few ticks at night when the feet get a bit chilly. And the system’s software (WiFi connectivity) is a true money-saver. The Enhanced Auto-Away function powers down the AC when it does not detect anyone in the home, the Auto-Schedule learning grade adjusts to user preferences, and the Nest app will turn that tablet or smartphone into a remote.
“Come Drink With Me”
Whiskey drinkers, this one is for you. Whether you are old enough to remember “Ol’ Blue Eyes” or simply believe you were born in the wrong era, Jack Daniel’s memorializes a legend with the special-edition whiskey Sinatra Select ($150). The 90-proof tipple was aged in special “Sinatra Barrels,” which had deep groves along the staves (the long wooden slats of the barrel), exposing the whiskey to more oak and giving it a bolder, smokier taste. The bottle itself has taken on a more elegant look: It's a bit sleeker, has a weighted bottom and boasts an embossed metal shoulder label and a Jack Daniel’s Country Club logo that Sinatra himself created. (He was a big fan of this American icon).
Finding a bottle will prove a bit difficult before Christmas, unless you are headed out to Sinatra’s favorite haunt, Las Vegas, where it is available at the airport’s duty-free store. Come 2013, you can snag a bottle at the more choice liquor retailers.
Old School is Still Cool
Yearn for the good old days before screens became a near constant in your life? Power down and bust out the eraser this holiday season with the Chalkboad Pad ($50), a Peg and Awl design with some serious Old School aesthetic. Made from reclaimed wood from a neighboring furniture shop, bound from reclaimed leather from WW II Spats and gun holsters, and slathered with some chalkboard paint, it looks the part and is just plain cool. For writing, each comes with a Koh-I-Noor chalk pencil, making this the perfect gift for kids and grandparents alike.
The Naughty List
This selection is for the parent with small, unruly children. Timeout can be a handy tool in the parenting playbook, but nothing is quite as annoying as the child who is supposed to be in timeout constantly coming out of his or her room to see if the timeout has expired—it’s a stalling tactic of the crafty. Do yourself a favor and get the Time Out Timer Stool ($99) by Wisteria. This may seem a bit silly tucked in the corner of the living room, but the hourglass in the middle holds approximately five minutes of sand and will let your little ones know exactly when their punishment is up. With a workload of as many as 150 pounds, that unruly teen in your life might think twice before swapping that vodka for water in the liquor cabinet if the threat of sitting on this thing in front of friends looms as punishment.
Do you have a dog whose bark is bigger then its bite? Give your pup a leg up and dress it for the part with this adorable Dragon Dog Hoodie ($34) from Dogo. The wee outfit is perfect for that cowardly lion when the temperatures start to drop. And speaking of lions, if Fido isn’t the dragon type, go with the Lion King Sweatshirt ($34), an outfit that is sure to make your canine the king of its domain. Sizes range from extra small to large breed dogs.
Gardening for Dummies
For those who wish they had a green thumb, you are in luck. The Click & Grow ($60) is the world’s first readily available “easy-to-use electronic smart pot.” It takes caring for the plant out of your hands, watering and fertilizing the seeds into full-fledged oxygen- and fruit-producing plants. This handy contraption could not be simpler; just add batteries, fill the reservoir with water, et voilà: In about two weeks there will be sprouts popping up through the grate. The plant cartridges are filled with soil, seeds and nutrients as well as a special receptor telling the software in the pot when and how much to water. Cartridges ($20) are replaceable, so when the plant is depleted, compost and start again. Click & Grow has three categories of plants: herbs (basil, coriander, garden sage, lamb’s ear, lemon balm and thyme), edibles (chili peppers and mini tomatoes) and flowers (Busy Lizzy, Cockscomb, French Marigold and Painted Nettle), with more on the way.
The Robot Age
The joys of growing older parallel one annoying aspect of suburban life: chores. When I was young, nothing was more dreaded than the weekend bouts of mowing the lawn—and at an acre and a half, I saw it more as punishment than helping around the house. And then one day on a family vacation, we visited Epcot Center and saw magical robots trimming the grass. By George, I thought those clever Imagineers brought about the death of man-powered lawn mowing right then and there. But alas, the trickle-down theory never came about during my childhood.
Now, however, Kyodo America is returning the weekend back to homeowners with its lawn-mowing automaton series LawnBott. These pint-sized rascals can tackle lawns as large as an acre (LB3510; $4,000) to as small as 5,500 square feet (LB1200 Spyder; $1,200). For most, the LB1500 SpyderEVO ($1,800) is just the ticket. Covering as much as 10,000 square feet (that’s nearly a quarter-acre), the LB1500 weighs in at 25 pounds with a mighty three-and-a-half hour working time on a single charge. Its four blades have a cutting width of 10 inches and a cutting height ranging from 1.8 to 2.8 inches. A special docking station allows the little working bot to recharge its batteries automatically, putting an end to your lawn-maintenance days.
In Florida, a proper pair of shades isn’t just a stylish accessory, it’s a necessity. Instead of going the played Ray-Ban Wayfarer route, snatch a pair of Persol Suprema foldable sunglasses in Havana ($360; model number PO0714). These specs ooze a sense of, je ne sais quoi, chicness bordering on off-handed coolness—these would be Jack Kerouac’s shades of choice, understated while maintaining an air of confident independence. What’s more, they fold at the arms and the bridge, making them a true traveler's delight, be it drifting by train or jet-setting to Tangier for a visit with Paul Bowles.
- Pictured: Persol Suprema Havana grey crystal lens. Also available in black.
For Beginner to Expert
This gift is for all my fellow chopstick delinquents out there who, no matter how hard they try, just can't get it together when using those dastardly implements. The Chork ($4 for a set of 12, available in red and black) is an ingenious invention that has the old Spork looking like a chump. Part chopsticks, part fork, all chork, this thing can tackle any and all meals thrown your way, from lo mein to sushi and all points in between.
I like to consider the chork as chopsticks in training. The three-in-one device can be used detached as chopsticks, attached for a cheater version of chopsticks, then, turned on its head for a fork. No matter your chopstick acumen, you’ll be chowing down like a seasoned pro with the chork.