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Outside The Gift Box 

Alternative Ideas For Wedding Presents

Wedding gift registries came into being for a good reason. In addition to ensuring that the bride and groom receive things that they will treasure and use -- no mistakes, no returns and no multiples of the same item -- they help the gift-giver save time and avoid confusion. But for close friends and relatives who know a couple well, thinking outside the box and off the registry when choosing a wedding gift can produce equally satisfying results. An unusual gift that's tailor-made to the interests, tastes and even family histories of the intended brings with it the element of surprise and shows that the person behind the gift went the extra mile to show their love by doing something different and memorable. Here are a few of our favorite suggestions for doing just that. Auctions Auctions can be a creative and surprisingly affordable way to buy unique wedding gifts. Because of the way auction houses structure their commission, items valued under $500 are sold in groups, or lots, which means they often can be purchased at considerable savings. "Auctions are a great way to make a killer investment on something that's functional and beautiful," says Ruthie Winston, director of business development at New Orleans Auction Galleries, which has two locations that each host six auctions a year. "There is truly something for every pocketbook."

An auctioneer and independent appraiser with more than 20 years experience in the field, Winston recommends antique crystal, silver, china and linens as just some of the auction house properties "that fall into the perfect wedding gift category." Miscellaneous pieces of late 19th and early 20th century silver flatware (olive spoons, cold meat forks, cheese knives and the like) -- a hot commodity since the beginning of the new millennium -- frequently can be purchased in three- to five-piece lots for about $75 to $125, and then given individually as wedding gifts. Buying the right pattern is usually not an issue, because most people mix patterns when collecting serving pieces. On the other hand, if it's a particular pattern you seek, you may want to watch the auction house's catalogs or let it know what you are looking for (most auction houses keep wish lists) as they may come up at auction as well.

Some items, like estate jewelry and diamonds, are perhaps best suited to the engaged or newlywed couple who's looking for gifts for each other. But paintings, furnishings, letters and other objects with a personal or family connection also make extraordinarily thoughtful wedding gifts. At one of New Orleans Auction Galleries' most recent sales, Winston recalls a young woman and her mother bidding purposefully on several items. As it turned out, the woman, a bride to be, was trying to buy her fiancŽ something being sold by his relative's estate: an historic letter with his great grandfather's signature. Such a one-of-a-kind family heirloom would be valued not only by the recipient but by future generations to come.

Gift-Of-The-Month Clubs
Once the excitement of the wedding fades and the newlyweds settle in to their new life, a gift-of-the-month series -- flowers, cheese, beer, wine, fruit or some other variation -- is one way that you really can bestow "a gift that keeps on giving." All of the above can be found on the Internet by searching "gift of the month."

If a full year of monthly deliveries is too much for your budget, some vendors offer three- and six-month selections as well. Try adding a personal touch by taking this idea to your favorite local stores -- a floral designer, wine merchant or other business that is accustomed to filling special requests for clients -- and, as always, be sure to consider the interests and lifestyle of the newlyweds for whom you're shopping. Flowers might be especially fitting for those who entertain regularly or for a new husband to give to his bride, while wine is the obvious choice for a couple of newly hitched oenophiles.

"Multi-gift purchases like this can be costly, but working with a retailer you know has its advantages," says local floral designer Stephen Sonnier of Dunn & Sonnier. "A client of mine can specify things like the type, colors or theme of each arrangement as well as special days for them to be delivered."

Travel Amenities
For couples with ambitious honeymoon plans, the gift of travel amenities -- dinner for two, a scuba diving excursion, a tour guide for a day, a room upgrade, an onboard cruise credit, or a night at a luxury hotel before they leave for their honeymoon the following day -- is becoming a popular choice. While a weekend getaway for the couple could be difficult to arrange if you don't know what dates work for them or how they like to travel, investing in a trip they already have planned, such as the honeymoon, is a no-brainer.

Designer Travel, a local travel agency that regularly books honeymoons, has a Web site (www.brennantravel.com) that shows couples how to create their own honeymoon registry. Even those couples who don't have such a registry will appreciate the finer things while traveling. "It allows people to have a few of the extras they may not be able to afford otherwise," says Marie Lowe, owner of Designer Travel. Because the travel agent who helps the couple with their honeymoon already knows what kinds of things they like and has necessary information such as reservation codes, Lowe recommends that people who want to apply a gift toward the honeymoon call the agency that booked it.

Interior Design Or Architecture Consultation
If you know that the couple is thinking of redecorating or renovating their new abode, an interior design consultation provides the input of an expert and can actually save money in the long run by helping the newlyweds avoid common pitfalls associated with home-improvement projects.

Both interior designers and architects are trained to deal with issues like space planning and designing new additions. The key is to know whose work the newlyweds admire so there will be a productive meeting of the minds. "I think this is a great idea," says interior designer Heidi Friedler, "especially for someone just starting out."

Friedler uses a consultation or series of consults like this to focus her clients on items that get used most in a couple's day-to-day life, and on the timeless elements of design like quality furnishings that can move from address to address rather than on decorative features like window treatments, which generally don't move from house to house.

Spa Day For Couples
"I always say the only thing a woman likes more than being given a day at the spa is being given a day at the spa with her husband," says Margaret Lippman, special project coordinator for Belladonna Day Spa. Luckily, men don't seem to mind the sybaritic luxuries of a dual spa gift either. Belladonna's menu of services offers two packages that fit the bill nicely for an engaged or newly married couple: the "b together" package, and the "b in love" package, both of which include a Jacuzzi or sauna, a massage, a champagne lunch, plus a makeup application for her and a shave lesson for him.

In fact, most spas are equipped to provide dual services with a bit of advance notice. This is a gift that couples enjoy using either as a way to relax and beautify in the days just before the wedding or as a way to unwind and spend time together after the wedding and honeymoon are over. Think of it as a mini-honeymoon, minus the airfare and travel time.

Plant a Tree, Adopt An Animal, Name A Star
Take a cue from fashion designer Stella McCartney, who asked friends to plant trees instead of buying wedding gifts when she tied the knot. Not only does planting a tree help in the fight against global warming, doing so in post-Katrina New Orleans helps to replace some of the many trees that were lost in the storm.

While a gift like this may seem whimsical at first glance, few things could actually be more practical than appreciating and caring for the planet. Without it, wedding gifts, not to mention weddings, are irrelevant. For more information check out the Web; the Internet is a full of sites devoted to tree planting (www.arborday.org) and other conservation efforts. You also can contact a local park. City Park (www.NewOrleansCityPark.com) maintains a fund -- to which you can donate -- for maintenance of its majestic oaks, and Audubon Zoo (www.AudubonInstitute.org) has a popular adopt-an-animal program that directly supports the zoo's animals and their habitats. Or, if you prefer the cosmic over the exotic, you can have the distinct pleasure of telling the happy couple that their union is now and forever written in the stars (www.starregistry.com), literally.

click to enlarge lim_men-14811.jpeg
click to enlarge lim_men-14811.jpeg
click to enlarge Chinese export blue and white porcelain plates from New - Orleans Auction Galleries.
  • Chinese export blue and white porcelain plates from New Orleans Auction Galleries.
click to enlarge lim_men-14811.jpeg
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