Design New England

Outside-the-Box Gifting


Chalkware is for doodling on blackboards or for building a chalk world.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and, this year, Thanksgiving at the department store of your choice. Ugh. Glad they are behind us. My idea of holiday shopping isn’t fighting the madding crowd for some uber deal on a flat screen or a pair of sox. I like to take my time and look for those special gifts not found in the discount flyers — the right gift for the right person, preferably an item he or she might not discover on his or her own, but will be thrilled I found for them. For instance:


Chalkware. This is the brilliant concoction of Matt Austin, a New York artist, and his brother Clayton Austin, the force behind Boston Ornament Company, the plasterworks specialist extraordinaire.


Oceanic Chalkware was inspired by a plaster scallop shell.

“They were inspired by a mantle I made that had scallop shells in the frieze panel,” says Clayton of the Chalkware kits. “We grew up in an artistic family,” he adds. “I took the decorative plaster route and Matt is a brilliant designer and muralist.” However, we sense from the bits of chalk they made into nuts and bolts, cars, and office building replicas that these siblings are not totally grown up. And are we ever thankful for that. Chalkware is meant for sidewalk drawing, blackboard doodling, or just for display — and play. Each kit is $24.95 at



Junk Drawer is my personal favorite. Sorry, Traffic Jam is not available until February.


Beat feet for growing greenery.

Urban Shoe Pots: Designer Wyatt Little got the idea for these slip cast glazed terracotta flower pots when he spied city workers taking a bunch of shoes off a power line and noticed a small sprout growing out of the muck in one of the sneakers. Now he makes them in men’s size 10, in white, black, and pewter, for $120 a pair. At Room 68, 68 South Street
, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, or


Assembly required is the challenge of the Natural Puzzle.


Natural Puzzle: Billed as jigsaw puzzles for the 21st century by their creators at Nervous System of Somerville, Massachusetts, each one-of-a-kind set is made with custom software that simulates crystal growth to create an organic interlocking pattern. All you need to know is that these imageless puzzles of birch plywood are extra challenging to assemble and naturally beautiful. A veritable petri dish, teeming with pieces resembling algae, diatoms, radiolarians and other minuscule creatures, they are 7¾ inches in diameter and $55. A mesmerizingly colorful version called Radial is $65. Both at Room 68.


Find your way around with this laser cut map of the Hub.


You Are Here: Boston’s unique geography is depicted in this beautiful, modern interpretation of cartography. The 8-inch-square map backed by a bright hue or neutral color of your choice is framed in a 1-inch-deep black shadow box. Other cities are also available from CollectedEdition, but Boston you’re my home. $70 at CollectedEdition’s etsy shop.


Massachusetts laid out in Mayflowers.

Mayflower Print: “Where flowers bloom so does hope.” That quote from Lady Bird Johnson inspired Kristen Ley of Thimblepress to launch a series of letterpress prints representing each of the 50 states and their state flowers. Appropriately enough, Massachusetts has the trailing Trailing-Arbutus, more commonly known as the Mayflower, as it floral symbol. Color schemes are based on the flower’s natural tones, in this case green. Prints are 11 by 14 inches and $25 at Ley’s etsy shop.
Great design is always at your fingertips — read the November/December 2013 issue online!

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