L.A. at Home

Design, Architecture, Gardens,
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Category: Gifts

Small speaker reviews: Wireless, rechargeable and just plain cool


Big Jambox

Small Bluetooth speakers 2A ton of sound from a box that's less than a pound? It's possible. We tested eight small speakers in hopes of finding the perfect piece of portable audio: small size, dynamic audio, rechargeable battery and Bluetooth technology for wireless music controlled by phone, iPad or laptop.


Small wireless speakers

We cranked up the new Big Jambox, pictured above, the upsized version of the impossibly small original Jambox. We also tested the new Bose SoundLink, the new Soundfreaq Sound Kick, plus offerings from SuperTooth, JBL, Geneva and Tivoli.

With suggested retail prices from about $100 to $300 (and sales prices readily available), we're thinking Father's Day present, perhaps?

Photo credit, top: Jawbone

Photo credit, right: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times


Long Beach shopping: Cool finds in Bixby Knolls

Long Beach Pixie Toys
Long Beach shopping used to mean upscale 2nd Street in Belmont Shore or the vintage clothing and home décor on 4th Street’s Retro Row, but locals know the biggest surprise lies in Bixby Knolls. The neighborhood to the north has been quietly amassing a collection of interesting shops, galleries and restaurants.

Long Beach Paper CrewWell, maybe not so quietly. On "First Fridays," crowds take to Atlantic Avenue — on foot or by red double-decker bus — to listen to live music, dine on Thai or Lebanese cuisine, and browse stores for antiques and other home furnishings, toys, stationery, clothing and dog treats late into the evening. (That's Paul Alicante, at right, with the letterpress at the Paper Crew.)

PHOTO GALLERY: Bixby Knolls in Long Beach

Atlantic Avenue is home to most of the action, but shops are popping up on nearby Long Beach Boulevard as well. Within the last year, Urban Cottage (home decor), Lucy’s Boudoir (retro-style lingerie) and Salvage Life (Taylor Swift wears its frocks) have opened. Bike lovers can go slightly farther south for the latest on two wheels at Long Beach Cyclery.

Bargain hunters take note: Many eateries and shops in Bixby Knolls participate in Bike Saturdays, a Long Beach program that includes discounts or deals to those who pedal in. Look for the Bike LB decal in the window. The Factory restaurant will give 20% off food any day you bike there. Here's a sampling of what else is out there:

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Mother's Day gift ideas: The perfect day in bed

Unison vases Eva Solo tea bag Anthropologie pillowWhat does a busy Mom want most? We’re guessing more than a few votes would go toward a perfect day in bed — no work, no worries. We’re not saying you’re a headache, but … what mom wouldn’t love fresh flowers placed bedside in a novel vase? Or fine tea steeped in a clever gadget she can use for months to come? There is joy in the find that Mom might not buy for herself.

Stress-ease-comfort-pillowFor ideas, click through our finds for that indulgent days of rest and relaxation:

PHOTO GALLERY: Mom's perfect day in bed

One pick not in the gallery: The Stress Ease Comfort Reader Pillow, designed by Dr. James B. Maas, a retired Cornell professor and sleep expert, and produced by United Feather & Down. It provides lumbar support with fill that is 90% gel fiber and 10% Tencel Lyocell, plus separate hot and cold attachments and -- most important -- no ugly wrap-around arms, like the kind found on so many reading pillows. It's $49.99 from Bed Bath & Beyond.


Inside Out Costa MesaA new Shop Central in Costa Mesa

The emerging scene in Highland Park

Uptown Design District in Palm Springs

Photos, clockwise from top left: Flat-packed vases. Credit: Unison. Dishwasher-safe stainless steel and silicone bag for loose-leaf tea. Credit: Eva Solo. Fleece Flounce pillow. Credit: Anthropologie. Stress Ease Comfort Reader Pillow. Credit: United Feather & Down.

The Rose lily: An Easter tradition gets a blush of color

Rose lilyFor flower lovers who thought the traditional white Easter lily had become as ubiquitous as the poinsettia at Christmastime and run its course as a holiday hostess gift, the lily world is introducing a hot new hybrid this year: the Rose lily.

"Instead of six petals like you'd typically see, this one has 20 petals or more," said Lane DeVries, chief executive of the Sun Valley Group, which is based in Arcata, Calif., and grows lilies by the hundreds of thousands on its farm in Oxnard. "It looks as full as a peony or rose."

Bristol Farms stores in the Los Angeles area has bunches of the bodacious flower this week, he said.

You no doubt also will see the traditional Easter lily plant (Lilium longiflorum), which produces up to six fragrant, trumpet-shaped, creamy white blooms arranged around a tall leafy stem.

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Bergamot Station developer plans craft marketplace in San Pedro

Crafted rendering

As dreams go, it’s a big one: 550 artisans filling 135,000 square feet of warehouse space with handmade glass, locally crafted furniture, felt hats, carved leather accessories, artisanal foods and more — a mega mash-up of foodie market and hipster craft fair, all in one place. That is the vision for Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles, which aims to parlay the popularity of modern “maker” events, such as the semiannual Unique L.A. and Renegade craft fairs, into a permanent marketplace filling two 1940s warehouses in San Pedro.

Crafted rendering Lest cynics think the concept seems overly ambitious, the project’s driving force can point to a track record: Crafted is the brainchild of Wayne Blank, known for his transformation of an old Southern Pacific rail yard into the successful Bergamot Station Arts Center in Santa Monica.

Blank’s partners are real estate developer Howard Robinson and designer Alison Zeno, who intend to fill their warehouses with 10-by-10-foot stalls complemented by specialty food carts in the adjoining courtyard every weekend.

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Tales from the gift closet

Admit it. You’ve got one. The gift closet. The holding cell where the less-than-ideal presents are stowed for regifting later. The staging ground for clearance purchases that could not be resisted (but should have been). Or, if you’re a particularly thoughtful or generous or organized gift giver, perhaps just a great place to hide your finds from throughout the year.

On Christmas Eve, as gift-shopping procrastinators grow ever more desperate, perhaps someone in your home will be madly searching for something — anything! — that might do the trick.

Even if you don’t have a gift closet — or box, or drawer, or bin — chances are you’ve received a lovely (or not) gift-closet present from somebody else. Though that might earn the disapproval of Lizzie Post, great-great-granddaughter of etiquette doyen Emily Post, whose Tip No. 1 is “Don't put gifts people have given you into your gift closet,” party planner Colin Cowie sees it another way. He once he gave a bottle of Penfolds Grange Hermitage, an Australian wine that runs into the hundreds of dollars. “Two years later, she gave it back,” said Cowie, who believes there is nothing wrong with regifting. “I was so glad to get that wine back I couldn’t tell you.”

For the gift closet pros and newbies alike, we canvassed dozens of folks from all walks of life: Nate Berkus, Jonathan Adler, Bob and Cortney Novogratz, the "Dinner Party Download" guys. We posed the question: What’s in your gift closet? Here's what they all said:

Toni-BraxtonToni Braxton, Grammy winner and star of the reality TV series “Braxton Family Values” (Photo credit: Erik S. Lesser / For The Times):

I always have Starbucks and Target gift cards on hand. I just bought some today! For either $50 or $100. Everyone goes to Starbucks, and everyone goes to Target, so it’s perfect. But I will admit that my stash of gifts does include some regifted items. Those are usually for my sisters. We regift among ourselves a lot. Like recently Lady Gaga gave my sister Tamar two pairs of really nice sunglasses. Well, she says her face is too fat for them, so she gave them to me. But we always reveal the real giver when we regift, so Tamar told me the sunglasses were from her and Gaga.

Carole-TownsendCarole Townsend, author of the humor book “Southern Fried White Trash,” on the worst thing in her gift closet (Townsend family) :

I did not have to hesitate. A boy I dated in college was raised by a great-aunt, and she could not stand me. … They were high-society New York, and maybe they thought I was a Southern bumpkin. … It was a set of salt-and-pepper shakers and a creamer. They were pigs – I was a little chunky in college, and I got the message. Of course, if you used the creamer, it came out of the mouth. And it grunted! … It was the most awful thing. She shopped long and hard for that. Now that I’m 50, I can laugh, but I never got over it. … It’s cheap ceramic.

GarcettisL.A. City Councilman Eric Garcetti and his wife, Amy Elaine Wakeland (City of Los Angeles):

Eric: It’s not really a closet. What would you call it?

Amy: We have gift baskets that we keep filled with small hostess and holidays gifts. They’re in the garage. We probably have about 10 to 20 gifts at any one time. I replenish it when it starts getting low, but I usually don’t buy more than two of any item. Right now, we have: Armenian brandy, Hollywood ornaments, cute little handmade ornaments, wine glass charms, salted caramels and a modernist birdhouse. For kids we have educational toys — like a talking clock, a wind-power renewable energy science kit and a mini-piano. And I almost always have potted succulents or orchids that we use as gifts.

Eric, on the worst thing: There was the home-growing gourmet mushroom kit. It just kind of got moldy when we tested it, so I don't know if any others will ever be gifted.

Amy: There are also bottles of wine in there that sometimes disappear before we have the chance to give them away.

Nate-BerkusNate Berkus, designer and host of “The Nate Berkus Show” (The Nate Berkus Show) :

The contents of my gift closet fall into two categories, staples and vintage. The first are items that are evergreen when it comes to gift-giving. Beautiful bars of soaps, candles (both wick and flameless) frames, simple Turkish hand towels. They're the gifts that work for nearly any occasion and cater to the details of living beautifully. The second category of vintage is comprised of what I love but have outgrown from my own house as well as flea market finds that I hauled home but didn't find a place for. In other words, they're things that I love and could be the perfect gift for the person on your list.

You perfect the art of the gift closet not by what's in it, but by simply having one. In other words, a gift closet means avoiding the headache of having to rush to the mall on the way to your next dinner party, running from store to store trying to find a hostess gift. You're prepared. Now, all you have to do is open the door at the end of the hall. Problem solved.

I'm obsessed with order. So, if something’s been lurking for too long in my gift closet, then you can bet it goes in the charity bin well before its expiration date!

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Do-it-yourself projects, by the book

DIY book collage
DIY craft books have been landing fast and furious this year, many in time for do-it-yourself holiday splendor. But are the projects really as easy to make as the authors say? Do the decoupaged chairs and stenciled lampshades and concrete candleholders really turn out as well as promised — well enough to be deployed as holiday décor or given as gifts? We put three books to the test (see links at the bottom of the post) and wanted to point readers toward other books that might make nice gifts for the DIYer:

“Vintage Craft Workshop: Fresh Takes on Twenty-Four Classic Projects From the '60s and '70s” by Cathy Callahan, better known to shoppers of L.A. mod craft fairs as Cathy of California. Think macramé plant hangers, papier-mâché gift boxes and bottle wind chimes for the Highland Park vintage vinyl crowd. Chronicle Books, $19.95.

“Stencil It: 101 Ideas to Decorate Your Home, by Helen Morris. A rundown of techniques as well as ideas for stenciling drapes, lamps, tables, walls, pillows and more. For those who need more hand-holding, the book provides 15 stencils — dogs, agapanthus flowers, even babushka dolls. St. Martin's Press, $29.99.

"State of Craft," edited by Victoria Woodcock. In sifting through books and identifying projects that readers could pull off quickly, the Home crew set aside ideas that we hope to tackle later. Chief among them: a decoupage children's chair in this book. Cicada, $19.95.

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Palm fronds recycled as do-it-yourself succulent centerpiece

The fallen palm fronds left from recent winds haven't been a nuisance for master gardener Jill McArthur. Armed with a pruning saw, the Glendale garden designer has been recycling the fronds as arresting table centerpieces using succulent cuttings.

Palms DSCN1940McArthur likens the fronds to fallen fruit: "They are all over the place," she said. "I find them when I walk my dog. I try to find different things to do with them."

To create a centerpiece, McArthur first looks for a nice line. If a frond is too large, she puts it in her car and cuts it down at home. She then sprays the hollow surface with a low-VOC clear sealant so water won't leak through to the table. Next she adds cactus soil mix and succulent cuttings to make a low-maintenance, low-water arrangement.

The palm fronds, which can be as long as 12 feet, form "fabulous boats" that look great on a long table or a mantel. She also likes to pair two boats, as shown at the top of the post.

"The plants seem to be very happy," McArthur said. "You can trade succulents in and out. They are strong and not heavy, so they are easy to transport. The natural tone of them is so beautiful -- the brown is fantastic. I personally like the ragged edges of the smaller ones. The whole point is for them to look like found objects."


Crafty little cupcake pots  

Do-it-yourself floral luminarias  

Live succulents as Christmas tree ornaments

How to prevent toppled trees, dispose of palm fronds

Should palm fronds go in the green waste bin or the trash?

-- Lisa Boone

Photo credit, top and bottom: Deidra Walpole

Photo, middle: Windstorm-blown palm fronds on a Pasadena street earlier this  month. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times


Digging into the gift closet for last-minute presents

Last-minute presentsWe've been asking all sorts of people -- city officials, musicians, chefs -- whether they keep a little storehouse of just-in-case presents (or things they plan to regift). Their answers are coming later this week on L.A. at Home and in Saturday's paper -- just time for people who are still shopping.

All year, I squirrel away gifts for no one. Or anyone. So I’ve got a big drawer full of earrings, scarves, cool dishes -- honest, you can’t tell they’re seconds. There are toys that never seem to be exactly right for any kid I know. Clever dish towels. And when we travel abroad, I bring home a dozen of this or a handful of that -- you never know, right?

Last-minute presentsCome December, I pile it on the bed and sort it out. And there are always treasures I’ve found over the years that I’m thrilled to give to friends and family. Often, I’ve gotten a lot of my shopping out of the way.

I admit it doesn’t always work out. I finally got rid of the last of the Russian trinkets -- and my family left there in 1999. (There's a hand-painted bowl at the top and a box above.) Don't ask about China; we were there just a few years ago. And there was a time when my sons would holler, “Nooooo, not something from that drawer,” whenever they needed a birthday party gift.

What about you? Any secret stash of would-be presents lurking in your home? Let us know about the gold and the coal you've got stored away by writing in the comments section or emailing us at home@latimes.com. We'd love to hear from you.


A sharp-looking gift: a good knife

A light-hearted gift: DIY candlesticks

A gift of pot: Quirky concrete planter

-- Mary MacVean

Photos: Sam Landsberg

Her gift to her 90-year-old dad: a trip to the strip club

Strip Forty Deuce Hollywood
I confess. I took my 90-year-old dad to a strip joint as a present. It wasn’t my idea; I have a crazy friend who dreams up stuff like this. But it turned out to be one of the silliest and most memorable things I've ever done. Though people may cringe at the very thought of a strip club, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend the outing for everyone, there’s something to be said about the benefits of laughter and about celebrating holidays and birthdays with gusto, regardless of age. Creating memories is wonderful, even if some of the people involved end up forgetting the experience by the next day. (That was sort of a joke.)

A friend of mine who loves extreme celebrations hired a high school marching band to parade around her dad's nursing home playing “Happy Birthday” and other sprightly party tunes. She gave out kazoos to residents so they could play along. Her only regret? She forgot to make a video; she thinks it would have been funny enough to go viral.

Another friend organized his family into an acting troupe and performed a vaudeville show at his mom's senior center as a Christmas gift. The audience laughed uproariously — mostly because the group was so bad.

Not everyone can pull off a vaudeville show or afford a marching band. But we all can still plan a special celebration. One woman I know made short video clips of friends telling their favorite things about her dad. She played it at his birthday. It revealed the kind of sentiments that unfortunately aren't usually heard until a funeral. In this case, her dad got to enjoy the words of praise and laugh along at the jokes and stories people told about him.

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