The Best Designed Gifts We Got For Christmas This Year

What does a bottle of gin, a chicken roasting pan, a fountain pen, and a bottle of mayo have in common? They’re all brilliant design gifts.


“Get anything good for the holidays?” It’s a question everyone hears dozens of times the first day back after Christmas break, and we here certainly no exception. So why not tell you, our lovely readers? Here, then, are the best designed gifts we received over the holidays this year. Envy us if you like, hate us if you prefer, or maybe just bookmark this page for November 2015, when you’re going nuts trying to think of that perfect design-y gift. These are the ones that made an impression on us last year.


Nike’s AW84 Flash hat

So the best designed object I got for Christmas is , which is a five-panel hat made entirely of 3M reflective material (or whatever Nike’s equivalent of that is). Its theoretical design virtues are that the material helps make runners more visible to drivers while running at night, but I love it because the shimmer will unexpectedly catch your eye in normal scenarios, and if you take a flash photo, the hat comes to life, and is a great way to mess with your friends’ party pics. – Adrian Covert, news editor


All-Clad Roasting Pan

Thanks to the fact that I easily have the most discerning, thoughtful wife in the world, I’m actually hard pressed to name the single best designed gift of Christmas, 2014. Is it the gorgeously retro, carrot colored Beehouse teapot she got me? The button-cute Laguiole cheese knives? Or hell, get a load of this fucking cocktail muddler made with walnut and a Corian tip, and then tell me I don’t have love in my life.

If I were hard-pressed to name the one gift I received this year that’s better designed than any other, it wouldn’t be a gift from my wife: it’s from my mother-in-law, who finally bought me the All-Clad Roasting Pan of my dreams. The thing about this pan is that, as soon as you hold it, you realize you are holding something that you will pass down to your children. Something so impeccably designed and constructed that it will never break, never fail, and is all-but-guaranteed to outlive you. It’s made of about a quarter inch of brushed stainless steel all around, and that’s it: there are no possible fail points. Its shape is sinuous and beautiful. It looks like something that would look as good in your grandma’s kitchen as Jony Ive’s. I can’t name a single object in the rest of my house that makes me feel so assured in its quality. – John Brownlee, staff writer

Mark Wilson

Koval Gin

My wife gave me a bottle of gin from our neighborhood distillery, Koval, which is one of the few legitimate small batch craft whiskey distilleries in the U.S. I actually haven’t cracked the bottle yet because I’m so in love with the packaging–an intricate gold foil weave that both catches the light and frames this otherwise invisible liquid product. It also happens to be a small 200 ml bottle. And if you aren’t a sucker for tiny bottles of booze, you and I can never be friends. – Mark Wilson, senior writer

Sophie Wiener

Handmade Pens

When I received these elegant wood pens from my mother, I assumed she’d bought them in some cutesy boutique in our Northern California hometown. Nope: the pens were in fact made by school children at Petaluma Middle School on a lathe and sold at their Christmas craft fair. I don’t write much on paper, but when I filled out my rent check a few days ago, the pen felt smooth and solid in my hand, and my handwriting was a bit less messy than usual. The next time I’m writing the next great American novel in a fabulously cosmopolitan New York cafe filled with people who think they’re really hot shit, I’ll remember the super cool 14-year-old who made my pen. – Sophie Wiener, contributing writer

Flickr user Phozographer

Kewpie Mayonaise

My friend Erik Freer–a graphic designer whose Walt Whitman-inspired typeface made from photos of naked men was previously featured on Co.Design–gave me my first-ever bottle of Kewpie Mayonnaise for Christmas. I’ve never been charmed by a mayonnaise bottle before, but this one is printed with a little Kewpie Doll logo: a creepy baby with outstretched arms and bug eyes and a pointy mohawk hairdo. I love the packaging: a cellophane bag with a red lattice print and a warning label awkwardly translated from the Japanese (“CAUTION! CONTENT MIGHT SPATTER AND SPOT YOUR CLOTHES WHEN YOU OPEN THE UPPER CAP”). The pastry bag-like squeeze bottle means you can write in elegant cursive with the mayonnaise like piping, if that’s your thing. First made in 1925, this “rare, Japanese, soft-bottle mayonnaise” is made with the somewhat secret ingredient of monosodium glutamate, which is supposedly what makes it tastier than any Hellman’s I’ve ever had–chef David Chang calls it “the best mayonnaise in the world.” – Carey Dunne, staff writer


Lamy Safari Fountain Pen

This is actually something I buy for other people, because I use one all day and have to foist my lifestyle on others: The Lamy Safari is an excellent refillable fountain pen that’s not an overpriced status symbol. Because why mash gummy ink onto paper when you can use a world-class nib to guide ink into the page? – Daniel Salo, photo editor

via Voorhes Photography


The best design-y gift I received was Malformed, a new book by photographer Adam Voorhes, given to me by my boyfriend. Vorhees, who specializes in still lifes, embarked on a visual exploration of a largely forgotten collection of brains from the Texas State Mental Hospital. The rare specimens, suspended in jars full of murky chemicals and kept in a storage closet at the University of Texas, give mental health a tangible, if otherworldly, physicality. Vorhees’s photos, in their high-resolution, almost clinical documentation, show us a side of psychiatry and neuroscience most will never see. Buy it here. – Shaunacy Ferro, associate editor