creative gift wrapping

A simple wrapping can communicate a lot of thought, like this one, layered in newspaper, patterned paper and string. (Image via

A couple of years ago, around holiday time, I took a virtual online tour of Candy Spelling’s Holmby Hills Mansion. With 123 rooms and 52,000 square feet of space, the Spelling Manor featured a bowling alley, two parking lots, a tennis court, a screening room and, last but not least, three rooms devoted to gift-wrapping. Larger than most one-bedroom apartments, the rooms were extravagantly equipped with floor-to-ceiling racks of gift wrap in every pattern and color, a shrink-wrap machine and stacks and stacks of neatly organized ribbon. The smallest of the three rooms, Candy told us, was for everyday gifts; the largest, designated exclusively to the wrapping of Easter presents.

Unlike Candy Spelling, I usually find myself crouched in some corner of my apartment on the night before a birthday or holiday, pieces of misplaced tape stuck to odd parts of my body, frantically covering boxes in newspaper or tinfoil. That said, I do make a stab at thoughtfulness, always determined to find the perfect present—one that weds purpose with meaning.

Of course, compared to Prometheus, who snuck up to the summit of Mount Olympus to light a torch from the sun, gifting fire to mankind, or Tisquantum, also known as “Squanto,” a native American who buried fish skeletons in arid soil, thereby gifting the Puritans the wonder of fertilization, my own attempts at meaningful gift-giving might seem relatively inadequate. To quote from Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, a meditation on the psychology behind the art of the gift, and hailed as a modern classic: “The gift and its bearers share a spirit that is kept alive by its motion among them, and which in turn keeps them both alive.”

How, then, to offer a gift so that it lives on and thrives in the hands of the gifted?

Presentation adds another layer of meaning; if done right, it shows care and creativity. Whether a swatch of beautiful fabric, or a vintage poster of the person’s favorite band, the wrapping can be as curated and thoughtful as the gift itself. Try something a little unexpected: rather than reds and greens, go for softer pastels; trade pre-made paper wrap with cloth or a custom-printed paper (which you can stamp, collage, etc.); switch your plain cardboard box for a wooden crate, mason jar or re-usable canvas bag; make the finishing touch with natural twine or fabric ribbon for added texture. If you really want to go the distance, try your hand at the ancient craft of Japanese origami folding—an art that extends far beyond your typical paper crane. (For the less meticulous-minded, a furoshiki cloth securely holds your gift in a simple, elegant way.)

But, of course, what is most important is that your gift comes packed with intention: a compass for a friend chartering new territory (geographically or otherwise); a pocket knife for the outdoor explorer at heart; a watch fob for the most punctual of people you know…

Ultimately, gifting is not about building whole rooms dedicated to the task of wrapping them, or hiking up Mount Olympus to change the world (although burying your gift like a treasure is an inspired take on gift wrapping). Instead, the act of giving should come as naturally as a celebration of human interaction. The most memorable gifts, whether wrapped in faded but meaningful newspaper or tied with an elaborate bow, are, as Hyde puts it, “kept alive and enjoyed once outside the box.”

Image from 

How do you choose, wrap and give your gifts to show a little extra thought and care? 

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  1. Ina
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 7:28 PM | Permalink

    For people like dad, who's a dedicated student of atlases and such things, I wrap gifts in outdated road maps. Sometimes the location is random, and sometimes I select a map that pokes fun a little (like a Wisconsin map for a diehard MN Gopher fan when a border battle's on the horizon).

  2. alexredgrave
    Posted December 15, 2014 at 1:27 PM | Permalink

    Love that idea, Ina. Thanks for the tip!