Bing bong.

That's the sound of the doorbell as you stand awkwardly on someone's doorstep waiting for them to invite you into their home and join the party. If you're a bit introverted like me, the awkwardness of entering a room full of people you probably don't know is only intensified if you're standing there empty handed.

Not only do I appreciate the ice breaker of offering up a gift upon arrival, I feel the gesture of bringing a gift to thank the host or hostess for their efforts is a must. Previously I've covered ways to spruce up the typical bottle of wine offering to make hostess gifts more special, but today I want to talk specifically about housewarming gifts.

So what does "proper etiquette" dictate on this subject? Well, according to Wikipedia, gifts are customary but not necessary, and usually consist of something that can be used in the new house or enjoyed during the party. Interestingly enough, bluebirds were once given as they were believed to bless the new house with happiness and good luck, but in modern day it is more customary to provide bluebird-themed paraphernalia such as china. (I've never heard that one before!)

Remember, customary does not always equate to "tasteful."

Pineapples are also common housewarming gifts as the pineapple has served as a symbol of hospitality and warm welcome through the history of the Americas. Ironically enough, the pineapple is also the symbol of Alexandria, so I particularly love this gesture.

Would a bottle of wine work? Sure, assuming your hosts enjoy wine or would serve it at the party or to friends and family, we've given this gift often, especially in a pinch. But for close friends I think it's nice to go a little further to give them something that's meaningful or has more thought behind it.

Alex and I were recently invited to a housewarming party to celebrate our friends' purchase of their first home. When I saw a wine bottle opener in the shape of a large key, I knew it was for them. They enjoy wine quite a bit and I love the symbolism of the key since it's a housewarming party.

I'm also a huge fan of wrapping gifts in a special way. (You won't find soft wrapped gifts in our home.) So I set out to package the wine opener with a little extra flair. Using a flat card purchased from Paper Source, I stamped the front of the card with an image of two champagne glasses and the word celebrate.

Once the ink had set, I flipped over the card and wrote a personalized note to the couple. To tie it back to the gift itself, I included "The key to a happy home is plenty of wine."

Next up, I raided my wrapping supplies to find a box that was the perfect size. After lining the box, which used to hold stationary, with tissue paper, I placed the gift and the note inside.

I tied up the box with ribbon (no wrapping was necessary since the box itself was decorative) and I was all set.

In addition to giving them something to keep, I whipped up a batch of delicious lemon cupcakes to share with other party guests.

Tip: One thing I always try to avoid is giving someone something that has no purpose other than to be displayed. People have wide-ranging taste when it comes to home decor, and it's not always something easy to judge. Take a friend of mine for instance. She received a large platter adorned with a rooster as a wedding gift. It wasn't her taste at all, and to make matters worse, the plate wasn't food safe. So if this item was to ever see the light of day, it had to be displayed in her home since she couldn't use it as a serving dish. (Let's just say ten years later, it's still in her basement somewhere.) That's why I play it safe and try to give gifts that have a function (serving items, housewares, etc.) or can be consumed (wine, dessert, chocolate, etc.). 

The funniest part of this housewarming story is that despite my best efforts to arrive with both a thoughtful gift and delicious treat, I made a major faux pas. I suppose I was too focused on the gift itself? Maybe too distracted at work? Perhaps I just had a blonde moment and totally flaked out? Regardless of the reason, I goofed up the date of the party and we arrived two weeks early.

Yep, you read that right. As we were parking, I noticed no one else was parked at their house. Nervously I pulled out the invite and made the horrifying discovery that we were there a full 14 days in advance. Luckily our friends were understanding, and had us in for a "VIP" version of the party a little early. So we hung out in their barely unpacked home, chatted, and had some cupcakes. After all, that's what good friends are for. (And the cupcakes didn't hurt either.)

What sorts of gifts do you like to give at housewarming parties? Do you attempt to complement the party or contribute to the overall usefulness of the house? Have you ever pulled a smooth move of showing up for a party on the wrong day? Or is this just something that I would do?

Comments 14

Comments

Kate
5/2/2012 at 12:19 PM
I brought a gift for what I assumed was my cousins' 10th year anniversary party. In my defense the invite made vague mentions of celebrating "10 years" and I remembered that they were married at least 10 years ago though I could have sworn 12 years had passed because my nephew was 11 years old and his mother was pregnant with him at our cousin's wedding....Turns out it was a birthday party for their dogs. Fortunately half the guests thought it was an anniversary party too and also brought wedding-anniversary appropriate gifts.

So anyway, back to your first question; I like to go to that cheese shop on King Street and put together a little cheese plate of their tastiest varieties. I have a nasty habit of showing up to parties on time (meaning early) and me and the hosts enjoy the cheese samples ourselves before the rest of the guest arrive.
Alex
5/2/2012
Too funny about your anniversary/pet gift.

I have to say, I really like your style on the cheese approach, but especially on the arriving early and eating the cheese approach. I think we should try that one.
Karin K
5/2/2012 at 1:32 PM
Did you go back on the correct date? Or did you figure your job was done? Hahaha! This could open up a whole new etiquette issue: are you now required to get ANOTHER gift? Because if not, you're going to be arriving empty handed..... This must be the kind of problem that only happens to extremely organized people - I am far more likely to come across an invitation stuck in a pile of bills in my kitchen and realize the party was 4 weeks ago and I never RSVP'd. Funny!
Alex
5/2/2012
We did go back on the correct date, and still had lots of fun (but the VIP event two weeks earlier was quite special). We didn't have another gift, but didn't arrive empty handed either. Wendy made a batch of very impressive cupcakes that were a real hit.

Quite honestly, I'm more in your camp on the lost invitation. Wendy tends to keep me a bit more organized.
5/2/2012 at 2:22 PM
The end of this post is hilarious, thanks for the afternoon laugh! As for the gift, completely charming. Did they love it?
Alex
5/2/2012
Yes, I believe they liked it quite a bit.
Melissa
5/2/2012 at 6:33 PM
Where did you get the key wine opener? That is so unique! If they bought a home in Old Town, that makes the skeleton key look even more appropriate. Wonderful housewarming gift :-)
Alex
5/2/2012
We picked it up from Red Barn Mercantile ( redbarnmercantile.com/ ), one of our favorite local stores.
Bill O
5/2/2012 at 8:06 PM
I will forever feel inferior regarding my home warming gifts. I always assumed that the eloquence of my conversation and good cheer was enough of a gift for anyone :-P
5/6/2012
I can't imagine a situation where that wouldn't be a completely appropriate, and potentially overly generous gift.
bfish
5/2/2012 at 8:46 PM
Funny story and the wine bottle opener is very cool.

I agree with you that useful, not purely decorative, gifts are the way to go. And for us the default is often wine. We do give plants (outdoor, the kind that have to be planted, not potted plants from the florist) sometimes to friends or family when they move to a new home -- usually some kind of shrub we know they admire but don't have growing in their new yard.
5/6/2012
It is always a little easier when you know the specific likes or tastes of the people you're visiting. We do like wine as a default as well. A shrub actually sounds like a great idea, and something that can kick start an entire garden area.
5/3/2012 at 9:33 AM
I still need to check out the Red Barn! If it's a summer event, I love bringing some pesto... and wine of course :)
www.houseography.net/2010/08/welcome-to-neighborhood.html
5/5/2012
I really like the pesto idea. Such a good way to bring something homemade and possibly even from your own garden.
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