Gift: Coral & Tusk

Bunny with Arrows

My devotion to the fairy tales and nautical yarns spun by Brooklyn-based Coral & Tusk started with a bunny. Not just any little fuzzy rabbit either. But one who had recently earned his scout badge by making a set of bows and arrows by hand that he slung (along with some carrots) in a woven basket over his shoulder.

This endearing character was perfect for my son’s room. More than just a cute creature, he’s a resourceful and curious little adventurer. Just the sort of someone I hope my son will grow to admire.

As I explored the Coral & Tusk site I realized that the artist, Stephanie Housley, lived right next door to me. What incredible luck! Especially since I kept finding things just right for different occasions from baby gifts to weddings from her line.

Better yet still, Stephanie is just as lovely as the fantastic scenes she sketches and stitches into existence. She recently took some time away from her woodland and high seas worlds to tell me a little more about the company she started with her husband Chris in 2007. There are four other members of the C&T team (Alija, Maya, Chelsea, Atsuko) and their dog, Paco, who serves as a pretty excellent mascot.

How did Coral & Tusk begin? The seed from which the whole company and product range grew from was my memory game, Sea & Match. I actually began it when I had insomnia one night in India. I embarked on making a hand embroidered, entirely nautical themed memory game, one letter for the whole alphabet. About halfway through I realized I had to make two of every piece––52 pieces total––plus a container! Then one day, I was looking through Martha Stewart magazine drooling over a pic of one of her sewing rooms when it hit me: they must make a machine that would allow me to do what I am trying to achieve.

The embroidery process is pretty cool. Can you explain how it works? I begin by drawing the original artwork on paper and then make an embroidery file based on that drawing. There is software that comes with the machine where I redraw the artwork, literally stitch by stitch, so that it completely harnesses the hand and mark making of my drawing. Once I have created the embroidery file, I make the design on my embroidery machine.

 Is there a story behind the name? I wanted to choose a name that had wonderful visual components. I selected Coral & Tusk specifically because they are both very auspicious natural materials that bring good luck and carry a lot of symbolism. I also appreciate that these materials exist both on land and in the sea.

Your characters––a bird-watching owl, bunny with a sack of arrows, sledding hedgehog––have distinct personalities and pretty rich lives. How do these characters and stories come to you? I do all my best thinking on the subway or chatting at home over coffee with my husband, Chris. Storytelling is the defining component that drives me to create these critters. As childish as it sounds, I do not really see animals as different from  people. So it’s a pretty easy bridge to cross when I am thinking about a bunny who is going out for a little archery knowing that he is going to get a touch hungry and would need a snack, so he’s put a carrot in with his arrows. Wouldn’t you? The stories and accessories seem to just develop really naturally

Any new characters in development? Yes–– many new things on the horizon! More pocket dolls for sure, and panda and tiger from my design “high five” are coming to life.

What are your top C&T gifts to bring to a host? Being that it is holiday season, the tea towels are an excellent multi-purpose gift. The pocket dolls are also really great gifts since they are very much ageless and appeal to kids and adults alike. The embroidered stationery is also a great idea since you can leave your hostess a hand written thank you note on what becomes a keepsake for them.

Find retailers, the web store and the full line of Coral&Tuck creations here.

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Gift: Stock the Larder

Enji Kunsei Olive Oil, Japan,

What do you bring to your boss’s house for dinner? Gift your child’s teacher? Or your soon-to-be in-laws? Well, ask Good House Guest. I’ll do my best to hunt down a solution, like I did for my friend Sarah.

Q: We are invited to dinner at a couple’s house tomorrow night. They are retired and super foodies. They always cook us amazing dinners and never want us to bring dessert or anything, and I’m tired of bringing just wine. They are sort of no nonsense people. I need a suggestion of what to bring. Ideas?

A: Help re-stock their pantry. I like the combo of an interesting olive oil (comparable in price to a really nice bottle of wine) and sea salt. Super basic, but very necessary. The oil is something they’ll experiment with while cooking or appreciate for dipping. Plus, it’s a good excuse to stop by your local specialty grocery store and sample smooth oils from Italy or peppery ones from California. I even came across a cold-smoked olive oil from Japan. Sea salt is used to finish everything from fresh pasta to baked goods. It’s a staple, but you can find some cool small batch ones being made everywhere from the shores of Long Island, New York to the coast of France.