The downside to having friends who can afford a second home is that they probably don't need or want a hostess gift.
Please don't misunderstand: That coffee table book they'll regift is very appreciated; so is a board game they'll pretend they didn't already have; equally nice and similarly unwelcome is a decorative knickknack you couldn't quite afford. ("We just won't order takeout for the rest of the month," you whisper through clenched teeth to your furious spouse as the salesperson wraps it up.)
And before you ask: Yes, your hosts already have a petanque set. Probably two.
Happily, there is a real alternative: Buy something your hosts will use, then use up. Food, soap, flowers, scents-here is an array of stuff that can be consumed, not displayed. Your hosts will love it, your duties as a house guest will be fulfilled, and everyone will be set for a successful summer weekend.
Weekend at Murray's Cheese Box, $225
The New York cheese experts pack five different varieties, from piquant Rogue creamery smokey blue to the creamy French goat pyramid Valencay, along with a selection of charcuterie: aged Italian prosciutto, Iberico chorizo, and flatbreads. Serves 14 to 16 weekenders.
Stick with Me Sweets Chocolates, $188 for a 54-piece box
Within a book-styled box are exceptional hand-painted chocolates. The fillings are designed to be tiny desserts-"Speculoos S'more" features a chocolate-enrobed cookie base topped with a mound of housemade marshmallow.
Garrett Popcorn Mix, $33
Even people who think they don't like caramel corn will be won over by the ultra-light, fluffy-and-crunchy recipe from Garrett. Jumbled together with their savory, cheddar-dusted flavor, it makes a perfect combination for movie-time snacking or just sitting with a glass of wine on the porch. It won't last through the weekend.
Fortnum & Mason Large Tea Selection, $80
This tea selection box has an assortment of flavors such as Irish Breakfast, Jubilee Blend, and Smoky Earl Grey that will be perfect for when everyone's rained in and playing board games. There's a nice mix of caffeinated varieties to keep you peppy.
Before- and After-Dinner Drinks, $44
Anyone can show up with a bottle of wine. Try to impress your hosts with something a little unusual but not so off-the-beaten-path that it will remain un-drunk. (A bonus is that you can flex your knowledge of three booze trends at once: vermouth, amaro, and low-ABV.) As an aperitif, Lustau Vermut Blanco ($20) made from fino sherry and moscatel is an eye-opening way to start things off. Citrusy and floral, with an uncloying sweetness that's invigorated with bitter gentian and wormwood, it's best enjoyed over ice or in a simple spritz. After dinner, Amaro Sfumato Rabarbaro ($24) makes a singular substitution for Scotch: Dark, smoky, and bitter, with Alpine herbs and Chinese rhubarb, it has just the right amount of sweet to cap off a night.
Scents and Soaps
Astier de Villatte Incense, $50
Yes, incense doesn't really have beach connotations, but for anyone with a cool, calm, rustic home, incense could be the perfect present. Astier de Villatte, best known for its ceramics, has a wonderful side-gig crafting Parisian-blended incense that's almost startlingly fragrant of clove, patchouli, and fresh linen.
A fancy room spray, $55-$120
On one level you don't want to imply their home smells musty. On another, these unisex scents can be brightly presented without comment, letting your hosts figure it out. Cult Swedish brand Byredo's Tree House Room Spray ($120 for 200mL) is woodsy with bamboo and cedar, while Aesop's Olous ($55 for 100mL) combines musky galbanum with grapefruit and jasmine. Both come in hefty glass bottles that would make a handsome addition to any bathroom vanity, and each is far classier than using a match.
Hermès Soap Set, $69
Soap is the simplest luxury. The packaging on this set is bright and cheerful, and you can customize the fragrances according to your recipient. It leaves skin infused with perfume but doesn't dry it out. Plus it's Hermès, so there will be no ambiguity about whether you spent an appropriate amount.
Louis Vuitton Cactus Garden Fragrance, $250
When we first saw that LV had a perfume called "cactus garden" as part of its new cologne fragrance collection, we weren't sure it was going to go so well. But the scent is clean and lush, with bergamot, geranium, and lemongrass-perfect for both men and women. Your host can generously stick it in a guest bedroom for guests to spritz on before dinner, or hoard it for their own new signature.
Diptyque Softening Hand Wash, $42
Rather than a predictable candle from Diptyque, opt for the secret weapon. Hand soap is a fabulous staple for any parlor or guest bathroom and will have your hosts thinking of you often-the luxurious lavender fragrance can linger on skin for an entire afternoon.
Decoration and Donations
Le Labo Palo Santo 14 Candle, $75
The bad news: Your host probably already has nice candles. The good news? They can always use another-and this scent, which smells like Southern California on a good day, brightens any home. Le Labo
Even if your host's house is surrounded by a field of wildflowers, a bouquet will be appreciated. It's obviously not the ideal choice if you're traveling by train, but if you can swing travel by car, it's a guaranteed hit. If you're in New York, try Miho Kosuda; if you're in London, try Scarlet & Violet; and if you're in Los Angeles, go to Jeff Leatham. No matter where you are, $100 seems a good minimum.
They're legal! Mostly. And regardless of local regulations, they're discreet and low-impact enough that you can have fun without alerting local law enforcement or, you know, setting the house on fire.
Meyer Lemon Tree, $80
We're sure that someone, somewhere, has been able to keep a Meyer lemon tree alive in a residential home, but we have yet to meet that person. Who knows if your host will over- or under-water it, or if they've committed the sin of not living on Hydra or wherever these trees actually thrive. What we do know is that if you show up with a tree, your host will love it, live with it, and then-inevitably-lose it.
Adopt an Orphan Elephant, $100
You won't be able to show up with a baby elephant in hand, but for someone who has everything, this will be a huge hit: One of Africa's oldest wildlife charities, Kenya-based DSWT, rescues and cares for orphaned elephants. Digital adoptions include a certificate and monthly email updates with notations on progress, such as how much milk your baby elephant might be stealing from her or his keepers.