Made in the North Bay:
'Pottery Barn doesn't fit the bill for us," laughs Dione Carston, creative director and buyer for Martin Showroom in St. Helena. "If someone has an interesting personality and is looking for more eccentricity, they come here. This is the place to come for people who don't want someone else to say, 'Oh, I have that too.'"
Opened in 2004 by interior designer Erin Martin to accommodate such oversized collectibles that can only be comfortably fitted into oversized homes, Martin Showroom changes its stock almost weekly and features work by such area artists as Gordon Huether. On a more mortal level, Carston is excited right now about the sun jars ($61) by artist Tobias Wong that, she explains, "look like old mason jars but are solar-powered." Sit them on the windowsill all day, and they'll provide a warm glow for up to eight hours at night.
Martin also carries sculpture by West Marin genius Evan Shively, a former chef (Oliveto, Postrio, Manka's), who has established an environmentally smart wood mill on Tomales Bay that Carston explains is almost a religious sanctuary. All the wood Shively uses is reclaimed. A beautiful heavenward sculpture by him illuminates a corner of the Martin Showroom on a semipermanent basis.
"Whatever we want is what comes in," Carston laughs. "That way, we're happy if it doesn't sell." 1350 Main St., St. Helena. 707.967.8787.--G.G.
There's a certain kind of Santa who likes to help plump up the Christmas stocking with little soaps and unguents. This year, Santa can add toothpaste to the list. But there's a minty twist to this hygienic tale: This particular brand of toothpaste not only whitens and cleans, protects against plaque and scrubs up the gums--it also works as an effective appetite suppressant. Please meet Crave-Breaker™, a product admittedly produced in Australia but whose North Bay cred comes from Great White Trading Co., the Santa Rosa company that imports it exclusively into the United States.
Made from a homeopathic formula that reportedly reduces food desires, Crave-Breaker has also quelled the nicotine and alcohol jones, according to anecdotal reports. Brush your teeth and get thin! Brush your teeth and stay sober! Brush your teeth and be smoke-free! Now that's some happy holiday. Currently only available at Amazon.com and Raley's, a West Coast food chain that includes Nob Hill and Bel Air markets in its umbrella, Crave-Breaker can be found at the stores in Napa (Nob Hill Foods, 611 Trancas St.; Raley's, 217 Soscol Ave.), Rohnert Park (Raley's, 100 Raley's Town Center), Santa Rosa (Raley's, 1407 Fulton Road) and Windsor (Raley's, 8852 Lakewood Drive).--G.G.
It's not the thought that counts, it's the experience of a gift that matters. At least that's the message from Excitations, a Virginia-based company offering a variety of "experiential gift packages" throughout the North Bay.
Wrap up a chance to bike and paddle through the Napa and Dry Creek valleys ($185), a personal tasting with the winemaker at Signorello Vineyards in Napa ($335 for four people) or a family sleepover at Safari West in Santa Rosa ($535).
"Physical objects are soon forgotten, but the memory of receiving a unique experience can last a lifetime," says Excitations CEO Ian Landy.
The company has set up partnerships with local businesses to offer a range of possibilities. Prices range from $50 to $8,000. And if you're not sure exactly what experience would thrill a particular recipient, you can buy a "circle" certificate for $75-$500 which lets the person choose among a list of possibilities in your price range. www.excitations.com.--P.L.H.
This is not a sex joke: What gives at least 12 times a year? A calendar, you silly, and silly is the serious order of the day with the work of Sonoma County sculptor Patrick Amiot. Famously adorning Florence Avenue in Sebastopol with his whimsical found-object works depicting surfers and Amazonian women and fire fighters and planes, Amiot has also helped to establish a Folk Art for Schools program. Selling for $10 each, glossy four-color calendars that feature Amiot's giddy sculptures are available throughout the North Bay. Now in its fourth year, the project has raised over $100,000 for area school programs since its inception. Help the kids and get something at least 12 times next year. That's not a sex joke, either. www.folkartforschools.com.--G.G.
Next time filling the pantry means a trip to Whole Foods, keep an eye out for your wardrobe, too. Besides organic food, the grocery's West Coast branches also stock Indigenous, a line of organic clothing, made from natural and organic fibers like alpaca, silk, bamboo, Tencel and cotton. The Santa Rosa-based wholesale company works with some 275 knitting and weaving cooperatives, who construct the handmade garments, which range from about $70 to $140. Indigenous pays workers--primarily in Ecuador, Peru and India--20 percent to 300 percent more than what they would make on their own. Trying to ensure that workers have a say in their own economic gain, the 12-year-old company has recently blossomed. Last month, Indigenous delivered its first batch of sweaters to Eileen Fischer.
"We're hardcore into our values," says Indigenous co-founder Scott Leonard. "It's like the band theory. We were local for a while; all of a sudden, we've gotten a hit." It's the hit felt round the world. Leonard estimates that since inception, his company has been able to pay well over $5 million to garment workers, or "artisans," as he calls them. www.indigenousdesigns.com.--B.A.
The Evans Galleries traffic in the type of dark masculine glass and ceramics shot through with gold that happen to look very good when placed under a peck of persimmons. In silvered decanters that look appropriate to Cleopatra's boudoir. In amber-tinged vessels that should never be sullied with more than a single stem. Specializing in glass, both hand-blown and hand-painted, as well as raku pottery, this five-person design studio has a very distinctive look to its work. Based in Healdsburg, the group has an outlet near home and one in Calistoga.
The bowls, platters, glasses, decanters and other useful objects that Evans produces have a sense of history to them, almost as though they were unearthed from some uniquely clean and modern section of ancient Pompeii. Prices range between $75 and $200; this is the type of craft that looks very good indeed with a credit card headed toward it. Healdsburg, 332 Healdsburg Ave., 707.473.0963. Calistoga, 1421 Lincoln Ave., 707.942.0453.--G.G.
Buy a grape, help a vineyard worker? In a sense, that's just what Back Room Wines in Napa hopes that holiday shoppers will consider doing.
Back Room has teamed up with Discovery Editions, a company that has developed proprietary technology allowing them to exactly recreate--short of time travel--works of art. They can even nail the luminosity. This particular company occupies itself specifically with art created during the Age of Discovery, when plants and animals were lovingly annotated by artists who were as much scientists as painters.
In partnering with Back Room, Discovery Editions has provided a limited set of artworks devoted to the noble grape and produced by various artists between 1570 and 1803. Twenty percent of all purchases will be donated directly to the Napa Valley Community House for Farmworker's Fund, which not only helps with housing but provides advocacy on many levels. Those who like to sit while they shop can visit www.discoveryeditions.com/brw and grant 10 percent of sales to the farmworkers' fund. Prints retail at about $500. 974 Franklin St., Napa. 707.226.1378.--G.G.