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THOUGHTFUL TOUCHES THAT CAN HELP SPRUCE UP A HOME

People are really into their homes these days, which is why so many of them love to receive gifts for sprucing them up. Since homeowners and apartment-dwellers often make the "extras" low on their list of priorities, now is a good time to treat them to such things as luxurious towels or scented soaps.

On the other hand, some people on your gift lists could really use the basics. Those on tight budgets will appreciate a gift certificate to a hardware or home-improvement store, for example.

Or consider making arrangements for a snow-plowing, gutter-cleaning, window-washing or lawn service.

Either way, gifts for the home are a good way to go. If it's "stuff" you're after, here are some updated ideas for today's homes for every room in the house.

For the bath

No modern bathroom is complete without a set of luxurious towels.

Prices vary, depending on name brand and thickness. For example, Bed Bath & Beyond, Walden Galleria, sells the Fieldcrest brand of all-cotton Supima towels in a huge selection of colors. The bath-size towels costs $14.99. Big K mart sells its Martha Stewart "Blue Label" towels, regularly priced at $9.99 for a bath-size. Department stores and specialty stores, such as Linens 'N Things, also have a wide selection of various brands.

Remember, too, that fashion designers have gotten into the towel game. Ralph Lauren and Nautica by David Chu are just two of the designer towels available through local retailers such as Kaufmann's or the Bon-Ton.

Another idea: Instead of investing in an entire set of towels, treat someone to a single body towel or bath sheet. These generally measure 30-by-66 inches; the Fieldcrest brand regularly sells for $28 each, but you may catch a sale.

The nice thing about bath sheets is that they can do double-duty as beach towels.

Less pricey options: Scented soaps always are winners. Look for selections at Bath & Body Works (freesia, white gardenia or, especially for men, woodland) and other places that sell scented products for the body and home.

For the kitchen

This is a good place to get creative. The gift-giving experts at T.J. Maxx suggest creating one-of-a-kind gifts you pull together yourself. Start with a beautiful bowl, for example, and add a cookbook, whisk, apron, rolling pin, shaker or whatever else catches your eye and go from there.

Or go for a great-looking pepper grinder or pasta bowl. Not sure what the chef on your gift list already has? Most of today's modern cooks will always appreciate a gift certificate. Williams-Sonoma, Bed Bath & Beyond, Premier Gourmet and most other stores will issue them.

For the dining room

Certainly, a set of holiday place mats or terrific candle-holders are a smart way to go. Clever, too, is a gift of 12 different scented candles -- one for each month of the year.

People on your gift list who really enjoy dressing up their homes for the holidays also will be impressed by a holiday floral arrangement you send to their homes.

Hint: If they are having a big holiday bash, have the arrangement delivered a day before so they have time to find the perfect spot for it. Handing your host some fresh flowers at the door when other guests are arriving is not the way to go. No host has time to clip the stems, locate a vase and make a picture-perfect arrangement when he or she should be serving salsa.

Rather, visit the florist ahead of time. Look at samples or work with the staff to custom-design your own arrangement. Discuss budget, colors and materials. Remember, holiday arrangements don't necessarily have to be red and green or sprouting with images of Santa Claus.

Nor does the arrangement have to be limited to the dining room. Have something designed that is suitable for any spot, so the person won't feel obligated to use it as a centerpiece.

For the living room

A big, fluffy throw in a color that complements the living room is a true winner in the gift department. Whether you buy one in cotton or chenille, wool or even cashmere, a throw is a versatile addition to any room and eye-catching as well.

Far too attractive to be tucked away until they are needed to keep warm on chilly nights, today's throws can be tossed over the arm of a sofa or chair to add a bit of texture or color to the room. They are widely available at department stores, gift shops and specialty stores.

For casual decors, fleece throws are especially trendy. Spotted at the Bon-Ton: Polarfleece blanket throws by Dakotah that measure 50 by 68 inches and are regularly priced at $60 to $80. Look for them in an array of solids, frontier prints or Highland plaids.

Some holiday revelers also are into displaying collections this time of year. Department 56's Christmas collectibles are a biggie; these include lighted ceramic and porcelain villages, giftware and other holiday merchandise. New pieces are added each year. Department 56 is available at a number of stores locally. Call (800) LIT-TOWN or (888) D56-HOMES to find the nearest participating retailer. Or visit www.department56.com for listings.

Other ideas for the living room: novelty pillow, decorative basket, picture frame, fireplace accessories, tree ornaments or a nifty set of coasters.

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