About this time, many will find themselves seated amid a mountain of thoughtfully selected gifts.

The unimaginative will have scissors, tape and red, green or gold wrapping paper close at hand as they prepare to tackle the problem of disguising objects in paper.

But you can escape Yuletide boredom this season. You don't have to be the Andy Warhol of gift wrap, but don't be a cliche -- make your gifts really stand out with careful wrapping.

Dressing up presents in holiday finery did not catch on until fairly recently.

Gifts used to be wrapped in plain tissue or brown paper; it wasn't until the beginning of the 20th century that the gift-wrap industry exploded, with the first American gift-wrap company, Hy-Sil Manufacturing, opening in 1903, and the reigning king of the wrapping and greeting card world, Hallmark, launching in 1917.

Once out of the dark ages, styles went from art deco in the 1930s to more realistic artwork with pop culture tie-ins during the '60s and '70s, to the slick styles we know today.

On a Roll

Even with modern gift wrapping's short history, a fresh look is always desired -- so here are a few small companies that are really thinking outside the box.

Olive Paper's popular "mod holiday" collection makes your presents come alive with style. Its high-quality paper ensures coverage and fewer rips. Cutter rolls, which contain enough paper for more than 40 gifts, are available for about $40.

The Web site was launched in September of this year in response to what creative director Nina Interlandi Bell calls a void in the gift wrap market: "I always spent a lot of time wrapping my gifts individually and people used to go gaga. Now I finally have a place to tell people to go for creative gift wrap ."

While the folks at Olive Paper encourage self-expression, you can also order coordinated wrap combinations for about $30 a set. The " A La Carte " and " Extras " sections let you accessorize to your heart's content, such as with metal D-rings that make any ribbon look like a belt.

The Stationery Studio takes it even farther, with wrapping paper and ribbon personalized with message of your choice. "It's a really fast-paced world, and people like when someone takes the time to put their name on something," says owner Renee Redman.

The selection is staggering; try putting your name on its new "Peppermint Dreams" gift wrap ($32.95 for a 12-foot roll).

Ellen Elfering and Jean Orlebeke, co-owners of Eieio , are graphic designers who cater to the most discerning fashionistas.

"We wanted to design wrapping paper for people for people who appreciate aesthetic design like us," says Elfering. "The world in general has become a lot more design-savvy ... with the likes of Target ( TGT) including design collections."

Eieio's Bond/Red Paper

Picky about quality, the pair went to a commercial offset-lithography printer for designs that look almost silk-screened.

Currently, Eieio has 34 designs available and is always adding something new. Elfering keeps an eye on the fashion world, particularly what's hot in colors and textures.

This year, according to Elfering, there's a lot of flourish designs and a trend toward true colors that are rich and bold.

Check out its popular "Plummy" and "Sugar Plum" designs ($5 a sheet) at retail paper stores such as Kate's Paperie , or online .

Choose with care -- as Elfering and Orlebeke remind us, "In no uncertain terms, you are the paper you wrap with."

To view Annika Mengisen's video take of today's Good Life segment, click here .

Presenting the Pros

Tired of getting your fingers stuck in a bow? Many paper experts offer wrapping services if you'd prefer to have someone else do it.

Kate's Paperie in New York City recently opened a packing department , featuring boxes made out of handmade paper from Japan and a stunning array of hand- and machine-made paper from all over the world.

Designs come in holographic stripes, varnished prints, lace tissue, glitter paper and more.

A customer simply brings in gifts, selects from the private-label paper collection, and then the Kate's experts get to work personalizing each package ($8-$30 per item). Besides individuals, Kate's also works with corporate clients, so keep them in mind for mass wrap jobs.

Some husbands lacking creative finesse flock to Broadway Paper in Milwaukee, Wis. "We get a lot of men asking, 'Will you wrap this present for my wife?'" says store manager Heather Stuart.

Get your gifts wrapped in the store's signature style -- craft paper with a red satin ribbon -- or bring in your own wrapping paper and let the experts do the work. "It's not all red and green anymore," says Stuart of the shift in gift-wrapping styles.

Each gift is $3.75 to wrap, but if you buy one of the unique gifts in the store or online , the wrapping is free.

Japanese Tradition

In Japan, gift wrapping is rooted deep within the culture. There is a prescribed method for wrapping objects, from fans to tea sets to money.

"It's more about an essence of being discrete, respectful and showing care," says Vicky Mihara Avery, who is of Japanese descent.

Avery has been featured on the "Martha Stewart" TV show, teaching the art of Japanese gift wrapping, or origata, and owns family-run store Paper Tree in San Francisco's Japantown neighborhood.

A staple in Japanese gift wrapping is the use of layered and often pleated papers, mimicking a kimono. The package is usually tied with a mizuhiki, a paper cord which is often fashioned into elaborate knots representing cranes, pine needles and plum blossoms.

A Paper Tree Package
Photo: V.M. Avery

Color themes mimic the seasons and are not strict, but be sure to avoid the faux pas of using white for holiday gifts or weddings -- that's reserved for funerals.

"People love the idea of Japanese gift wrapping ," explains Avery. "My job is to convince them that it's actually easy to do." Avery's DVD The Japanese Art of Gift Wrapping ($24.50) might convince you.

The DVD also covers wrapping with furoshiki, a traditional Japanese cloth that is perfect for wrapping that stubborn bottle of wine.

Purchase the DVD or her "Washi/Martha" paper set online , or make the trip to San Francisco to get your gifts personally wrapped at the store (1743 Buchanan Mall). But don't buy your plane tickets too hastily -- Paper Tree does ship across the U.S.

Just keep in mind: your special gifts deserve more than an uninspired wrap job.



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