Ashley Bronczek (left) and Candace Ourisman in their D.C. office. Photo by Liz Lynch

In 2017, Candace Ourisman of Bethesda and Ashley Bronczek of Washington, D.C., founded Secretly Gifting, a concierge service that specializes in custom and unusual gifts, after bonding over their shared knack for sussing out just the right item for any person or occasion. “So much of our time was spent answering emails and Instagram messages from friends and strangers asking, ‘Where can I get this?’ ” Bronczek says. They realized it was time to turn their passion into a business.

In order to zero in on the perfect present, Ourisman and Bronczek learn about the recipient through a questionnaire or conversation with the gift-giver. Then they dip into their arsenal of ideas and leverage the relationships they’ve established with vendors to come up with two options for their clients to choose from. “Ninety-nine percent of the time we nail it on the first try,” Ourisman says, “but we always work with our clients until they’re 100% happy.” We asked the duo to share their secrets for elevating your holiday giftgiving game.

It Really Is The Thought That Counts 

Ourisman: “I’ve lived in Bethesda for eight years now and seen the evolution of downtown Bethesda; as the city becomes more cosmopolitan, so does our clientele. Bethesda residents are savvy, well-traveled and well-informed, [and] are looking for things that not everyone else has. It’s important to really understand what drives your gift recipient and what their passions are, what puts a smile on their face. We encourage our clients to give us the most random details about the person they’re buying for, because sometimes it’s the smallest details that are the key to the perfect gift.” Bronczek: “And if you don’t know much about the person, bring something that you love [as a gift for them]; if you do know something about the person, bring something that speaks to their passion or interest.”

Some Of Their Favorites 

Bronczek: “One Love Organics’ heartshaped cleansing sponge from Follain [in Bethesda] is one of my go-to gifts for girlfriends. For an on-the-spot hostess gift, I like the Vinglacé wine chiller. And Blue House in Bethesda for a great selection of gifts for everyone… . I was just there last week to pick up a wedding gift, a baby gift and a gift for a college-bound student.” Ourisman: “I love popping into Whyte House Monograms [in Chevy Chase] for personalized last-minute baby gifts. I also love the Terrain section in the new Anthropologie in Bethesda. They’ve got great plants and succulents, and also lovely sets of notebooks.”

Stand Out From The Crowd 

Ourisman: “You don’t want to be the 51st person showing up to a party with a bottle of wine, unless it’s a truly thoughtful bottle that the host has a connection to—maybe from a place you traveled together.”

Bronczek: “Instead, you could bring cookies or a pie from Henry’s Sweet Retreat in downtown Bethesda, tied with a ribbon and a note that says you’re so sweet to host. Or afterward, you could send one of those little dinosaur planters from [D.C.- based oral delivery service] UrbanStems with a note that says thanks for a roaring good time!”


Ourisman: “We’re also not huge fans of gifting the Nest candle. It’s overdone. I’d rather give a candle from Nightspace, or from this cheeky candle company out of Harlem [in New York] called 125 Collection. We also love Diptyque candles—the Baies scent is our fave. We’re big believers in being able to reuse the vessel; when the candle is burned down, take a dull knife and scrape out the wax. You can mention this on the card, something like, Don’t forget, this container will be perfect for your makeup brushes once you’re done enjoying the candle!”

A Most Unusal Request 

Bronczek: “For a client whose friend was having a double mastectomy, she wanted a custom cake made in the shape of two breasts delivered to her home, along with a cozy blanket and an at-home mani-pedi. Something comforting and uplifting to help her through recovery. The majority of our challenging requests, however, involve a tight turnaround on customized work. We did just [deliver] a custom bracelet for a client within a week—but we can do that because we have great relationships with our vendors, so they will bend over backwards for us. Plus, we drive all over the city at all hours to make sure our clients get their gifts on time.”

Secretly Gifting ( posts gift ideas and information on shopping events @secretlygifting on Instagram.