Here's how it's supposed to work in an ideal world: Boy meets girl (or boy); love happens; proposal follows. This turns out to be the easy part, because it seems chaos inevitably ensues, no matter how well-adjusted the parties involved are at the onset. This is especially true when it comes to the registry: something, it seems, that is always prepared in a hurry, a low priority next to all of the other wedding arrangements.
I've never been a part of a couple listed on a registry (i.e. engaged to be married). I am, however, of that age where I've seen plenty. Plus, as a market editor at Town & Country Magazine, where I worked for almost six years, I acquired an extensive knowledge of what those of us in "the biz" call "tabletop" (and what disinterested parties might call "plates" or "glasses"). While my extensive mental directory of Anything You'd Put in a Home (furniture, accessories, textiles, appliances) might seem superfluous to some, it has made me even more of a valued friend to those who have embarked on the registry process -- and by that I mean marriage.
This is how I see it: a wedding registry is a one-shot chance to kit out your home with stuff you love. If this is a second marriage for either or both of you, you might have already lost your credibility with your guests the first time around, in which case I hope you got the silver! The betrothed spend so much time working out the details of their Big Day, or increasingly, the Wedding Weekend, and disproportionally less time selecting the goods they'll spend the rest of their lives with (and are asking people to invest in).
It's not really the couple's fault: there's so much focus on picking the date and location, without which you can't actually start a traditional registry, that by the time those are set, the poor couple is already fending off aggressive Gift Givers wanting to commemorate the engagement with a vase, candlesticks or a picture frame. These can be great gifts, provided they are what you want and what jibes with your aesthetic. But if not, they just become something you're stuck trying to return. And then there are the unsolicited suggestions, opinions and advice with which the couple must contend from so-called "experienced parties" (grandparents, know-it-all friends, mothers-in-law).
My friends have strong personalities, different tastes, and their own unique styles, and yet their registries seem to pull from just three or four of the same retailers (Crate & Barrel, Bloomingdale's, Williams-Sonoma all around!) The registries all seem so similar, not in keeping with the independent, awesome people I know they are. This is not to say they didn't choose some nice things, but where did all the creativity go? Why are today's registries so damn impersonal, when there's a plethora of cool and beautiful things available?
Some of these nontraditional registry items might require a bit of hunting to find (i.e. they won't necessarily all be online, and not everything can be selected with one of those scanning guns at Bloomingdale's) others just require you to let go of preconceived notions of what a registry can be.
Why can't you register for wine you love? Or if you're in the process of setting up a new home, why shouldn't your friends and family get you something that properly feathers your nest? For example, I love MaxwellSilverNY.com for offering goodies from some of my favorite NYC stores (awesome bedding from Dwell, soapstone chargers from Canvas) MoMAstore.org for its funky version of functional accessories (Measuring cups! Clocks!) and TableArtOnline.com for chic stuff for the table you won't find everywhere else.
And who says you must limit yourself to a store that offers a Registry Service? Yes, there's something about the convenience factor, but most guests, myself included, will gladly spend a little more effort for something they take pleasure in buying and gifting. If there's something you love at a store that doesn't have a website, it doesn't mean it can't be a part of your registry. If you have a wedding website, post a picture of it; it's not too much to ask for a guest to -- gasp! -- call a store and order it, or even better, stop in and buy it for you. Once you've received it, you can take down the picture of the item, or simply write "Thanks, Aunt Susie" next to it. The latter will also help your guests who might not be familiar with your style to get a more complete picture of your taste. So loosen up, and have fun with it. We'll call it your gift to me.