I’m hard to buy for. This is less of a confession, more a fact of life.
My job is effectively an exercise in honing my taste and it’s become a running joke among friends and family that said honed taste makes present-buying a bit of a puzzle, to put it politely.
My partner Byron once let me sulk for a full day after handing over a £3 wallet (complete with price sticker) before doing the grand reveal of my real gift, just for his own amusement.
What it does give me is some insight into buying for other tricky customers.
First, a few ground rules. Spend roughly what you set out to, don’t fall in the perfume trap — they already know what they like — and try to tune in to what they’re admiring long before Mariah Carey’s on the radio again.
My favourite trick is to buy someone a slightly nicer version of something than they’d buy for themselves. I’m obsessed with my Tekla pyjamas. They’re a lovely soft cotton in this great smudgy, swampy shade, though there are endless colour options.
The beauty of that slightly utilitarian feel is that they’re just as good for grandad as a teenager or partner. Go a size up for maximum slouch.
This Jermaine Gallacher blanket would express the same sense of care. It’s made by a sixth-generation mill with wool from Ireland’s only native sheep, so there’s a great story there, too.
Anything that sends your giftee on a bit of a journey is ideal. People overuse the word “heritage”, but something like a Trudon candle is the real deal. It’s the oldest candlemaker in the world still active today and used to supply Versailles. Better yet, they arrive in beautiful boxes.
You’ll never win by trying to one-up people on their own tastes, so I think it’s often better to go for something simple but brilliantly made that can fit in with what they’ve already got. These plates by Laura Huston are a gorgeous foresty green, which feels right for the season.
Follow your favourite makers on social media or sign up to their newsletters to be the first to know about new batches, or enquire about commissioning a one-off piece, like one of Bec Kirby aka Somsumsee’s hand-tufted cushions or wall hangings — it’s not always mega pricey and they’ll work with you to get it right.
In the same vein I love Lucy Page’s decorative tiles, which she makes from jesmonite. Her knife and fork tile motif feels a little irreverent but is far less risky than buying someone a conventional artwork that they’ll probably feel obliged to put up in the downstairs loo.
If you’re buying for a real design nerd, go for a deep cut. Top of my wish list is this dreamy lamp from Woka, which was designed by Josef Hoffmann for Villa Ast in the 1920s. It’s got this classic, almost pagoda-like silhouette and feels incredibly special.
For design pedigree without the whopping price tag, I’d consider something like a Piet Hein Eek ceramic light. They’re great for young people as they come in sunny colours, you don’t have to wire them in and the old-school switch is satisfying to flick — I like gifts to feel substantial.
When in doubt, look for the “who wouldn’t want that?” factor. If I have to buy for a man and don’t have a clue, they’re getting a pair of Grandelle Ivy socks from Kapital. Socks can be an affordable way to buy into a super-cool brand and I’m convinced everyone secretly wants a pair. holliebowden.com