Our Chairman & Founder, Guy Salter, shares a few last minute thoughts about what to buy that person in your life who’s super-tricky to find the right present for (or to just add to your own Wish List).
I don’t know about you, but I always cut Christmas so fine that by the time I have come up to speed in imaginative present-giving mode, some things are sold out or it’s all too much of a palaver. So here are a few pointers for gifts that (I think) are special, still easy to find, especially if you live in or near London, but can also be bought online.
Image: The Map House
Old maps are often surprisingly good value considering their age and endlessly fascinating if a place that one knows well. As a Londoner born and bred, I’ve been known to trawl the streets with an old map looking for breadcrumbs or shadows of what used to be there. It’s surprising how often pubs still act as intact reference points, churches too. Given there are maps of almost everywhere, it can be very satisfying to find one that is perfect for a particular person’s interests. This one would be spot on for my elder son who’s autistic and has always loved the tube – except he knows it so well he doesn’t need a map. What I like especially about this early one is that it shows the lines geographically before Harry Beck’s brilliant schematic 30’s version we know so well. And it shows stations like Brompton Road or Down Street that are still there below ground but we rattle past without knowing they’re there. As a child I used to live around the corner from The Map House, so I include it here partly out of nostalgia but mainly because they still have a very good reputation for all things Map.
Image: Antonio Olmos/ The Observer
Hong Kong is a Home from Home and of course has been having a really tough time recently, even before the virus. Here’s a travel book by the just departed gifted and brave pioneer, Jan Morris, who captures the eve of Handover very well. I still have my copy and it is strange looking back at it now. I used to work in the same street as Sotheran’s and so own far too many obscure titles that caught my eye while popping out to pick up a Pret for lunch. Second-hand books, especially old guides, make great personalised presents for the right person. And needn’t break the bank.
Image: Cult Beauty
As long as they don’t take it the wrong way, giving beauty products that actually work, especially when we can’t get to the hairdresser, hopefully falls into the ‘thoughtful but useful’ category.
Image: Sarah Myerscough Gallery
For a loved one’s collection or maybe to seed the start of a collection. Take a trip across the river to Barnes or have a quick look online: it’s hard to go wrong with Sarah Myerscough’s careful edit and knowing eye. I love Max Bainbridge’s work and own a couple of his pieces a bit like this beautiful one in green elder.
Image: Castro Smith
For the man in your life, a truly unique gift from a truly gifted jeweller and engraver. This suggestion is a bit different from my others in that a ring like this is made to order, so you can’t wrap it and put it under the tree. But that’s why it’s perfect for the right person. Even better, maybe give him the bespoke service, which will take even longer – but then you’re giving not just an object but an experience. Plus he gets two presents; the first when he opens his card on Christmas Day, the second when the ring is ready.
Image: The House of Modernity
If you’re like me and have a dangerous soft spot for Scandi mid-century design, be careful when you visit the elegant-shabby London outpost of this Stockholm gallery, as you’ll need to maintain great self-discipline. Plus the unrestored Palladian town house is a real treat in itself (Covid-rules allowing, the showroom will be open in the new year for private viewings, bookable on Modernity’s website). I don’t have room for this willow-like lamp but if someone was feeling generous enough to give it to me, I’d move something to give it a starring role. Modernity’s recent collaboration with Adrian Sassoon interspersed their stunning selection of applied art amongst these classic gems. Needless to say, for someone very special in your life.
Image: Shop The River Café
I bought this stunning pale unsalted butter the other day, along with a freshly-made pecan pie for Thanksgiving. Browse the Shop The River Café site for inspiration, but I very much doubt a Foodie Loved One will not thank you for almost anything made by the legendary Ruthie Rogers’s team and it’s great to be supporting them now when things are so tough. Although they deliver, if you live in London combine picking it up with a walk along the river by Hammersmith Bridge, which can be surprisingly beautiful in the late winter sun. Make you sure treat yourself at the same time.
Image: HG Walter
Almost round the corner from The River Café, literally the best Scotch eggs in London from the best butcher in London. Better buy a few packs, as they don’t tend to last long. And be ready to queue, as HG Walter is no longer the Foodie secret it once was. Or buy online, as they have an excellent site.
There’s much debate amongst a certain wine aficionado-type about the perfect wine glass but there’s not much between the top contenders. If it’s beauty, functionality and flexibility you’re after these Austrian beauties pretty much do it. And if you really enjoy wine don’t let anyone convince you not to invest in proper glasses. Anything else is a false economy – although beware, as glasses like these also show up imperfections in a less well made wine. Treat yourself to a couple while you’re at it. Or maybe splash out and get the complete set, including the white, champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux versions.
Image: Field & Flower
Don’t buy your confit, make your own. It’s simple. Especially if you buy the legs from Creedy Carver, whose ducks lead a charmed life until the moment comes. Ideally use a slow cooker; salt them overnight, cover them in duck fat and cook for about three hours. Pop them in a Kilner jar and top up with the fat. A hand-written label and you’ve got a very special and personal present. You just need to tell the lucky recipient how to cook them: pop them skin down in a cold Netherton Foundry-type skillet and then slowly warm them up on a low flame (as my grandmother would have said) until the skin crisps up. Serve with Puy lentils.
Something to put in your Zaltos. I came across Astrum Wine at the start of the first Lockdown, when their restaurant trade customers had dried up overnight and they’d started selling direct. This has gone so well they now have a separate consumer-facing business called Sociovino. Build your own case or try one of their pre-selections. This is a safe choice, as the strongest part of their offer is Italian. But if your oenophile friend is ready to try something new, get their advice about how to surprise them, as the full list really repays some exploration and experimentation, especially in the less well known fringes of Piedmont or South Tyrol, which are also better value.
Image: Pesky Fish
No doubt some of you discovered Pesky during Lockdown One. If not, I can’t recommend them enough, whether locked-down or not. Buying fish from them means being a bit organised, as they only sell what was caught the day before between eight and nine the following morning, but you are directly supporting the fishing community of this bit of Devon and nearby. When the Joanne B sank the other day it really brought home to me how precarious a life they lead, two members of the crew are still missing, presumed drowned. Now of course buying live lobster is maybe not the most practical of gifts, so maybe treat yourself – and pair it with some of Ruthie Rogers’s alpine butter and a Verdello lemon (from Natoora in Pavilion Road). If you do go to Pavilion Road in person, celebrate being out by buying some of the best ice cream in London from Ice Cream Union (bang opposite Natoora). The good news is this is something that’s impossible to do online or wearing a mask.
Everyday Joy Everyday
For handmade functional objects that will give pleasure every time your family or friends use them, here are a few ideas:
Image: Flow Gallery
I own a few bigger pieces by Eva Brandt but if someone gave me these beautiful cups I would be very happy. Made in her studio on Bornholm but inspired by the native American tradition in New Mexico from her time there, these engaging stoneware mugs are glazed on the inside so are also very practical. I especially like the subtle grey one but they come in all sorts of patterns and colours. Just be aware that many are sold out, so you may need to move fast. If they are, Yvonna Demczynska of Flow always has a wonderful selection of other stunning pieces at a wide range of price points, so it is a great source of inspiration at any time of year. And now has an easy to navigate e-commerce site.
I only recently came across Aerende when reading the latest version of Crafts magazine but really like their selection of hand-made everyday products. Even better, they aim to support makers facing social challenges. I know sometimes giving a gift voucher can seem a bit of a cop out but actually it is a great way to let someone quietly select something they really want – and hopefully there is more than enough here to choose from. Mind you, you might need to give more than one to avoid Scrooge comparisons…
This might seem a lot for a horticultural tool, however important the gardener in your life is to you, but at least it’s less than the magnificent hand-forged Damascus steel Hori Hori, which weighs in at an eye-watering £759. In my view, both are actually well worth it, especially these carbon steel secateurs, which sharpen well, so will I’m sure last a lifetime if looked after properly. I also love the wisteria rattan handles, which not only look great but provide grip when tackling those gnarly rose bush stems.
Image: Netherton Foundry
I have been addicted to cooking with spun or cast iron ever since inheriting some old pans that belonged to my grandmother, who wrote a cookery book in the 50’s, and, despite being unable to cook, had an impressive batterie de cuisine. This Netherton Foundry pan is the closest thing I’ve come across to her blini pan. Perfect pancakes every time – you just have to discard the first one. Flipping is a cinch…
The Great Outdoors
I have been meaning to share my Must-Haves for international travel but then I thought that might be tempting fate. So, while we wait until we have a better fix on the timing of vaccines and freedom, we can at least get out over Christmas. Here’s a coat for the Adventurer in your life that should cope with anything our delightful climate can throw at it, even halfway up a Munro. I’d hope to add something from Vollebak, but they don’t do womenswear for some reason.
Add a mid layer to go with it, with Rab’s Women’s Power Stretch Pro Pull-on.
And a base layer, with Tracksmith’s Turnover Tights.
Top off with a bit of mountain panache.
Please feel free to share this page with your family and friends – particularly if you’d like something on the list!
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