Mrs. C says: Hitting the high street or shopping mall has always been one of my Christmas highlights and puts me in a wonderfully festive mood. But that’s only because I take the stress out of it first with some serious online perusing and buying. Aside from all the major stores and brands, there are so many other fantastic gift suppliers out there. The How to Christmas team outlines some of our favourite websites just for you.
Ed Elf: Call it an online gift to friends.
Mrs C: I like online shopping for gifts I’m certain I want. It frees me up to browse shops – and I enjoy the best of both worlds. I will call at the shops I enjoy visiting on several occasions in the build up to Christmas. As for websites, we all have time to view them at our convenience, which is useful if you are seeking special, one-of-a-kind presents. All the time you save here can be spent on perhaps more pleasurable Christmas preparation with family and friends.
Ed Elf: Feels like we’re walking a tightrope here, Mrs. C. It’d be so sad to see the death of the high street shops.
Mrs. C: Well, many online websites also have an actual shop, so it’s about retaining some kind of balance with the physical and the virtual. Support stores in person if you can – order online from them if you would rather. A considered combination of methods allows for a more enjoyable experience. The true joy of online shopping, though, is in supporting smaller manufacturers and retailers, many of which offer unique products that we’ve not seen – and won’t see – on the high street.
Ed Elf: Okay – now you’ve told me that I can chillax.
Mrs. C: We’ll rejoin you – still very much, erm, chillaxed – lower down the page once you’ve had chance to digest some How to Christmas web favourites. Enjoy the journey and let inspiration take hold.
How to Christmas has gathered a glorious collection of websites that inspire and excite. They have been chosen because they have a wide selection of wonderful gifts and offer something just a little different.
Each website has distinctive features we believe elevates them from the norm. Many have won awards for their quality of service. We have also included some of their mission statements and nuggets of background information on the origins of their businesses.
Bombay Duck was founded in 1993 by two sisters with a love for shopping and an adventurous nature. It sells home-ware, gifts and accessories in which to delight. The company’s products reflect a love of colour and pattern, with lots of beautifully detailed items. This is how Bombay Duck describes its style:
“The unmistakable Bombay Duck style embraces the colourful, imaginative and pretty by discovering the FABULOUS in the everyday. Designed in London, the signature look confidently mixes bright exotic colours, playful patterns, vintage and modern designs with detailed finishing and an element of surprise. Bombay Duck quickly achieved success and has grown into a lifestyle brand with more than one thousand stockists from London to New York and Tokyo. Today, the distinctive brand continues to evolve bringing the same creativity to all its designs, including fashion accessories, homewares, gifts, kids and baby. Bombay Duck is now a global brand but still very much a sisterly business.”
For something from left field – perhaps for relatives or friends who have pieces missing from a treasured dinner service – consider Chinasearch. This is Europe’s largest discontinued china specialist and stocks hundreds of different manufacturers, including contemporary and high street ranges. If it isn’t already in stock, Chinasearch will try to find replacement pieces for you from its wide network of contacts. Such a gift would surely be well received – showing you had given the present considerable thought.
Cox & Cox describes its site as “unique, eclectic and beautiful” and this certainly applies to many products in its wide range of home furnishings and accessories. The company was launched in 2001 with the intention of offering something different, while showcasing products it felt were missing from other mail order catalogues. The store sells larger pieces of furniture and lighting for the home – ideal year-round, not just Christmas. This is how Cox & Cox describe their philosophy:
“The product collection has influences from all over the globe and takes inspiration from childhood memories, often with a contemporary twist. Cox & Cox aims at individually-minded customers who desire personally chosen products rather than mass-produced, and embraces the heartfelt philosophy that it is possible to create a home that is both beautiful and practical.”
Etsy is a slightly different website in that it allows designers from all around the globe to advertise and sell their goods. This means you will see a huge variety of very individual and unusual products you may not find in other online stores. It was founded in 2005 in America and now has offices in the UK, Europe and Canada. Etsy has more than 30 million members, one million active shops and more than 20 million items listed, so you’re sure to find distinctive gifts. The company spells out clearly what it wishes to achieve:
“Etsy is a marketplace where people around the world connect to buy and sell unique goods. Our mission is to re-imagine commerce in ways that build a more fulfilling and lasting world. Etsy is proud to be a certified B Corporation — a new kind of company that uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.”
As the name suggests, the Garden Trading Company stocks a wide selection of stylish goods for the garden. But you will also find great gifts and products for the home, too. Josh Holloway founded the company in 1994, having designed and developed products for such well-known stores as John Lewis, Habitat, Heals and Next Interiors along with US brands Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn and Smith & Hawken. The store sells well-designed and practical products with classic, clean lines that still retain that contemporary feel, as Josh describes here:
“I love the feel and uniqueness of cottages and farmhouses, they can look wonderful with uncluttered modern or vintage furniture, lighting and accessories, soothing colour tones, modern wood burners, painted floor boards and sisal. Kitchens and bathrooms can be very simple but using high quality fittings and materials. This look and feel can of course also be applied to Town Houses and contemporary homes too. It is just a matter of taste! I think that with the pace of modern life we need an environment that is easy to use, clean and store in. I would admit that clutter is my pet hate but I am definitely not alone judging by our ever growing business and following and many of our products offer a practical solution. Always ethically aware, we strive to use responsibly sourced materials…Our products are built to stand the test of time.”
Gift Genies is not an e-commerce website. It doesn’t sell any of the gifts featured on the site directly but acts as a gift search engine to help you find wonderful presents for special people and occasions. You can search for a gift by relationship (husband, mother-in-law, niece), by occasion (engagement, graduation, retirement), price and category (gadgets, home, lifestyle). Gift Genies is independent and objective and only recommends items it truly believes are pleasing presents. Here’s an extract from its website explaining how it all started.
“Like many of the best plans, cousins and best friends Orlagh Collins and Kathryn Murphy dreamt up the idea for GiftGenies.com around the kitchen table late one night. A quick straw poll of friends, family and colleagues then confirmed what they suspected: savvy shoppers were crying out for a site they could trust to help them find original and stylish gifts they would be proud to give.”
“In my job as Head of Production at Pathe, I regularly had to buy gifts for actors and directors, anyone from Kylie Minogue to Dame Judi Dench, people who are used to being given the best of everything. I prided myself on always coming up with something just that little bit more unique and thoughtful, but I longed for a site like Gift Genies.com that would take the hard work out of finding it!” Orlagh
“My background as an advertising creative means I’m used to having to think outside the box, and I love bringing that creativity to hunting out unusual and interesting gift ideas. I’m obsessive when it comes to finding the perfect gift. Nothing beats the thrill of finding someone you love something they will cherish.” Kathryn
Decorations, stockings, sacks and gifts aplenty on the Great Little Trading Company website. There are play tents, dolls houses, dressing up clothes, kitchen toys and so much more to peruse. It has won many ‘Best Children’s Retailer’ prizes at the Mail Order Industry awards. The gilt.co.uk website reads:
“Great Little Trading Co was founded by two parents in 1996 to provide hard-to-find practical products to help parents create happy, organised homes. Father of three and CEO, Jamie Reeve, took over GLTC in 2004 and has since transformed the brand into a successful British business that designs and makes a unique collection of high-quality products that young families really need…We aim to inspire and help parents make the most of childhood and their family home. Our range focuses on three key areas: good-looking, essential wooden toys which encourage learning through play; smart storage which helps parents organise and simplify their homes; and well-designed children’s bedroom furniture and accessories to create the perfect spaces for children to grow, play, learn and sleep.”
When is a hedgehog not prickly? When it’s the splendid online store Hedgehog, supplying adults and children with goods that smack of a bygone age. At the helm is a Mum who wanted the best of products for her children and found she could turn her finds into a business. The website has a nostalgic appeal, with categories such as arts, crafts, everyday, wrapping and vintage. The ‘about us’ section of the hedgehog website reads:
“Hedgehog was born out of my own need to find beautiful, practical things for my children. When they were born, I began to build for them a treasure trove of classic toys – many simple, made of wood or natural materials – that reminded me of my own childhood. In addition, I wanted to introduce ethnic toys, and outfits and stories from other parts of the world. As my children have a mixed-race heritage, just as many other families have today, I felt it was important to represent that heritage through play, and through the objects that surround them. So I set out to find them dolls of every colour; folk stories; world music and traditional toys like Russian baboushkas, Chinese cheungsam dresses, flamenco outfits, African masks and stories… and …I will share them with you.”
Home Arama sells a wide variety of products for the home, along with gifts aplenty. It is possible to search the site by brand, room, product or gift, making it easy to find just what you’re looking for. Mike and Caroline formed the company about a decade ago, starting out as the UK office and distributor for Design Ideas, which is based in the USA. Soon, homeArama was born as the site explains thus:
“The name came from combining home with panorama to create homearama implying a wide range of products for, you guessed it, the home!! Our collections are indeed wide in variety, use and style but are all linked in terms of quality, design and competitive pricing. Not all is stocked in our UK warehouse, some we need to fetch from Denmark and some from the US, they are clearly marked and can, at worst, take up to 6 weeks but then, as the saying goes, all good things are worth waiting for!”
Nordic House offers “relaxed scandi style for your home”. This translates to an enticing selection of homeware and gifts for indoors and out. The business is based by the sea in Cornwall and was founded by Sandie and Alan Wallman, who moved to the UK from Sweden in 2005 and bought a derelict property to restore. They enjoyed the process of furnishing their home so much that they decided to turn it into a business. Nordic House was born in 2008. Their passion for the business is evident as they explain their vision:
“We find inspiration everywhere – from our years spent working in Sweden to the ever-changing nature of having a home by the water. We love contemporary design, vintage treasures, crafts, texture, originality, making moodboards, everything artisan, our team, people, Scandinavia and Cornwall… the list goes on! We’re proud to have grown from just the two of us into a very special family of creative people, who share our vision, have great fun working together and are passionate about providing you with excellent service. We are especially proud of our all-female warehouse – there’s something wonderful about seeing a row of high-visibility jackets lined up on a heart-shaped coat rack. We scour Sweden, Denmark and beyond, searching for quirky, affordable Scandinavian-inspired home accessories. We always prefer the original to the traditional and love to bring new and emerging brands into the spotlight. We make sure our collection is regularly updated with seasonal finds – so there’s always something new for you to discover.”
Not on the High Street is a fascinating and enormous collection of original products from some of the best creative small businesses. The company offers a wide range of goods, some of which are delivered free. It is possible to add gift notes and wrapping to many items – handy if you want to send the gift direct to an address other than your own. If you have a question about a product, you can get in touch with the seller directly by clicking ‘ask seller a question’ on any product page or you can ring the award winning customer service team. The site offers a wide array of personalised gifts. We especially like the feature that allows you to create your own gift calendar of significant birthdays and occasions. It sends you a reminder each time you need to buy a gift. So that you’re not feeling left out, you can also create your own wish list for family and friends to access – just to drop a few subtle hints.
Pentreath & Hall is a veritable Aladdin’s cave of a shop on Rugby Street, London. But its doors are open to the world thanks to its winning website, full of desirable products in ranges such as furniture & lighting, accessories, pictures, books, paper & cards. We lose ourselves in the decoupage section, headlined on the site with the line “witty, soulful, happy, decorative: decoupage unlocks a happy life.” Ben Pentreath is an architectural and interior designer. Bridie Hall is a decorative artist and maker. Both bring a powerful creative dynamic to the shop they have run together since 2008, first as Ben Pentreath Ltd and since 2013 as Pentreath & Hall. The website reads:
“Pentreath & Hall is a world that opens up through our website, and especially through Ben’s weekly blog, Inspiration, which has become regular Monday morning reading for thousands of people around the globe. We love meeting these customers, from all over the world, many of whom make a visit to Rugby Street their first stop of any trip to our great capital city of London.”
Formerly dotcomgiftshop.com, Rex London has wide range of lovely gifts for children, pet lovers, cooks and cyclists, to name but a few. You can also create your own wish list – just in case those around you might need a bit of inspiration. The majority of gifts are unique to this company as it designs and manufactures its own product ranges. Here’s the view from the company’s website:
“From floral patterns to adorable animals, we loved creating colourful and playful prints that would stand out and bring joy. Each year we’ve added to our eclectic and stylish collections, and to our reputation for beautiful presents at beautiful prices. In 2005 we opened an online shopping channel so that we could sell directly to the public. A decade (and a bit) later we were an award-winning, international business (we won the 2019 Queen’s Award for Enterprise; for outstanding continuous growth in overseas sales). At the same time, we’ve been working on our kindness to the environment. In April 2018 we were proud to receive an FSC certificate confirming that all of the latest paper products we stock are certified and sustainably sourced. We also make many of our new children’s toys from sturdy cardboard rather than plastic. Nearly all our gifts now come in cardboard packaging. We use recyclable material whenever possible.”
Rockett St. George was launched in 2007 by Jane Rockett and Lucy St. George and is, as their website so eloquently puts it, “an online emporium of expressive homeware with an exceptionally quirky style that inspires and delights. Home to an eclectic mix of treasures which inject magic, charm and personality into interiors.”
Jane and Lucy are always searching for fresh inspiration and hoping to discover new artists, designers and products for their splendidly curated collections. We love the enticing Christmas catalogue, the dark, rich colours of much of the staging and the extensive online store that allows customers to break away from chain store sameness with its “treasure trove of oddities and curiosities collected from designers and manufacturers from around the world.” Jane and Lucy, who went from creating and planning at home over a glass of wine to a team of twenty and three warehouses in six years, even opened a pop-up shop on the fourth floor at iconic London store Liberty.
Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. Susie Watson created this interior design, pottery, furniture and gifts business of warmth and charm in an inspired moment of “now or never”. From humble beginnings – and with impressively rapid progression – Susie’s stores are firmly established and her online selection is beautifully bountiful. Products are handmade from start to finish and the company champions traditional craftsmanship. As Susie says: “Behind every product there is a wonderful story to be told. At Susie Watson Designs we believe that a thing of beauty is a joy forever.” But what of Christmas? Well, of course, Susie’s team delivers impeccably. Her family would have it no other way, judging by the following words from the website, as written by Susie:
“Christmas begins early in our house. Scarcely have we removed our pumpkins, gouged and still grinning from the doorstep, than my thoughts turn to the next seasonal celebration: Advent. The shop windows are calling, awaiting their magical makeover and my kitchen floor is already littered with berries and baubles and foliage. Our new Christmas stockings hang by the fire; even my terriers have bits of red ribbon tied to their collars. I overhear little voices in the hall-way, one remarking authoritatively to the other: oh yes, it is always Christmas in Grandma’s house.”
Tch stands for The Contemporary Home: an online store selling exciting gifts and products for both indoors and out. It stocks seasonal products for Spring and Easter – and more pertinently for our purposes, Christmas. The company is based in a converted boathouse on Hayling Island near Plymouth and is the creation of Clare Satchwell and her team, who set out to source beautiful products that would enhance day-to-day life. The nautical section reflects The Contemporary Home’s coastal base, while the gift section is thoughtfully arranged in categories that make it easy to search. The team loves the festive season so much it has a special Christmas arm of the business entitled ‘The Christmas Home’. You will find many of its products on Not on the High Street. The mission is explained as follows:
“To bring our love of shopping and all things inspiring to our customers in the way we’d like to experience it ourselves (unusual, eclectic, fuss-free, unforgettable and fun!) To create our collection, we’ve trawled through countless suppliers, attended a whole host of trade shows, wheeled and dealed, and wined and dined. We’ve jumped through hoops and pulled things out of hats and, when that wasn’t good enough, we’ve made it up ourselves (most notably our Brussels Sprout Wreath, which has appeared in more magazines and TV shows than we feel we can safely mention without deafening ourselves with our own trumpet!) From small beginnings we’ve found ourselves branching out to stock products from some of the most up-and-coming new designers, as well as being courted by the national press for our phenomenally successful Christmas and Gift ranges. We’re constantly creating and collecting and we never, ever get bored, so that you won’t either.”
Fashion, homeware and gifts aplenty can be found at Trouva – boutique buying in one handy collective. There are splendid selections for women, men and children and the home. Trouva’s claim: it makes boutique shopping simple, stating on its website:
“Shop 150 of the UK’s best independent boutiques. All in one place. All online. We work directly with independents to find unique homewares and lifestyle products. Stand out from the crowd and celebrate beautiful things that express who you are.”
Mrs. C: Right! Time to come up for air. Did you enjoy that? Did you want almost everything on each site? I know the feeling.
Ed Elf: And there you were thinking you were clean out of ideas for the person in your life who has everything and wants for nothing.
Mrs. C: There are several more approaches to this dilemma, mind you – if your brain can take it. So if you haven’t already, take a look at our Gifting Thoughts page. We’ll try to cover all your bases for you.