Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Bear Necessities

Yummy! I just found this "What Cake" Side Plate £22.50 on online boutique It's a lovely piece of illustration by JimBobArt. The bold red, white and black design is very striking and the humour unmistakeable. There are quite a few examples on the site but this one is my favourite because it reminds me of someone very close (and I'm not saying who). It would make a great gift for an art lover as an alternative feature piece for the kitchen wall. Or maybe for a nursery. I venture to say that it is far too nice to actually eat cake off but that's just me. I'm the same about tea towels. 

A Dog's Life

A lovely gift for someone tricky but who treats their dog like royalty. I have several people in mind (and they know who they are!) This handmade dog collar £36.00 from is probably the caviar of pet pressies but then it is handmade in a pretty Liberty floral fabric with gold fixtures and comes with a matching lead. There are a number of designs on the site but this is my favourite. 

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Showcase: Rigby & Mac

Just one more day and the countdown to Christmas officially begins so it's time for another great British shopping showcase. Rigby & Mac is a very stylish store made all the more perfect by the fact that it's eclectic range of products means it is possible to cater for many different tastes. I've had a good browse and come up with some inspirational finds for the holiday season.

1. Leather wrap-around bracelet £24.95

Personally, I'd like this in tan or olive. It's clean and elegant without being too dressy. I think it would look wonderful with a casual shirt, jeans and boots for that priceless "what, this old thing?" look. All in all, an excellent, modern present for a young woman. 

I love this but then I am a total sucker for anything with ceramic knobs on it! The driftwood panel is so understated and provides a lovely contrast for the smooth, creamy hooks and sage green stencilled numbers. I can see this in the hallway of a period house adorned with colourful coats and scarves. It would make a great present for friends with big families by giving everyone their own peg. 

My godson's family recently moved to the country from the suburbs. Now they live right next door to a large section of Dartmoor National Park so, for his birthday in August, I sent him a kite not dissimilar to this so that he and his gadget-mad dad could go out and spend some man time together on weekends. Apparently, it has been a huge hit. A lovely gift for a small boy or girl and a the perfect thing to get everyone out on Boxing Day to walk off the excesses of Christmas dinner.

Both timepiece and fashion accessory, I bought this for a friend's daughter's 6th birthday last year and she absolutely loved it. Apart from the excitement of being able to match her watch strap to her outfits everyday (they grow up so fast!), it was a good way to keep her up to speed on telling the time and makes a great first watch.

This is a highly unusual bit of silvery fun and would be perfect for someone who, like me, likes to make a bit of a feature of their condiments and sauces on a big lazy susan in the middle of their kitchen table. It comes in two styles: strawberry and orange (my favourite) and is presented in a gift box but I would probably send it packaged up with the jam or marmalade pot too.

We started our Sophie Conran for Portmeirion collection with our wedding gift list. It is the most beautiful pottery and we have collected many pieces since...but we don't have these! Adorable little measuring jugs with handwritten measurements on the inside. Like most of the range, they look like little sculptures, display beautifully and would put a big smile on the face of any enthusiastic cook.    

What's it going to be?

It's my baby girl's first birthday next week so it's a pretty happy time. I've just finished putting the finishing touches on her cake and I'm thinking about presents. I did, by the way, buy the 'Ma Little Princesse' hanger I mentioned in my post Scandi Baby Chic and it's gorgeous.  This time last year I was going slowly bonkers wondering if she was ever going to arrive. We didn't know she would be a girl so we didn't really buy her any clothes other than white babygro's before she was born. I did want her to have an outfit to travel home in style in though - very important for that all important 'home from the hospital' shot. I found this gorgeous Cashmere Pullover & Bootees Set £32.00 from Little Hooligan who sell their beautiful range of baby clothes on This was my first present to my own beautiful (and as it turns out not so) little hooligan and, since she arrived in the middle of a snowdrift, most appropriate for braving the icy temperatures outside the sweltering maternity ward. Here she is in all her 3-day old glory wearing the pullover and stripey trousers by Olive & Moss. I can't see the same trousers amongst their range anymore but there are lots of lovely similar designs on their website. Hat, snood and rose brooch by me. If you are handy with the needles and want to buy this for a new baby, you could do what I did and make a little corsage suitable for either a boy or a girl (I had a little knitted bee ready for a boy) so that the mum can attach the appropriate one when she puts it on the baby. I made the attachment out of sticky velcro to avoid having any pins in the nursery. Happy Birthday, little A. 

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Secret Santa Struggles - Seconds

Judging by the popularity of my Secret Santa Struggles post, it seems that there is quite a lot of searching for inspiration going on out there for  that ever elusive office christmas gift so I've come up with a few more suggestions for consideration. All for under £20. Let me know if you plump for any of them. I'd love to know how they were received.

1. Home Made Cookie Stamp £10.00

The thing I love most about this lovely little stamp from Velvet Brown is that the when you're not using it to make bold, beautiful impressions in your baking, you can hang it up in the kitchen to be admired as the lovely piece of design that it is.

I nice gift for someone who likes to organise with style. Presented curled up in a gift box, it hangs on a string with a pretty green label and a peg to mark the date. So pretty!

I have given this as an office present before and it provoked total hysteria because he was my boss and was constantly misplacing his keys. I suppose you have to read the situation before giving someone something that tacitly criticises them but so long as it's done in the right spirit and looks as good as this lovely thing does, you'll probably get a sly look and a big hug like I did. 

There's always one person who comes in to the office and heads straight for the toaster. Like coffee, there are just some things people can't start the day without. This is a lovely gift idea for such a person. I'd probably fill it with some really nice jams, marmalade or some other of their favourite spread. Otherwise, why not use it as a mini-hamper. Send some nice brown paper through the office shredder and pack in some goodies. We had a guy at work who loved those little pots of Gentlemen's Relish, Anchovy Paste and little truckles of cheese encased in colourful wax. This would be a great way to present stuff like that. 

Again, from Berry Red, this may seem like an odd choice but these are great presents for mums with growing families. I buy so many of these for storing blankets, linens and my daughter's clothes when she has outgrown them. They are sturdy, pack in so much and their square shape means that they stand by themselves and stack fairly well when full. This is the prettiest pattern on one of these I've ever seen. Lovely for storing things 'in sight' when the attic is full and a good idea if your Secret Santa is supposed to be something 'silly' and inexpensive. 

One For The Soul

What a treat! In response to my post Secret Santa Struggles last Tuesday, marvellous artist and designer Bridget Wilkinson has produced this lovely Mug Cosy & Mug £12.00. I was speculating about how appropriate it would be to send a Get Well Soon mug cosy with "chicken soup" on it to a poorly friend and now there is one. It positively glows with healing good will. Thanks Bridget! 

Friday, 25 November 2011

Showcase: Patchwork Harmony

Last Christmas I ordered this Storage Jar £18.95 from Patchwork Harmony for an old friend and she loved it. In fact, it was so nice that she very nearly got something else instead. Let's see what else they have in their Aladdin's cave this Christmas.

I have some similar to this in glass that I use to decorate the garden in summer but I think I prefer this teardrop shape to the round ones I have. They seem more stable and are a better shape for hanging. There's also something very romantic about the way that firelight makes porcelain glow.

My mum has a collection of these that she likes to ferry rounds of tea and coffee around on. They are less cumbersome than full size trays if you're just having a drink or a snack and they look lovely. I've also seen them used to decorate console and bedside tables. I avoid this however because if I leave anything shallow and flat lying around, it won't be long before my husband comes along and fills it with the contents of his pockets.

I love, love, love the typography on these simple bags and the cotton ticking-style fabric they are made from. It makes them look really clean and classic. I always fold a bag like this into my luggage when I go away but this one would also look gorgeous hanging on a pretty hook in the bathroom when not in use. 

Speaking of pretty hooks, they always make a nice present in their own right. Who doesn't need to hang stuff up? Ones like this that are based on vintage designs and have ceramic embellishments look really smart almost anywhere in your house. I like to put different ones on the small return of a wall in my kitchen where they have enough drop to hang aprons, shopping bags and baby bits and I have a similar one to these above the sink where I keep a hand towel. 

Even if you don't actually need to weight or wedge a door, interesting and unusual doorstops always add another layer to a room at a level that's hard to cater for. Lots of things can go on surfaces and walls but it's not so easy to find ornaments that look perfectly at home on the floor. They make quite good non-threatening presents for men too. My brother is notoriously difficult to find gifts for and our mum got him a little fabric owl doorstop a couple of Christmases ago that he was a bit confused by at first but cannot now deny has come in very useful in his flat.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Showcase: House Knutsford

It's so nice when amazing shops introduce themselves. I checked out new Twitter follower House Knutsford's beautiful website this evening and have decided not to go to bed until I compose a wishlist of stunning gifts from their collection. It's a tough job but I suppose I'll just have to do it! 

I can see these looking fabulous in a pantry or wine cellar but they would look just as effective in a dressing room or walk-in wardrobe. I love their bold shape and the way the gold metallic lining gives off a warm glow. Their long black cord allows for low suspension to give a lamp effect. Position it over a vintage telephone on a console table for a surrealist look.

I like nicely packaged, good quality soaps but I rarely use them to wash my hands. I like to put them in drawers to scent my clothes and keep my boudoir smelling beautiful. This packaging looks almost too nice to hide away so I might need two: one for the drawer and one for the toiletries bowl in my guest room.

Make a man very, very happy. One for the boys this and for car lovers everywhere. 57cm x 32cm x 28cm and every sumptuous inch made from and embellished with high quality leather.

I own the earlier version of this without the knife block and I have given it several times as a housewarming gift. I find it is particularly suitable for boys because, even if they completely ignore it, it looks undeniably cool on the work top in a trendy bachelor pad. The four boards are colour coded according to type of food: raw meat, cooked food, fish and vegetables and they all fit neatly into a silver knife block with handy tabs to 'file' them away when not in use. 

A bone china lamp that glows from within to give off a low, warm light. Great for fending off the monsters under the bed. Also available in rabbit and owl designs. 

Finally, and at the risk of completely over-exposing mugs this week, I have to just slip this little bone china one in because it is so pretty and a nice stylish antidote to all the relentless 'Keep Calm & Carry On" kitsch that seems to be absolutely everywhere at the moment. As I mentioned in my earlier post (A Grateful Cuppa), I think delicate, elegant mugs with unusual designs make lovely thank you and housewarming gifts especially if you pair them up for a couple.

A Grateful Cuppa

I love to give mugs as thank you presents. And I don't mean the big chunky mass-produced kind with daft cartoons and slogans. I like to find exquisite little pieces that look like works of art, wrap them up in generous amounts of soft tissue paper and present them snuggly nestled in mini gift bags with ribbon handles. The days of matching crockery are long gone. Modern style dicatates that we collect things for our home that we find beautiful and that 'complement' rather than 'match' eachother. The more eclectic, the better. Personally, I always choose my mug according to what I fancy to drink and for a rare afternoon's feet up with the papers and a pot of fresh loose leaf Earl Grey, I would have to choose something like this (above). The small Love Birds Red/ Pink Stipe Senseo Mug £6.95 is just one of a range of beautiful designs by Pip Studio. Delicate and vibrant, I love the little robin and the subtle gilding. They are definitely available in Selfridges because I bought a few as thank you gifts for some friends who helped us out with a project we had to deliver recently but I have seen them in other independent gift shops. Pack two different ones together as a great thank you present for a couple.   Decorative, eye-catching and practical, they make a great impact when you really want to let someone know how much you appreciate them.

Windows Are Illuminated

I've just sent one of these to my aunt who made me lunch today. We had a lovely afternoon and she's just had her kitchen and living room completely updated so I wanted to find her something decorative to go in it. The kitchen in her lovely Victorian semi has always been the centre of her house and home life and family is the driving force in her life. This cream house lantern £6.95 from Strawberry Fool has room in the back for a tea light that allows a warm glow to flicker through the windows. So pretty and a memorable way to say "Thank you for having me. Your house looks great".

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Avoca - Do!

I was away from my computer all day yesterday because I had to spend seven hours walking around Kingston-Upon-Thames (long story). Along the way, I found Huttons, a great little gift shop that sells, amongst other things, beautiful products from Irish family-run business Avoca. On further investigation, I find that Avoca's website is stuffed to the beak with fantastic gift ideas for all the women in your life. Here is my personal shopping list:

1. Grandmother

I'm really drawn to the vivid colours in this 100% Lambswool Throw €49.95 (approx. £43.00) (142cm x 100cm) which would add a dash of vibrance to any room and keep Nanna cosy all winter long.

2. Sister/ Best Friend

This Acorn Cape Black €89.00 (approx. £76.50) was made in Italy. Give your sis or best mate something she can lend you when you have "nothing to wear".

3. Mum

Treat your mother to these pretty and colourful mugs to enjoy her coffee in with this Jumble Gift Box €79.95 (approx. £69.00) complete with sugar and creamer stack.

4. Daughter

What lovely hot water bottles I'm finding at the moment! I really think that they are under-rated as a gift; so pretty and they last a lifetime. This Hibernate Hottie €39.95 (approx. £34.00 ) comes in a choice of slate grey or fuschia, has a lace trim and a pretty label that reads "Baby It's Cold Outside". 

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Get Well Soon Wishlist

Uh-oh! I have a sick friend. Not very seriously sick but serious enough to put her under the covers in need of tea and sympathy. This calls for some serious research. Here we go!

1. Mug Cosy by Bridget Wilkinson £12.00

Fittingly, I featured Bridget's work on the blog only today. Her pretty cosies are perfect for keeping the chicken soup warm.

2. Solmate Socks in Cosmos from £14.00

Breaking my rule on socks just this once because these are fun, multi-coloured, cosy and mis-matched. Perfect for a day on the sofa.

3. Pocket Tissue Cover by Blonde Design £5.00

Go equipped for a runny nose in style with this. I love the combination of pretty fabrics Blonde Design have used here. There are eight to choose from in their Folksy shop but this is my favourite. 

4. Retro First Aid Tin £4.55 from Marigolds & Marmalade £4.55

This natty little tin (6cm x 13.5cm x 10cm) would make a superb receptacle to stuff with sweeties or chocolates to give to a poorly friend. 

For the nimble fingered, this cashmere cable knit hot water bottle cover kit is the ultimate luxury. Give as a gift for them to assemble under the covers or make it yourself and send it on for that handmade touch.

Seasonal Sauce

I don't own a gravy boat. I've thought about it a lot over the years but never actually got round to seeking one out. The only time I ever seem to need one is on Christmas Day when putting the finishing touches on lunch. And for that reason, I must admit to being very taken by this lovely new seasonal Gravy Jug & Stand £34.95 by Emma Bridgewater. Resplendent in cream, green and red and printed with delicate little hearts and the word 'Joy', it would indeed be a pleasure to roll out this little beauty once a year at Christmas dinner. If you go elsewhere over the period, I think this would make a lovely thank you gift for whomever is responsible for directing operations in the kitchen over the holidays. I would probably place it on a large sheet of crisp cellophane with a teeny, tiny potted poinsettia inside it and close the whole lot up with a thick, green, satin ribbon. Scruptious!

Secret Santa Struggles

If you are struggling with this year's Secret Santa at the office, may I venture a suggestion: Tea. The perfect gift for a Brit. I can't even count on one hand the people I know who don't drink it in one form or another. I have given mug cosies to people on all sorts of occasions. I once gave one as a welcome gift at work and they also make great Get Well Soon gifts (although I've yet to find one with 'Chicken Soup' on it which would be absolute perfection). I love these simple but bold Mug Cosies £12.00 by British designer Bridget Wilkinson - crocheted and attractively embellished with felt, buttons and little tapestried labels - they look like mini works of art. And they come complete with, what I would describe as a really good solid mug. This is a selling point for me as I loathe 'apologetic' crockery. I've picked out the Earl Grey one because that's my tipple but they are all absolutely lovely. Perfect as a thoughtful but unostentatious present and of almost universal appeal. So there it is. Secret Santa solved. Now stuff it with a packet of the recipient's favourite blend and and a vintage style infuser (like this one) and you'll wish you could put your name on the gift tag.

Workshop Wonderland

Have you ever wandered around antique fairs, flea markets and car boot sales thinking: That's nice! It would come up beautifully if I gave it a lick of paint? I do. Frequently. Ever since I discovered some very old Annie Sloan books on furniture painting techniques a while back, I've been completely hooked. Now we just need a bigger house to accommodate my creations. Workshops are a fantastic way to treat someone who, like me, has a particular leaning towards a certain type of skill or hobby. Mine will always be crafts although I have been known to try new things. My aunt once gave me a one-day crash course in cookery at the Leiths Cookery School in London which was, to say the least, terrifying but left me with my sanity intact and a few tips and tricks under my belt that I use to this day. 

West Egg Interiors is an online boutique store which specialises in sourcing and restoring vintage furniture and decorative home wares. Each piece a one off, this shop is a treasure chest of deeply desirable stuff to complement your house and they also provide one-day courses where you can go along and learn about decorative techniques yourself. Furniture Painting Workshops £115.00 last for one fabulous fun-filled day and you can learn all sorts of useful painting, distressing and waxing techniques to give you the confidence to go let rip on an upcycled masterpiece of your own. The courses are designed for beginners and based near Colchester in Essex. If this is a bit out of your way, then doubtless there are others that a Google search will turn up for you, but I like this one because I particularly like West Egg's shop and philosophy. A workshop makes an unforgettable gift but, if it's too tempting to give away, do what I've done in the past; take a mate and agree pay for each other to go as a mutual birthday present. These things are always so much more fun in company anyway.

Say It With Herbs

We once drove down to Dorset to visit a friend who had quit the rat race to raise her new family in one of those dreamy old english villages. To say she had 'gone native' was an understatement. In one seemingly gigantic step, she had graduated from a small two bed flat in London to a beautiful old thatched cottage complete with Aga and authentic low beams. No word of a joke, my husband and I were salivating before we even reached the front door. In addition to this, they had a rambling garden that climbed all the way up to the top of a little hill in which they kept bantams and grew all of their own vegetables. Sigh. Anyway, I digress. I was staying for a few nights and I needed to find them an appropriate gift to thank them for their hospitality. Now, I confess that I have been guilty of turning up with the odd bottle of wine (good stuff) on certain occasions and there's very little wrong with that if followed up with a nice, handwritten note, but, given the drama of their lifestyle change, something was holding me back from doing so now. Even a good bottle of red seemed too paltry an offering, so I found an old balsa wood crate, cleaned it up a bit and filled it to the brim with farmer's market fresh herbs and vegetables. I figured she could have lots of fun on the Aga with the produce and use the crate for something practical to keep plants in in the garden afterwards.

How much more spectacular would my gift have been if only I had known about Growing Gifts. This Cornflower Blue Apple Crate £16.50 (L30 x H21.5 x H16cm) can be personalised with up to fourteen letters per line and makes the perfect vessel for a present to say thank you or anything else for that matter. The picture suggests that it works just as well as a unique wedding gift. I also now have my mother (a keen gardener) in mind for Mother's Day. So versatile and shows both thought and originality. And so far as treating someone goes, it doesn't get much better than that. 

Monday, 21 November 2011

Scandi Baby Chic

A couple of days ago I mentioned one of my favourite gifts from when I had my baby last year and the good news is that I've finally tracked them down. That's the good news. The bad news is that the Danish company that makes them, Maileg, doesn't have an online store and, at this time, no retail outlets in the UK. I can only locate their shops in Scandinavia and North America. This makes sense now because Catherine's husband is in fact half-Danish and they make frequent trips to the country. Anyway, I thought it would be nice so put these wooden hangers on the blog because they really are exquisite. I've never found anything that comes close to their design or shape. According to their website, it looks as though Maileg products may shortly be available on a new website called Scandi Chic which is currently under construction. However, I notice that some of their lovely range of toys and accessories are currently available at Sister's Guild including this similar one (£5.50) below which is equally lovely. 
I look forward to seeing what other products will become available when Scandi Chic goes live and will keep this page posted with updates.

A Place For Everyone

Now this is something I'd be thrilled to receive. A great Christmas gift for anyone you know with a busy life...and that's pretty much everyone in my address book. Normally, I'm not a fan of those little crowded flip calendars that look tacky and force you to write so small you need a magnifying glass to read back what you've put. But these calendars not only look great, they have more than enough space for everyone to table their own commitments without jostling for supremacy. I found them on the excellent Strawberry Fool gift website. I'll definitely be getting the Couple's Calendar £8.99 for my brother and his girlfriend this year as I've noticed that she has taken to highlighting his and her appointments on their calendar with different coloured neon markers so this would definitely make that job easier for her. Also, they're about to emigrate so it will be something easy to slip into their luggage as they leave. No doubt I will find more than one recipient for the Family Calendar £9.99 too. We've had so many new babies this year, it's hard to keep track. Additional features of both products include a deep storage pocket for bits and pieces and extra column space for notes or extra reminders. Beautiful and practical. 

Little Foldable Works of Art

A couple of Valentine's ago, I bought a set of two tea towels for my culinary lovin' husband in a bit of a rush. We never buy each other extravangant gifts on this occasion because we like to spend the money on a good steak instead but a gesture must be made...and this was mine. They were ribbon-wrapped, brilliant white, crisp and thick with a great red type printed onto them which, in my rush, I thought said: LOVE. So I was a bit non-plussed when he unwrapped them and the beautiful scrolling script revealed the legend: TEA TOWEL. Still to this day, we can't quite bring ourselves to use them much because they are  so pretty but I still think the artist missed an opportunity with the wording there.  

I love illustrated tea towels like this though. They're little foldable works of art. This beautiful design The Great British Biscuit £10.00 is by British artist and illustrator Jill Tytherleigh. Check out her very lovely website too. Now, personally I would NEVER use something as gorgeous as this to wipe the crocks. Most likely, I would pin it onto thin foam core in a nice simple boxframe (like this one) and hang it in my kitchen (though very little wall space left in there now) or give it to someone framed as a housewarming gift or as the perfect pressie for an enthusiastic chef.