Five of the Best Gift Guides

This year, instead of my own gift guide ( I feel like I’m a bit late to start that party now) I thought I would share some of the best gift guides I have seen for design lovers and that way you can all discover new people and ideas. My philosophy on choosing presents hasn’t changed. Pick a room that suits a person, based perhaps, on things they like to do, and starting with something small, build up and out until you hit your budget with a bit of lateral thinking round the edges. So, in short, a mug, a tea towel, a recipe book, a coffee pot, some great coffee and biscuits, a reservation at their favourite restaurant. In Venice.

Or a book, a cushion, a pair of fabulous glasses, something to pour into said glasses, a throw, a voucher for a cinema ticket (imagine that) and so on.

fireplace garland by melanie lissack interiors for red magazine
fireplace garland by melanie lissack interiors for red magazine

Once you start thinking that way it becomes much easier to start small and add on. Unless you are my 17yo son. Who only likes art. And gets art equipment all year long for his A levels. And who is having driving lessons. But who is not getting a car. Or even, at this stage, his name on my insurance. Parents of teenage boys get in my comments please… And he hates sport btw so none of that.

I have written about buying gifts in my column in the current issue of Red Magazine (January 2021) and am thrilled to announce that I will be continuing to write for them through 2021 too. It has been lovely to return to print after so many years online and it’s a magazine I love – do come and join me over there if you fancy. A magazine subscription is another great present and if you like the idea of subscriptions then do read last week’s post on the 15 best subscription boxes for the gift that keeps on giving.

So gift guides. Interesting to note that the current (and continuing) mania for instagram means there are fewer blog guides this year and given that they take sooooo long to put together I think it’s worth sharing the good ones. As usual, in no particular order.

Bianca Hall, of French for Pineapple, has come up with 25 very cool gifts for the very hard to buy for. And we’ve all got at least one of those. Look here for gorgeous ceramics, a particularly lovely set of espresso cups (and the tea towel to round it off. Or a gorgeous cocktail measure since this has been the year of the stiff drink.

Gitfs for the hard to buy for from French for Pineapple
Very cool gifts for the very hard to buy for from French for Pineapple

Lisa Dawson split her gift guide into two this year focusing on independent stores and gifts for under £30. “Behind every item there is a small, creative, independent hardworking company or artisan who are passionate about their product.  These sellers put their heart and soul into making the buying experience as individual as they are and the customer service that they offer is personal and tailored.

“Thirty beautiful and individual items that not only will fit your budget as they are all £30 or under, but they will also promote your position as a caring and thoughtful gift giver.  And best of all, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your sofa.  All these items can be ordered online without a car parking ticket or queue in sight – you don’t even need to put your coat on.  Plus you will be supporting small business by buying from an independent shop,” she says.

lisa dawson gift guide from independent stores
lisa dawson gift guide from independent stores

Next up Melanie Lissack, who created that very beautiful fireplace garland for Red magazine and whose very beautiful (and huge) gift guide for design lovers includes both small brands and high street shops and, coming at the end of a week when two of our biggest names have collapsed, we need to support our high streets as the life blood of small towns too.

gift guide for design lovers by melanie lissack
gift guide for design lovers by melanie lissack

Dee Campling’s guide focuses on small shops and items with a cosy feel and she has 10 picks from stores that you may not know so do have a look over there if you’re looking for new places to discover.

Dee Campling's gift guide focuses on small shops with a cosy feel
Dee Campling‘s gift guide focuses on small shops with a cosy feel like these cushions from poppy and honesty

Lastly, I can’t leave you without the colour lover’s Christmas gift guide by my very own podcasting co-host Sophie Robinson, who has found a fabulous selection of joyful gifts (and remember you don’t have to put them all together in the same room at the same time!

a colour lover's christmas guide by sophie robinson
a colour lover’s christmas guide by sophie robinson

That should give you all something to go through. I hope you find some inspiration from these suggestions of affordable, hard to please, colourful, design lovers and supportive of both small stores and our high street as well. I’ve seen several things I’d like. Sadly still nothing for a non-sporting, non-reading, artistic, dangerous-driving 17yo old.

Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. I also have a 17 year old learning to drive (girl not boy), so I’m with you! My daughter wants a Rocketbook, which is a reusable notebook that allows you to scan and upload your notes into the cloud and into specific applications. She’s planning to use it for note taking and planning at school next year but it could also function as a sketch board. Good luck!

  2. Good Morning Kate,
    No teenagers left at home now. One suggestion for your 17yo is for him to take charge of this year’s Christmas decorations and gift wrapping? Not as something fobbed upon him; more as a creative expression of his art practice?
    Love your philosophy on gift giving!

  3. I’d suggest an experience for your son. Off road driving? Something creative/physical such as throwing on a potter’s wheel or glass blowing or smithing?. I’d go for the potters wheel with the Ghost DVD for a linked gift. The latter because everyone should have a little bit of seasonal Kitschmas.

  4. Experience days are great – I organised my stepsons and husband to drive an army tank around a muddy field- they loved it! Glass blowing experience for an artistic person is also fun and you get to take something you created home! Have also seen iron mongery/blacksmith days. Hope that’s helpful!

  5. Great blog as usual with some lovely ideas. As for the teenager, how about a driving experience – racing a Ferrari around a track or off-road driving etc. Good luck. Husbands and sons really are the most difficult to buy for!

  6. Great ideas! (Both you Kate and Sarah)
    How about a ticket to the Edvard Munch exhibition (curated by Tracey Emin) at the RA for your son? It’s on until the end of February.

  7. How about an experience day for your son doing son completely different to anything he has tried before…….alternatively I know you said he’s not into sports and my eldest son isn’t either but he loves climbing. Indoor climbing walls are fantastic and he could go for a taster session.
    One last idea ….for my youngest son’s 21st birthday (he is studying photography at uni and is very into all things art) I arranged for him to make himself a ring instead of me buying him something and potentially getting it wrong. He loved this and designed and made himself a lovely silver ring.

    1. Well….. he got into jewellery making in lockdown and has made me a gorgeous ring and himself several. I have got him some more tools…. and yes he likes climbing so that’s another good idea – maybe a membership or a course of lessons. Hopefully it will be open next year. Thank you so much for these brilliant ideas. x

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