This year I've decided to put together some holiday gift recommendations that are genuine, personal favourites of mine. It's a way to support the individuals and companies - many of them independents - who make truly great products that also make fantastic gifts. This guide is geared toward design lovers, but there is something here for everyone. Here we go!
Tim Southall, artist
There's something comforting about Tim Southall's paintings and prints. I can't quite put my finger on what it is, but knowing that the British artist's painting techniques are delivered through an 'emotive response' to his natural surroundings in rural southern Spain where he resides is probably a good clue. Tim is clearly connected to the land and sea where he lives and it's reflected in his work which ranges from narrative, graphic etchings to fluid, abstract landscapes. Tim studied in both the UK and Paris and has exhibited regularly in solo and joint exhibitions since 1985.
I came to know Tim through Judith Frankland who wrote a series, Frankly Frankland, for The Swelle Life, recounting her wildly fashionable days at Blitz, featuring in David Bowie's Ashes to Ashes video, designing and making stage costumes for Visage's Steve Strange and being a professional club party fashionista in Milan in the late 80s (her job was to show up and be fabulous, imagine). In one post, Judith tells the story of how she met Tim in London as students and became his muse, inspiring a series of larger-than-life paintings as exuberant and charged as Judith. You can read all about it and see Tim's paintings here
To enquire about Tim Southall's work you can contact him through his website (he's lovely!)
Giving socks as gifts is a known dud, but that's because they weren't Happy Socks! I've been wearing these Swedish-designed socks for over two years and I just don't buy anything else now. They're super comfortable - you notice how good they feel as soon as you put them on - and durable thanks to their high-quality, soft-combed cotton. You can go crazy with colour and pattern or choose some of their more understated styles if you're just getting your feet wet. The collection is unisex so everyone can wear what they want, and if you're going to buy Happy Socks for someone you live with, you really should get some for yourself as well because you will be stealing them! They also make tights, underwear and have a range for kids as well.
If you have a colour-loving design fan on your list, this is a great find. Copenhagen-based architect Henrik Ilfeld designs home accessories in vibrant colours to bring positive energy into people's homes. I was introduced to Korridor's bold, happy forms at the 100% Design show in London in September when I was passing by their stand, and I had to stop and find out more. I had a great chat with Henrik's lovely wife, and then later at Design Junction I got to meet Henrik, and luckily designers are able to sell their products there and so I picked out three wooden pyramid boxes to bring home (neon pink, pale blue, and dark grey). You can see how I've accessorised with them in my 'reveal' post for my new extension, and I want more. They have not been placed and forgotten; I actually sit and look at them - I'm doing it right now! I love that corner. That wonderfully curvy object with the bulb is the Tumling Lampe, and the faceted one is a candleholder, made of concrete with a colour powder mixed in, so the colour is part of the piece. I think it's pretty cool as it is.
Scented candles are a popular choice for a gift; however there's a wide range available in terms of quality, so you want to go with something extra special when choosing yours. Penhaligon's is an English heritage brand that has been creating "original scents for the discerning eccentrics of today"(love that) since 1872, and their scents are still made in England using the finest rare ingredients and hand-blended for a superior burn time. The scent I chose to "christen" our new extension is the Samarkand (£32 /140g) - an exotic oriental blend of clove, jasmine and lily on a warm base of sandalwood and vanilla. It's a very calming and refined aroma that fills the room and lasts well beyond the extinguished flame, and a nice bonus is that it happens to have served as the official scent of London Fashion Week SS15. For an elegant finish to your gift, the Brighton Collection of long matchsticks in a collector's box inspired by John Nash's Royal Pavilion in Brighton is a must. It completes the ritual of filling your house with something lovely.
Lovers of Scandi design will be right at home at Starling, though owner Nicola Eslick takes inspiration from all over the world for her eclectic and often vintage range of home accessories. I found my Mae Engelgeer placemats (scroll to the end of the post to see) at her Brighton-based online shop, and knowing that the Dutch textile artist was on her radar meant I'd be checking back regularly to see what other exciting things she'll be adding to her colourful collection. (She's also got the cushions that would work perfectly in my extension. )
The first watch with the stainless steel case and pale blue grosgrain band is my watch, and I love it. The Poole (£125) is a unisex style from Shore Project's new collection inspired by the beauty and fun of the sea. A nice bonus is that the band can be easily swapped for other colours thanks to a nifty strap mechanism, so you can have a wardrobe of watches out of just one. The retro-style face with crystal sapphire glass is a substantial size that is suitable for a man's large wrist, but it also looks great on my little wrist without overpowering it, and the weight is well balanced so the watch feels solid but never too heavy. The watch is also available with an Italian leather band, and it is waterproofed up to 100 metres, so you really can have fun in the sea while wearing it!
The White T-Shirt Company - thewhitetshirt.com
These basic white tees from The White T-Shirt Company are anything but basic. Called "the perfect white t-shirt" by The Times, they are unrivalled in quality. Once you wear one of these organic, super comfortable and beautifully finished tees, there is no going back. If you know a die-hard 't-shirt and jeans' girl or guy, this is a gift that may just change their life. The collection is ethically produced and has met the Global Organic Textile Standards [GOTS] certification, the highest organic standard in the world. And they just look great. I have the relaxed scoop neck vest and the fitted scoop neck tee which look and feel like they were custom made for me; they fit perfectly. Penny, the uncompromising founder of The White T-Shirt Company, doesn't believe in throwaway fashion, so her t-shirts are made to last. Oh, and they come in black, too.
Chocolarder - chocolarder.com
Oh. My. God. Was what I said when I popped the first piece of Chocolarder's Dominican Republic Dark in my mouth. It starts off gently, with notes of woods and winter spices, then builds to a hint of tart cherry before it intensifies into rich raspberry jam after-tones. It's heaven for dark chocolate lovers (80% cocoa) and a yummy gift your foodie friends and family will properly appreciate. Ok, I will admit that I wasn't rhyming off all of the flavours with accuracy in that succession - they're written on the packaging! - but I did indeed notice the evolution of the notes and flavours which begin to build after you bite in once or twice, without any prompting (I read the label afterward so my first impression would be completely subjective). And it is true that the tasting elicited an emphatic 'Oh my God'; I practically had to sit down to regain my composure. This organic chocolate really is that good and is among the best I've ever had which includes concoctions I've tried in France, Belgium and Italy's chocolate capital, Torino. Would you be surprised if I told you it's made in England? Mike Longman left Michelin star pasty chefing to produce Cornwall's only bean to bar chocolate, and is one of just seven UK artisan chocolatiers who winnow, roast and grind real beans to invent their original confections (the rest melt down high quality chocolate buttons from other manufacturers). £3.95 per 70g bar (they are worth it.) Writing about this chocolate is torturous, I had to stop and order more before I continued. Which ones? Mike's new special blend for Christmas, Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh, Cornish Honeycomb, Javin Milk and the Oh My God bar, of course.
Noémie Vaillancourt is the Montreal-based designer-maker who knows how to work a feather into gorgeous jewellery - never mind feather trends, her original designs endure - and she has now expanded her collection through collaborations to offer clothing and a new range of accessories. Her embellished-design graphic tops and dresses feature the work of fashion illustrator Paule TB and textile designer Amelie Dionoski, and designer woodworker Violaine Tétreault aka Veinage partnered to create the very cool and unique geometric backpack, above. I've known the lovely Noémie for years and have seen her style evolve steadily while staying true to her signature style of combining the soft and delicate with structured elements. All pieces are made in her Montreal studio and she ships worldwide. Keep an eye on her shop to see what exciting new things she comes up with next.
Lovers of 20th century design will be delighted to receive a collection of MidCentury, an independently run, quarterly magazine published in the UK (£10 per issue). As you may have recently seen in my home interior photos, it's a favourite read of mine and a title that will find a permanent place on your bookshelf. It's full of interiors inspiration, iconic design profiles, the best of MidCentury architecture - some of the stunning homes featured were surprisingly built right here in England - plus buyer’s and collector’s guides, and the best places to find original and contemporary pieces. Daydream material, for sure.
Su Blackwell - sublackwell.co.uk
Artist Su Blackwell brings stories and books to life in a delightfully unique way. Inspired by the realm of fairytales and folklore, Su creates exquisite book-sculpture by cutting out images from old books to create three-dimensional dioramas which she displays inside wooden boxes. I've seen some of her wonderful exhibitions and was so happy to find out that she made a greeting and holiday card collection. I bought some of her laser cut designs last year and I admit they were very hard to give away! They are truly beautiful and enchanting, and unbelievably, they cost the same or even less than most of the regular cards I have bought in the shops. They're a like a gift in themselves. (£10 for four.)
Molly Aleza Vogel, jeweller
I became a fan of artisan jeweller Molly Aleza Vogel's work when her voluminous Flower Ring II first caught my eye a few years ago. Driven by the colour black, jet is her medium of choice and the starting point for all of her collections. From her New England studio, she carves and finishes the material to alter its shape and surface, then she might embellish the piece with gemstones or more recently, tiny, coloured enamel spheres she calls 'granules'. I have a set of her Perfect Pair earrings and they are flawlessly crafted. Being able to hold her jewellery in my hand, I can see why she is endlessly fascinated by jet, and that comes down to her talent in transforming the unremarkable raw material into an object of exquisite beauty and desire.
Nava Design - navadesign.com
This Milan-based company has been collaborating with designers since 1970 to produce bags and accessories that look great while making work life easier. Nava became a favourite of mine when their Signal messenger bag made my work life easier, specifically, travelling down to and through London and back. I was able to have my laptop handy and protected on the train journey, and the padded interior compartments were great for keeping my camera and lenses safe while getting around to the shows during London Fashion Week. Their mostly unisex range also includes watches - their minimalist 'Bottle' and 'Plicate' designs are a hit right now - as well as stationery - I love their colourful My Fluo and No Ordinary Notes notebooks which I have handy on my desk :