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Home Front: Buying for a home bird this Christmas? Here’s how to get it right

As the festive season looms, Cate Burren of Angel and Blume Interior Design debates the etiquette of buying things for other people’s houses

There is something about buying interior accessories, furniture or artwork for friends and relatives that is tricky. It is not just that they will probably feel the need to display the item which might be awkward if they don’t love the present you have selected, but it might also feel as though you are indicating that their abode is in need of a bit of improvement. This, of course, may just be the over-thinking mind of an interior designer at play, but I do find both the offering and accepting of presents for a home to be one open to upset.

The first thing to remember when selecting an item for a loved one’s home is that it is about what they like, not what you like. If you are able, have a good look at what they already have – you obviously don’t want to replicate things they already own, but at the same time, you don’t want to offer something that is completely at odds with their current furnishings.

Buying for a home bird this Christmas? Here’s how to get it right. . . Image: Soho Home
Buying for a home bird this Christmas? Here’s how to get it right. . . Image: Soho Home

I would suggest that you don’t make purchases from their favourite shops, because they will probably know and have considered those items anyway. Much better to find a source that sells their style but that is new to them, which might mean some research is needed.

If they regularly buy an interiors magazine, or have interiors books, there is often a directory included that can be quite a rich source of places to buy interior products that are in the style they like. There are also directories like The List from House and Garden (thelist.houseandgarden.com) or The House Directory (thehousedirectory.com) – these are less filtered to a particular style, but they will generally include higher-end interiors-focused suppliers.

A clue might be a particular designer or an interiors style they might like, or even a restaurant or hotel that they are drawn to. This might give you an idea of what type of look they aspire to and, on that note, might they like a book about that designer or style, or indeed a magazine subscription?

For anyone that is a bit of an interiors obsessive, it is hard to get too much of well-presented, well-photographed homes to help the creative process – there is something about seeing images in high quality print that will always be better than looking at a screen.

If your recipient is a fan of secondhand/vintage items, this gives you added scope because there is something marvellous (and I say this from the heart) about an antique treasure that is a one off and that has been sourced with you in mind.

My mother regularly buys me something from her local antique shop for Christmas – I’ve received a wonderful glass paperweight, a lovely old set of cutlery, a pair of china bookends, all of which are things I love. My heart beats a bit faster when she hands me a gift and says ‘This is for you and it’s from the Emporium’.

Buying for a home bird this Christmas? Here’s how to get it right. . . Image: twentytwentyone
Buying for a home bird this Christmas? Here’s how to get it right. . . Image: twentytwentyone

Of course, not everyone is obsessed with the interiors of their home – if they aren’t (and I would like to hope they consider getting help for this horrifying condition), you might still be able to give them a practical item for their home. If possible, see if their present can be at the attractive, well-made end of the scale – there is hope for everyone and you might be able to inspire them to better things. As a starting point, try Labour and Wait (labourandwait.co.uk) and Baileys (baileyshome.com) for treasures of this type.

As a general rule of thumb, I would say that smaller in size is better than bigger, unless you are very sure they are going to like the item. This is simply because there is less of it to offend when on display and it’s easier to put in a cupboard between visits if the item fails the ‘on show’ test. I also think that artwork is particularly difficult to get right, because you really should absolutely love the artwork on your walls, whereas a mildly offensive cushion or knick-knack is easier to mix in with others to dilute it.

Some presents are less permanent than others, which I would aim for if you are feeling nervous in your gift selection. Items such as scented candles, stationery (I personally would like to receive almost anything from Cambridge Imprint for Christmas - see cambridgeimprint.co.uk), bathroom products, throws, cushions, photo frames. . . The key with all these is to buy small amounts of the luxurious sort that your loved one perhaps wouldn’t normally treat themselves to.

But the rules still apply to these items, particularly focusing on what they might like rather than what you like. And of course, make sure they do actually like the said item. I found out that my sister-in-law doesn’t like scented candles of any description soon after I told my mother that I had bought my sister-in-law a (in my opinion) gorgeous and expensive scented candle for Christmas.

So what do you do if you get a gift for your home that you don’t love? Well, of course it will depend on your relationship with the person who gave it to you – you will know whether you can be frank or not, but I suggest that a lot of us wouldn’t want to be told a gift is not liked/wanted, as mostly present-buying takes a fair amount of effort and expense.

I think gracious acceptance is important (a small festive drink often helps with this), then in January, work out where it can live in your house - either somewhere discrete where it doesn’t offend you or in a cupboard with occasional outings – or how to recycle it on to someone who might love it.

Of course, on the flip side of this is the present you might give that may not be a huge success. It is important to remember, once you have tried hard to buy something that might be liked, that part of the present is your own discretion about ever mentioning it again. Once the wrapping is off, it is no longer anything to do with you and if you never see it again in the future, the reason is probably obvious.

I am aware that in this season of joy and goodwill, I might be sounding ever so slightly negative about the (what should be) pleasurable pastime of exchanging gifts. It’s just that receiving a gift that you love is such a wonderful thing and I would argue that for adult gift receivers, particularly in this age where we all seem to be having a go at decluttering, it is so much better to get one well-thought-through gift for your home that you actually want and like, than a load of things you don’t.

A very happy Christmas to you all when the big day arrives. And in the meantime, the best of luck with the shopping.

Find out more about Angel and Blume Interior Design at angelandblume.com

For those who love a hip hotel visit, Soho House has a range of homeware to tempt the best of us: sohohome.com
twentytwentyone is a target-rich environment when shopping for design aficionados, particularly those with an appreciation of a hint of retro: twentytwentyone.com

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