Love it or loathe it, Christmas shopping is part of what defines December (or November, if you're one of life's organised types). For our favourite concept stores across the country, it's all about curating an edit of covetable gifts, coping with the extra crowds and finding time for some serious festive decorating while they're at it. Here's what they had to say...
AG HENDY & CO | HASTINGS
Christmas is both magical and practical at Alastair Hendy’s charming, utility-inspired general store
When does Christmas begin for you? It kicks in with a trip to the local Christmas tree farm to choose trees and spruce branches to decorate my Tudor house in Hastings Old Town, which is open to the public in December. The smell of the damp, cut pine triggers all things festive.
Tell us about how you buy and prepare for Christmas in your shop... I go for a two-pronged approach: the practical and the magical. I firmly believe the everyday to be special and the utilitarian desirable. A ball of hemp twine; a handmade brush; a creamware water jug: they are all objects of extraordinary pared-back beauty and, better still, totally useful. Upstairs, I create a special Christmas room. Last year, it was loosely based around the wonderfully dark 1971 short film Jabberwocky by the Czech surrealist animator extraordinaire Jan Švankmajer.
Where do you get your inspiration for how you ‘do Christmas’ each year? Inspiration occurs at the oddest moments in the year. Usually the chance find of a haul of beautiful items, which more than likely lands mid-summer, and that little festive bell in my head ting-a-lings: ‘that’s my Christmas window display!’ One year, it was a stash of Victorian books filled with dark illustrations. Last year, the window theme was The Ghosts of Christmas Past: the entire contents of an old pharmacy were installed, lit by flickering candles, with faded Victorian portrait photographs peering out through shattered baubles and frosted chemist bottles, translucent with tincture traces and remedial unguents.
How do you make Christmas shopping feel special? The shop is like a storybook. Seeing customers place their purchases on the counter for wrapping, it’s as though they’ve been on a journey and these are their joyous tales to tell. E-commerce has removed this sensory, serendipitous experience – yet we’ve tried to reflect it back into our highly visual website, where you’ll discover our world, with more than just products for sale. Magic, romance and theatre, with a dark twist, transports customers into that other place and they leave thrilled with beautiful gifts for Christmas. Everyone loves a story.
Any tips/ideas that people can bring into their own homes? Think dinner table. It’s the place where most of the action happens. Be bold and keep to a two-colour palette. Use simple starched linen, white plates and silver-plated vintage cutlery – food always tastes better when handled by weighty cutlery – adding church candles with trails of ivy or tall candles mounted in myriad bottles that glint with the flicker of the flames. Or use scrubbed wood boards and wooden bowls; adding autumn leaves and turned wooden candlesticks. Simple is special in our busy lives.
What does considered gift buying mean to you? A gift is to be of use, to last and to treasure and should also take into account the receiver’s needs, be beautifully wrapped and good to the environment. AG Hendy & Co hails from the hardware school of thought when it comes to present giving. Simple, sound, honest and enduring gifts. No frills. Wrapped in our brown paper and string and with one of our signature oval stickers attached, it becomes a gift truly considered.
What are your gifting highlights from your shop this year? We are offering the perfect present solution – one of our unique own-branded vintage gift boxes packed with a bespoke selection of our brushes and other products. Make it up yourself, or choose from the many we offer on our website. Beautifully wrapped, packed, labelled and parcelled, it’s all you could want for a Christmas brimming with traditional values. aghendy.com
CARO | BRUTON
When visitors pop into her chic homeware store this December, founder Natalie Jones plans to ‘wrap them up in Christmas spirit’
When does Christmas begin for you? The first weekend of December, when the tree goes up. I love choosing the tree, retrieving the decorations from the attic and adding new finds to the collection each year. I put on Nat King Cole, open a bottle and prolong the event as much as possible.
Where do you get your inspiration for how you ‘do Christmas’ each year? It’s generally inspired by how I’m feeling. Some years, I’m looking for colour and humour to lighten things up a bit. Other times, I’m looking for comfort and calm. If I’m hosting, I’ll spend a lot of time researching recipes that will inspire the table, when and how we're going to eat and drink, as well as entertainment. What makes Christmas ‘Christmas’ is lots of candlelight, foraged winter fauna and a spicy scent in the air. My son Arlo is now two years old, so I’m enjoying makingChristmas our own and introducing new rituals.
Tell us about how you buy for the festive season... I try to introduce new makers to the store, so there are things to be discovered. It’s important to offer something for everyone in terms of a range of gifts at differences prices. I’m always on the lookout for covetable stocking presents, as well as treasured objects. Often, there will be a unifying concept; this year, we’re focusing on being ‘conscious’ and asking others to be mindful of what they are buying and how they are giving. We are introducing a cloth bag, which Caro will offer as an alternative to the paper bag as well as act as a beautiful keepsake.
How do you enhance the Christmas shopping experience? Scent is especially important during Christmas at Caro. We want to encourage people out of the cold and wrap them up in festive spirit with a winter scent of cinnamon and orange when they enter. Lunaria, a local company, works with us on our floral design, which always brings a beautiful atmosphere and a concept that is taken throughout the store. This year, we’ve installed a whimsical floral cloud occupying a whole window. I want it to lift spirits and make people smile as they walk past.
Any tips for festive decorating at home? Start with the dinner table – you spend most of the time there on Christmas Day! I love at all candle on the table and a garland trailing down the middle. Add lights and sparkle to unexpected places, too – put some lights or candles outside for extra festive cheer. What does considered gift buying mean to you? Often, there’s a sense of ‘more, more, more’ at Christmas, which can be overwhelming. We encourage people to shop from independent retailers in an effort to save the high street, but also to consider where each item has come from. Would the receiver prefer an experience, instead? At Caro, we offer vouchers, which can include a night at our b&b instead of an object in-store if preferred.
What are your gifting highlights from your shop this year? We’re extending our ceramics range in collaboration with Kana, inspired by the connection between the city and the country. Caro will be introducing the new scent by Comme des Garçons X Monocle, inspired by Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, as well as acquiring French skincare brand Minois Paris, a natural range for babies and children. And we have jewellery by Hermina Athens, alongside a new range of textiles, homeware and stationery. carosomerset.com
MIDGLEY GREEN | CLEVEDON
Selling the best of British craft, co-founder Katherine Midgley will fill the shop with natural, handmade wonders made to last a lifetime
When does Christmas begin for you? We fully embrace the season around the middle of November, when we put the decorations up. We are aware that our business is in its element during the festive season. Which means planning takes place throughout the year, from 1 January right up to the big day.
Tell us about how you buy for the festive season... Our ethos has always been ‘buy less and buy better’. You won’t find many pieces that we don’t stock all year round, from pottery, textiles and handmade homewares. Our products have a story to tell at any time, from the materials to the maker. Christmas is not the time to fill the shop with unnecessary, novelty items. We’d much rather just get more of the pieces we love from our makers.
How do you enhance the Christmas shopping experience? My mum bakes mince pies every year for customers to enjoy. They’ve become famous around Clevedon!
Any tips for stylish festive decorating? You can’t go wrong with bringing the outdoors in. Look in your garden. You’ll always find something – even twigs can make a sculptural display when arranged in large glass jars. Bunches of eucalyptus can be found on good high streets; the smell and silvery-green colour add a subtle festive touch. Our favourite fairly lights are the copper wire ones – they’re so much better than the plastic ones.
What does considered gift buying mean to you? Christmas is a time when we should be able to indulge in buying lovely things– if it feels great to buy, it will be as great to receive. When buying, we always consider– who made it, where was it made and what it’s made from. If produced locally, by a good craftsperson and from sustainably sourced materials, it’s a winner. You’ll be gifting something that supports an independent shop, a local maker and helping to save our planet with minimal impact materials. If you’re struggling to buy a gift for someone, don’t buy anything at all. It’s far more memorable to share a nice glass of wine with a loved one than gift something they won’t value. Spend time, not money.
What are your gifting highlights from your shop this year? Lin Lovekin’s baskets are on our own wish list. Lin’s willow baskets sum up everything our shop is about. Homegrown willow and a handmade product that will last you a lifetime. Plus, of course, they are incredibly good-looking. We receive a batch before Christmas and they tend to sell within hours. Join our mailing list if you’d like to get hold of one. midgleygreen.com
EARL OF EAST | LONDON
Co-founder Paul Firman reveals that cosy scents and hosted workshops will be the focus in his home fragrance store
Where do you get your inspiration for how you ‘do Christmas’ each year? Travel has always been our [Firman and co-founder Niko Dafkos] main inspiration, so our adventures tend to inform our approach. Last year, we created huge peace wreaths and used conifer as decoration throughout. We’d spied this minimal style inCalifornia when we stayed in LA for Christmas and it felt very us. In terms of packaging and presentation, we learnt a lot from our time in Japan: the attention that goes into how goods are presented is something we have tried to replicate in-store.
Tell us about how you buy for the festive season... Christmas is no different from the rest of the year, the store probably just feels more plentiful. We always look to build a world around our own line, by this we mean bringing in independent makers from the places that have inspired our scents. Retail should be an experience, so we also plan our workshop and events schedule right up until the holidays. We host many classes together with a roster of other great artisans.
How do you make Christmas shopping feel special? That festive feeling can been gendered in so many ways, but for us, it has to be scent. We lean in to our cosier fragrances like Smoke & Musk and burn them in the store. We also offer personalisation, so customers can buy a candle and make it even more individual to the receiver. Sharing the stories behind the brands and makers we stock is also important.
What does considered gift buying mean to you? We sell items that people can cherish, rather than overpackaged throwaway gift sets. When we shop personally, we always look to buy independent and to support our local shops and makers.
What are your gifting highlights from your shop this year? We’re very excited about launching some new products – this winter sees the release of handwash and hand balm in our Japanese bathing line. It’s been a year in the making and it will be exclusive with us until the New Year. Our debut book, The Scented Candle Workshop (Kyle Books,£20) has just been released and offers a hands-on guide to candle making. earlofeast.com
The best of the festive rest
Four more of our favourite emporiums for sourcing thoughtful gifts and timeless trimmings
BAILEYS | HEREFORDSHIRE
What is it? A destination store housed in former farm buildings in the rolling Welsh borders, Baileys was founded by husband-and-wife team Mark and Sally Bailey. It is a treasure trove of reclaimed and antique homeware and accessories.
What should I buy? New finds include old Hungarian linens, vintage chapati boards and handmade Swedish spoons.
Anything else I should know? Stop by the tearoom, an old tin tabernacle, for coffee and homemade cake after you’ve had your fill of inspiration. baileyshome.com
CHOOSING KEEPING | LONDON
What is it? An emporium of beautiful stationery, art and craft materials, decorative wrapping papers and old-fashioned office sundries, tucked away in Covent Garden.
What should I buy? Highlights include decoupage pen pots by John Derian, Japanese silk screen-printed papers from Kyoto and letter-writing sets.
Anything else I should know? The store hosts regular exhibitions that focus on exquisite stationery objects made by some of the finest craftspeople worldwide. choosingkeeping.com
THE HAMBLEDON | WINCHESTER
What is it? A three-storey alternative department store, selling homeware, gifts, menswear and womenswear. Opened in 1999, The Hambledon was an early frontrunner in the concept boutique.
What should I buy? There’s something to suit every style, from utilitarian cookware to pretty textiles from Danish brand Bungalow.
Anything else I should know? This autumn marked the 20th anniversary of the store, which it celebrated with a range of store exclusives from brands including Falcon Enamelware, footwear brand Sanders and printmaker Imogen Owen. thehambledon.com
STRAW | LONDON
What is it? Emily Attrill’s small but perfectly formed boutique specialising in vintage homeware and accessories made from straw, jute and macramé.
What should I buy? Everything’s a one-off, but there’s always a good selection of handmade baskets and bags. Look out for an edited choice of rustic ceramics and hand-pressed flower cards.
Anything else I should know? Make a day of it and pop into nearby stores Borough Wines for a tipple, Violet for sweet treats and Momosan for more gifts and homeware. strawlondon.co.uk
This article appeared in the December 2019 issue of ELLE Decoration
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.