We're all in favour of the deeply personal, thoughtful gift, but there are times when it just isn't possible. Perhaps you need to buy something for a person you don't know well, perhaps you have difficult people in your life who always say ‘oh don’t get me anything' and refuse to give you any ideas, or possibly you just know some people who genuinely don't seem to want anything. In such head-scratching scenarios, you need a few trusty gifting weapons in your arsenal; things that, though they might not display a staggering insight into your recipient's soul, are always sure to be welcome, and to have a use.
There are very few people in our lives who wouldn't appreciate the gift of stationery, and personalising it makes it feel more thoughtful than generic. Target it to the kind of writing (or drawing) the person is likely to do most. If they are a keen writer of little notes and thank you cards, a set of monogrammed note cards will be appreciated; if you suspect their scribblings tend to be work-related, a sturdy initialled notebook might fit the bill, and even children are likely to take delight in a sketchbook with their name on it. Stationery has the benefit of being available at pretty much any budget: if your purse is a generous one, look to Smythson or Mount Street Printers, while Papier has a charming collection at a more affordable price.
A good mug
A mug may seem like quite a boring present, and done wrong, it certainly can be. But there are some truly glorious mugs out there, the kind that lots of people would shy away from buying for themselves on the grounds that they're too expensive to use every day, but which elevate and bring charm to the everyday experience of a cup of tea or coffee. Get a set of two or four and it will feel more deliberate. John Julian's elegant, Georgian-inspired designs are a House & Garden favourite and would surely fit in with just about anyone's taste.
We've all got to eat, and rising prices have probably made everyone a little less willing to splash out on everyday luxuries, so this is a natural arena for gifting. The key to making a food gift feel special is the packaging: a beautifully wrapped bottle of wine is a delight, as is some good olive oil in a decorative can–both make excellent hostess gifts. If you want to splash out, you cannot go wrong with a hamper. They come in all shapes and sizes, with every possible configuration of food and drink, and they're always a pleasure to delve into.
Soap and suds
The bathroom is another classic area for crowd-pleasing gifting, but do steer clear of gift sets with those depressing minis in them. Hand soap is a clever choice: it's a very visible thing that all visitors to a house will use, so it's always helpful to have something attractive and luxurious, but it's not like a face cream or body lotion, where people might have strong opinions. Hand soap will always get used up one way or another, and is much less likely to end up cluttering up a bathroom cabinet. There are certain status hand soaps, of course, like Aesop, that everyone will recognise and these will always be welcome, but there are plenty of smaller brands with brilliant design to choose from.
Books for all
Books tend to be thought of as a peculiarly personal gift, but even if you have only a passing acquaintance with your recipient's taste, you should be able to find something that will pique their interest. Coffee table books are your friend here: look to Assouline, Phaidon and Rizzoli for the most lavishly photographed coffee table books on design, travel, food and culture. Cookbooks are also welcomed by most (House & Garden has, incidentally, put out a rather good one this year), but if you sense that they're a novel reader, a book subscription would probably be a real treat.
This story originally appeared on House & Garden UK.