Now’s the time for a great Christmas gift offensive, and the first rule of combat is to shop early to save money, as last-minute panic buying is a big mistake.
Moreover, time to browse fuels the imagination. The second rule of combat is set a budget. Real design hounds can find good design under a tenner.
'Call by London's magnificent museums and galleries for shops filled with classy original ideas'
Start at the Hidden Art’s online shop at www.hiddenartshop.com, with almost 100 cutting-edge designers.
Over in Oxo Tower, SE1, a plethora of eager studios includes W2 Products, which excels in witty sophisticated ceramics, with its own website plus numerous stockists (020 7922 1444; www.w2products.com). Already its Pantone mugs in 20 authentic colours, are icons.
A Soho shop at 47 Beak Street called Do sells witty porcelain tableware - for example a milk jug that mimics a carton, £8.50, and a pack-flat plywood fruit bowl, £7.50 (020 7494 9090; www.do-shop.com).
Charming gifts from Plumo include Babushka keyrings, £5; a dear little pocket mirror, £6; exquisite angel soaps, £8 for a box of six; and padded hangers, £10 for two (0870 241 3590; www.plumo.com).
Graham and Green is big on sparkle and glamour, for example diamanté frames from £4.95 and bird-shaped mirrored hooks for £9.75. Shops are in Chiswick, Notting Hill, Primrose Hill, and King’s Road, SW3 (www.grahamandgreen.co.uk). Gift wrapping is also available.
For classy sweet treats, drop into Prestat, 14 Princes Arcade, Piccadilly, established in 1902. It sells handmade truffles from a 150-year-old recipe, passed down from the reign of Napoleon III, for £5.50 (020 7494 3327; www.prestat.co.uk).
Hawkin’s Bazaar is your budget best friend, with a quirky catalogue of low-priced gifts and toys, with many old-style stocking-fillers. Search on the web by price categories, starting at 30p, up to £16. Then factor in age, gender and “mood” - fun, silly, useful or serious. The best-seller is the insulated cafetière mug for individual coffee brews (£7.99) and a mini hot-water bottle with a stripey woollen cover is £5.99. Its Christmas shop is at Unit 112, Centre Court Shopping Centre, Wimbledon, or visit 46 Ealing Broadway, W5 or branches in Bexleyheath, Croydon, Bluewater and Lakeside, Thurrock (0844 573 4000; www.hawkin.com).
Happily, the high street has cracked the credit crunch - for example, with three-for-two gift offers at Boots and Superdrug.
Or find a branch of QS, and customise your presents. Buy black-and-white mugs for just £1 each, fill with sweeties/baubles and wrap in cellophane with ribbon and a handmade name tag. A gold vase is £2 - you could just add spray-painted gold twigs. And small white baskets lined with rosy fabric, costing from £3 to £7, would look good filled with herbal bath gel, chocolates or cosmetics. Branches of QS can be found in Streatham, New Malden, Epsom and Penge (0844 902 0020; www.qsgroup.co.uk).
Wilkinson does stylish Wilko goods (such as cushions for a fiver, kitchen tool set, £5). Shop online, for even more choice. There are stores at Romford, West Ealing, Epsom, Wembley, Hounslow, Dartford and Gillingham (0800 032 9329; www.wilkinsonplus.com).
Woolworths ups the ante with real granite pestle/mortar, £6, herb chopper, £10, and cocktail shaker, £10. The biggest Woolies stores are in Swiss Cottage and Brixton (01706 862 789; www.woolworths.co.uk).
Come Christmas, Ikea goes into low-price overdrive, and you can catch a free shuttle bus to Wembley’s branch from Stonebridge Park (Bakerloo line). Other stores are at Edmonton, Croydon and Lakeside, Thurrock (www.ikea.com). Make a day of it with festive food, children’s play area, plus loads of cheap yet stylish wrappings.
Call by London’s magnificent museums and galleries for shops packed with classy original ideas. Make lots of time for the V&A and don’t buy all the gifts for yourself. Tatebanko Evening Snow is a kit for an ethereal “paper diorama”, inspired by the Japanese Edo artist Hiroshige, costing £6 (020 7942 2696; www.vandashop.com). Tate Modern and the Royal Academy are great to visit, too. And the Science Museum is brilliant for children.
For good tools/gadgets, try Homebase, whose own brand has smart yellow handles. Additionally, find seasonal gifts, including a gingerbread mix with fancy Santa cutters. White ribbed towels cost from £1.99 to £6.99. Three herb pots, for growing basil, chives and coriander, cost £4.99 (0845 077 8888; www.homebase.co.uk).