Our Favourite Independent Shops for Festive Gifts
’Tis the season for festive gifting. Swerve the last-minute panic this December by shopping for handmade homeware, sustainable skincare, rare vinyl and delicious sweet treats at these brilliant independent boutiques
14 December, 2022
Nothing makes our soul sparkle quite like the festive spirit of a local high street. Spruce trees draped in fairy lights, shop fronts piled high with snow-dusted displays and soundtracks serving up sweet songs of the season - we're wrapping ourselves in tinsel at the thought of it.
The reality, however, all too often looks like a last-minute dash. Ploughing through swamped streets and desperately trying to remember the name of our brother's favourite aftershave is a sport we'll happily avoid this December. With the countdown well and truly on, we visit the independent boutiques providing perfect stocking-fillers aplenty. From an east London craft mecca to an Edinburgh homeware hero, these are the addresses to have on your radar (and most have an online offering, too).
The best independent boutiques in the UK for Christmas shopping
Bound Concept, Belfast showcases new designers and ethically-sourced artwork.
Scented candles and dazzling decorations, colourful knitwear and dinky jewellery are just some of the staples that fill the wooden shelves of Form SE15. Impossible to miss, thanks to its sunshine-yellow facade, this Peckham shop first opened its doors in 2018 and has been delivering the gifting goods ever since. Showcasing brands that champion sustainability and spotlight talented emerging artists, its Christmas gift guide sees an impressive selection priced at under £25: organic hand soaps, covetable journals and cocktail herbs, here we come. We're picking up the vegan, blossom oil-infused Esh peach soy candle for a thoughtful secret Santa gift. For those who can't visit, a UK-wide delivery service is a godsend.186 Bellenden Rd, London SE15 4BW +44 20 7635 9359 formse15.com
Co-founders Tara Thallon and Natalie Davis were brought together by their love of design, a shared passion that led to the opening of their Belfast boutique Bound Concept. The space, which also operates as an online concept store, features ethically sourced artwork crafted by a bevy of visionaries, making this a great place to discover new designers and their collections before anyone else does. We can think of no better place to find a gift for the interiors enthusiast in our life. The porcelain flower vase by Serax? Ideal for those who have just moved somewhere new. Meanwhile, Aaron Probyn's heath maple chopping board is perfect for that friend who's a regular dinner-party host.108 North St, Belfast BT1 1LE +44 7706 931 943 boundconcept.com
Head to Margate's Haeckels for seaweed skincare products.
Haeckels' luxurious goods, crafted using surplus seaweed, are sold all across the country, but the brand's flagship store is situated in the heart of Margate (with a Covent Garden outpost serving Londoners in need of a fix). Come armed with a spacious tote bag and pick up oils, lotions and scrubs concocted from beach-harvested ingredients, all packed into elegant brown glass bottles displayed in illuminated wooden cabinets. The starter set is the perfect gift for a friend, consisting of three hero products - an exfoliator, day cream and hand balm. We love the brand's Rubbish for Product scheme; a brilliant initiative that enables customers to receive a free item in return for a bag of beach rubbish.18 Cliff Tce, Margate CT9 1RU +44 1227 203 675 haeckels.co.uk
It's no surprise that Manchester's edgy Northern Quarter is home to the coolest independent record store in the UK. Piccadilly Records has been thriving since 1978, specialising in pre-loved vinyl, limited-edition specials and hot new releases. A gritty facade is indicative of the shop's interior, where polished-concrete floors and poster-clad walls backdrop baskets jam-packed with legendary titles and shelves offering various categories such as "staff picks" and "what we'd sell for free if we could". It's almost impossible for any music lover to leave empty-handed. Can't get to the store? Don't worry - the website is just as rewarding and always has great deals, too.53 Oldham St, Manchester M1 1JR +44 16 1839 8008 piccadillyrecords.com
Shoreditch's Oneironaut sells smells: candles, incense, reed diffusers and more.
Oneironaut sells smells. Fresh greenhouse flavours, the atmospheric note of soft tobacco, the sweetness of damson plum - we've sniffed them all in this warmly lit Shoreditch store, finding layers of reminiscence and emotion hidden within soy wax candles, fine sticks of incense and the brand's distinctive onyx-black reed diffusers. Alongside a core range of unique fragrances (including the woody and evocative Old Havana, and the frankincense and cedar-laced Dickens, described as "evening snowstorms with a book, a blanket and a warm beverage") that perfume everything from bath lotions to mist sprays, you'll find tactile incense holders and rustic ceramic creations, too. The name? It refers to the ability to travel within a dream… the perfect moniker for a shop selling transportive memories and moments captured in a scent.12 Cheshire St, London E2 6EH oneironaut.co.uk
Objects of Use
Oxford might just be our favourite shopping destination, thanks to its slew of dynamic foodie start-ups, hip hangouts and brilliant boutiques. After taking the obligatory stroll around the city's Covered Market, venture around the corner to Objects of Use, a contemporary homeware store with an ethos of "voluntary simplicity". Products for the home, garden, kitchen and camping are all conscientiously sourced "archetypal" examples of their kind, from Ukrainian enamel bowls to Portuguese notebooks. We'd argue that the shop's impeccable displays are reason alone to visit the city, alongside its hand-dipped beeswax candles, which are made entirely from wax originating in UK hives and hand-crafted in Cumbria.6 Lincoln Hse, Market St, Oxford OX1 3EQ +44 1865 241 705 objectsofuse.com
Independent department store The Hambleton's homeware section.
When in doubt, head to The Hambledon. That's our motto when it comes to gift-giving, anyway. Located in an airy, whitewashed house in Winchester city centre, this independent department store sells a curated collection of homeware, kitchenware and bath and beauty products (as well as clothing and other odds and ends), sourcing quality products from across the globe that fit with its uncompromising ethos of well-made, well-presented goods. Seeking something for a houseproud friend? Pick up a bottle of body wash made by America's oldest apothecary, dinner candles the colour of sugared mice, adorable acrylic spoons with a faux-tortoiseshell pattern and quirky replica match strike pots based on early 20th-century designs.10 The Square, Winchester SO23 9ES +44 1962 890 055 thehambledon.com
Founded in 2013 by Sidonie Warren, Papersmiths has built up a small stationery empire (with one shop in Brighton and two in London, plus an online offering) selling playful deskware. The Brighton store is a terrazzo-tiled haven of brightly coloured notepads, pens, rulers, rubbers and wrapping paper, but it's the brand's own collection that we're popping in stockings this Christmas. The eye-catching range includes colourful notepads in fuchsia pink, yolk yellow and limoncello green, plus pens and wittily branded tote bags.Sydney St, Brighton BN1 4EN +44 1273 696 769 papersmiths.co.uk
Herefordshire homewares at Tinsmiths. | Photo credit: Mike Garlick Design
Tucked beneath the Tudor-beamed eaves of Ledbury's Quality Street-esque High Street, Tinsmiths sells a well-curated selection of homeware, lighting and fabrics, but it's the art prints that make it one of our favourite UK shop stops. Fill your tote with botanical illustrations by Sophie Elm, the woodland-inspired woodcut prints of Mark Hearld and eclectic circus-style posters by Jonny Hannah.8A High St, Ledbury, HR8 1DS +44 1531 632 083 tinsmiths.co.uk
Championing minimalist design, this London Street store stocks classic Scandi favourites - including items from Hay and Ferm Living - alongside lesser-known brands from across the UK and Europe. We head here when gift-seeking for those friends furnishing their kitchens using Kim K's home as inspiration; the tactile pottery, woven jute rugs and playfully textured cushion covers in earthy, neutral hues are right up their street. Pop a pinecone-shaped beeswax candle in a stocking, and treat yourself to a set of shimmering antique star decorations for the tree.53 London St, Edinburgh, EH3 6LX +44 7808 527 386 lifestoryshop.com
Bath books at Mr B's Emporium.
Mr B's Emporium
We've all found ourselves falling victim to the gift of a celebrity autobiography - and if you haven't, lucky you. Swap the supermarket shelves for a visit to an independent bookshop, where thought-provoking essays and anticipated novels from leading authors await. We're making a beeline for Mr B's Emporium, a three-floor space gracing Bath's St John Street. Floor-to-ceiling windows allow light to flood the shop's vibrant interiors, characterised by red walls, worn floorboards and playful murals. Designed to offer a warm welcome to bookworms, the space features lots of cosy nooks decked out with Chesterfield armchairs primed with pin-striped cushions - come prepared to settle in for the entire afternoon. Gift inspo? These guys are known for their award-winning bespoke book subscription. Each month, a title is hand-picked by an in-house bibliotherapist to suit the recipient's interests - that's another present ticked off the list.14-15 John St, Bath BA1 2JL +44 1225 331 155 mrbsemporium.com
Hoyle's of Oxford
Need to organise some structured festive fun? Get down to Hoyle's to pick up traditional chess boards, beautiful backgammon sets and board games galore. The cherry-red frontage of this games shop has shone brightly on Oxford's High Street since 1997, offering an ever-varied selection of traditional and modern games in England's brainiest city. With both vintage and new sets on offer, there's a chance to pick up wacky games of yesteryear as well as evergreen classics. Our pick? Ticket to Ride: Europe, please.71 High St, Oxford OX1 4BA +44 1865 203 244 hoylesoxford.com
Covent Garden, London
One for serious stationery obsessives, this Covent Garden store is an Aladdin's cave of desktop delights, from gold-nibbed fountain pens and Japanese Katazome paper-covered notebooks to Italian woodblock-print wrapping paper and letter-closing wax seals, all neatly presented in precision-organised piles, salt-glazed pots and glass-fronted cabinets. Stop by for Arts & Crafts-inspired wrapping supplies (we love these retro present tags), and you'll inevitably leave with a set of Japanese watercolours - the perfect present for a burgeoning Monet.21 Tower St, London WC2H 9NS +44 20 7613 3842 choosingkeeping.com
An independent round-up wouldn't be complete without a shout out for our print magazine. Treat the discerning traveller in your life (or yourself) to our collector's bundle, featuring 30 issues of thoughtful stories and beautiful photography. Or snag our latest issue: Ritual - a magical journey that celebrates the joy found in traditions old and new around the world. Inside, you'll find features on the quotidian Asian breakfast that's been elevated to an almost spiritual act, one writer's annual bird-like migration to Antarctica, the surprisingly contemporary world of Romanian witches and more. The act of reading these stories? A ritual in itself.