Yvonne Engelmann on the art of give and take.
Lucky lady. Yvonne Engelmann deals with beautiful objects all year round. She’s Director of the Giving section at the Ambiente trade fair in Frankfurt, which makes her an expert in what constitutes a really good present. We wanted to know more about the art of giving, so we met up with the ‘guru of giving’ one sunny afternoon at her favourite store ‘2nd Home’ in the hip Frankfurt Nordend district. We learned how boldness is important when choosing gifts during an interview in which we gave ourselves the luxury of time.
She arrives in fashionable black. Yvonne Engelmann is self-assured and knows her style. She hasn’t come far, as she lives in the fashionable Nordend district. The 2nd Home Concept Store is her personal favourite, full of style, original and reliable – ‘bang on trend’ as she puts it. “This is my ‘hood’, my neighbourhood. I love the atmosphere in this district, the weekly market at Friedberger Platz, the little specialist shops, boutiques and cosy cafés on Berger Straße,” the Frankfurt resident enthuses about her adopted home. With a degree in business administration, Yvonne arrived on the banks of the river Main 16 years ago. “I was born in Wittenberg, Saxony-Anhalt, with its links to Martin Luther, and I grew up in Dessau, home of the Bauhaus”, she explains, adding with a smile: “Even after all these years in Frankfurt I can’t speak the Hesse dialect.”
High ceilings, open spaces and a great atmosphere reign here, created by original pieces with a Nordic design twist and from various vintage eras. At 2nd Home you’d think you were in a high-spec apartment in an old building – except that everything, even the light switches, is for sale and is right in line with the latest interior trends. That even extends to the giant sofa we sit on for our chat. We’ve hardly sat down when tea is served: it’s Yvonne Engelmann’s favourite drink. “I’m a regular here, I look for presents as well as buying fashion and jewellery for myself. I value shops that do good pre-sorting, where I know that I’ll like most products. After all, it saves a lot of time.” We want to know how she lives, since a home is generally a reflection of its owner. We guess it’s contemporary and urban – and we’re almost right. “Very uncluttered”, she says: “I like pure, straight lines. Setting a strong tone with, say, an antique candlestick really appeals to me. I also love a kitsch object in a very simple setting.”
“We should be bolder with our gifts”
Good gifting is a difficult discipline. Most people shy away from the infernal trio of socks, ties and saucepans. This surprises Yvonne Engelmann as she likes practical gifts. “What’s an unacceptable present depends on the individual. Giving must come from the heart, that’s a timeless truth. If something is sought out with empathy and attention to the recipient’s taste and style, then it will always be well received,” she explains. Yvonne knows the perfect example: “My boyfriend likes the latest trendy varieties of gin, so I bought him some really good ones and packaged them in lovely socks, they were well received! And to be honest, if someone was to buy me an absolutely fabulous saucepan, that wouldn’t be a problem. What I mean by being bold is being more creative and unconventional, and unusual combinations are part of that. The only presents that cause disappointment are ones with no thought behind them. The message does need to ring true, though – if someone doesn’t like cooking, best not buy them a pan.” We’d add that, if you really feel you must buy one, then at least put a voucher for a gourmet eating experience in there too.
Presents reflect your values
This is clearly the case. Giving means thinking about someone and what they would like, something they don’t already have. It really shows and brings you closer together. The giver shows the receiver how much they are valued – in a way money alone can’t demonstrate. Remember how it felt as a child to receive a generous gift. We had no idea what things cost then, but we could feel that we were unwrapping something which would give us a rush of joy. “How I loved my racing car set! It was waiting for me under the Christmas tree.” Yvonne can still picture the gift in her mind’s eye. “The cars were tin, you had to wind them up,” she recalls. For children, in particular, the unpacking of presents is a frenzied activity; for many adults this is a ritual to enjoy slowly, gently loosening the ribbons and bows and exposing the secrets beneath the paper. Yvonne can’t imagine a present which isn’t nicely wrapped: “I like big bows. I sometimes take well-designed paper bags and decorate them with tags and real flowers.”
Different countries, different gifts
The guru of giving turns her expert eye towards a small wall hanging. This cool design object is a sign that the 70s are back, with weaving and macramé techniques. “I used to sew things myself and make jewellery,” the 45-year-old explains. In her youth, Yvonne wore cool night glasses to the disco. “Now I won’t say no to a good pair of sunglasses.” At the end of our talk, we ask whether there is typically German culture of giving. Are gifts different in different countries? “Gift cultures do vary, I see that every day in my job. In Germany our view of giving is relatively conventional. In Asia colleagues are often expected to give small gifts to guests such as sweets or tea. It would be a faux pas not to accept these.” In other words, accepting is also part of good giving; this sometimes means following different rules of courtesy in different places.