Friday, December 30, 2011

Candles-A Look at Light

Well, Christmas Eve has come and gone, and boy, did we sell candles!  And while doing so, lots of people asked us about them—what to get, how to use them, and so on.

So first of all, I will start with all my prejudices and biases—of which, as I am sure you know, dear reader, I have many.

Number One:  I don’t use paraffin candles—and neither should you.  They are a petroleum product and thus not suitable for burning inside the house.  And they smell horrible.  The only candle I like for burning inside is a beeswax candle.  Unlike paraffin (or soy—more on this later), they are a truly sustainable product.  And bee-keeping is one of our most important agricultural pursuits—bees are the chief pollinators of most of the crops grown in the Western world, and for some unexplained reason, they are in decline.  This is very worrisome to both scientists and farmers, so you will be doing everyone a favour when you burn your beeswax candles.  They are completely eco-friendly, they don’t drip and get all over your table linens (unless they are in a draft which will cause them to gutter—burning to one side and destroying the candle), and they smell good in a very light and unassuming way when you burn them.  Now I am talking about unscented dinner candles and the candles which go in to candlesticks and sconces all over your house.

Photo courtesy of Edward Addeo
Farrow and Ball, the Art of Colour, by Brian Coleman
See the two candles in the wonderful wrought iron candle torchere.  
Because these are beeswax, there is no worry about the candle 
dripping onto the chair upholstery.

Number Two:  I don’t like coloured candles or pure white ones.  I like the soft natural colours (a somewhat ivory colour is my favourite, and also the somewhat darker natural one).  These are both the colours that come naturally to the wax, and they are beautiful in a room, and never detract whether lighted or not.  The great decorator, Valerian Rybar, used to prefer black candles, and this is very French, but it is also very “in your face”.  He could get away with it, but I am more traditional and don’t like them.  I really don’t like red candles, even at Christmastime, but you don’t have to agree with me on this.

Picture courtesy of Farrow and Ball, the Art of Colour, by Brian Coleman 
with pictures by Edward Addeo. 
Notice how the sconces and the chandeliere mimic the look of candles, 
and how simple the beautiful “photophores” on the table with their candles are.

Number Three:  I don’t like too much scent in the house.  Therefore, although I love one or two scented candles burning (far apart, please!), don’t go hog-wild.  And never use a candle with a chemical scent.  Sadly, the good scented candles are expensive—and they should be.  They take bazillions of flowers and leaves to make their extracts, and that’s why they are so nice.  And remember—NEVER use scented candles near food.  A lot of your taste is based on the aroma of the food, and a scented candle simply overpowers those important smells.  Put the scented candles in the living room or library, etc.  This goes for votive candles too.  Scented votives are for the powder room or such.

And maybe not important, but I think all this hoo-haw about making sure the candle wicks have been lighted once is just a lot of folderol.  It’s what I call Magazine Editors’ Advice—I mean, really.  If you have just set the table for a beautiful dinner party, and have all your grandmother’s Paul de Lamerie candelabras out, you are NOT going to rush around and light all the candles and them blow them out, so why do it for a picture of your beautiful table?  Light the candles when you are going to use them!  And remember, no candles on a luncheon table.

Caption: photo by Edward Addeo for Farrow and Ball, the Art of Colour
Please note that the candles have not been lighted since it is lunchtime—
they will be lighted that night for dinner.

So, since I’m so snicky, what candles do I like?  Well, there’s lots out there—there are just all beeswax.

First, for basic candles, there are two wonderful companies:

Perrin-Mowen, who has been making wonderful quality candles in California since the 1980’s.  They make both a rolled honeycomb candle in a dinner size (all the way from 5” to 16”). Or solid ones for the same use.

A solid candle is more expensive but it will burn a lot longer.  It is for people who use candles as an everyday thing. (Remember to put your candles out with a snuffer, and they will last longer).  A rolled “beehive” candle gives an incredibly beautiful light, and they are for usually a one or two time use. 

You can also buy their rolled beehive candles in pillars that are varying thickness, for use on a coffee table or similar.  It is best to use them in a hurricane globe since that will keep them burning evenly, because these candles can be used many times. 

They have many wonderful shapes, such as squares which look great on a modern coffee table or console, and little “beehives” which look great in the powder room.  Although, as I said above, these pure beeswax candles are not scented, they have a naturally nice odor, and all candles, by their burning, keep the air fresher.

You can buy Perrin-Mowen candles at my boutique, Leta Austin Foster.  E-mail:, with your needs.

Another candle company which I like very much is Root out of Ohio.  They make beautiful solid beeswax candles suitable form use in candlesticks, in a wide variety of sizes, in both the ivory and the darker naturals.  One style is called Timberline

A more formal look is Collenette with its beautiful look of a fluted column

And they make tapers which are just what they sound like

This company has been making candles for almost 150 years, so they certainly know what they are doing.

Root also sells candle supplies, one of the best of which is their little wax circles that hold your candles upright in their holders.  These go along with my other choices for the Leta Austin Foster Faux Nobel Prize for Useful Things that Make Life Easier—such as prewashed organic lettuce, etc.

Since their candles are beeswax and thus evaporate instead of dripping, you, under ordinary circumstances, won’t need bobeches for your candlesticks, but if you want them,
You can Google Biedermann and Sons where you can boy lots of stuff for candles—most highly unnecessary.  But the bobeches are nice.

You can buy nice plain votive holders at Root.  Remember to use boiling water to get out the leftovers when you are finished.  And another thing that is nice at Root is their candle wax remover for your linens.

Now when I talked about beeswax being sustainable, I did not talk about soy candles.  As with any soy product, you MUST check and make sure that it is organic soy—commercially grown soybeans are one of the two largest, genetically modified crops in the country (the other being corn) which is bad, bad, bad.  Beeswax is the way to go.

If you are really into beeswax (I am. But not this much!), you could make your own candles—just like the pioneers.  You can buy sheet beeswax, and roll them yourself.  Or if you want to be really basic, you can go to and grow your own hives.  I will NOT be with you on this, but do let me know how it turns out.  In actual fact, bees are gentle animals who will not sting for no reason.  My daughter, India, used to let them land on her finger in our garden in Maine, and then she would gently stroke them.  I must admit that I was too cowardly to do this, but I do love the idea of bees, and I am not afraid of them—not like Yellow Jackets, which are very aggressive.

Now which scented candles do I like best—well, who could not love Agraria?   A wonderful company from California, for years the only place you could buy Agraria products was at Henri Bendel’s original store on 5th Avenue.  And the original candle was the Balsam one.  It is still made today, along with Bitter Orange (wonderful, too) and Lavender and Lemon Verbena (great for “eating up” kitchen odors.  These are great candles.

Agraria also makes the Charlotte Moss candles, my favourite of which is “Virginia.”  Sadly, they have changed the packaging, which is sad since so many people recognized the lovely flower-printed boxes.  I am showing you the new packaging so you will know it when you see it.

Another of the great old-timers in scented candles is Rigaud—“Cypres”in its distinctive zebra packaging and its red ribbon trim encircling its glass filled with deep pine green wax, it was the darling of New York social butterflies such as C. Z. Guest and Jane Wrightsman.  French fabrics and leopard velvet and carpeting and Rigaud candles-  it was all so perfect.  Rigaud also makes gardenia and a wonderful (though Christmas-y) spice candles.

I love Diptych candles, especially the carnation and the jasmine and the tuberose ones.  They are beautifully simples, clean scented, and lovely to have burning.  There is an enormous array of scents

And of course, there is Nest.  Created by Laura Slatkin, their very with-it scents such as Bamboo and Wasabi Pear are perfect for young, hip hostesses.  Their Christmas candle, Sir Elton John, sold out for us almost immediately.  It is a wonderful scent in the same kind of aroma as the Agraria Balsam or the original Cypress candle from Rigaud.

Any of these candles made wonderful hostess presents too.  They certainly “light up my life”.  Have fun with them, and remember, don’t take any of this seriously.



  1. The Rigaud "cypress" is my all time favorite but the Agraria scents are just as good. I always suggest scented candles if someone really needs to get me a gift. I can never have enough and they are always appreciated. I'm happy to get them time and time again.

  2. What a wonderful, educational post! I am saving it! I agree with all that you said...I do like black sometimes as did Rose Cumming!

    And thank you for all those wonderful sources!

  3. Fabulous post. Want the cypress right now!

  4. What a difference your candles made at my New Years eve party!

  5. This is often a easier method to take credit
    when you lack good credit Payday loans uk doing this lessens the chance for lenders so helping borrowers
    get lower rates of interest.
    my webpage: Payday loans uk