They give a lovely light!
Candles are not just for Christmas or power cuts. Their ambient light and scent provide a signature for your home and reflect your personality
Growing up in the 1970s, candles were for Christmas and power cuts. The good candles were wrapped in tissue paper and hidden away with the Christmas table linen. The power-cut candles, which were used much more frequently, lived in the emergency drawer along with a box of matches.
Room fragrancing had yet to become a thing and all our candles were made of plain, unscented paraffin wax. Then, scented candles were horrible things with boiled-sweet fragrances like strawberry or lemon and lime. These are still available at cut-price retailers. Swipe left on that.
"I'm a big fan of scented candles, but they have to be good ones," says Helle Moyna, interior designer. She comes from Denmark, where they take their candles seriously. "We light candles all year round," she says. "Nobody thinks about it much. It's just what we do."
To get a scope on just how candle-orientated the Danes are, I ask Moyna how many candles she had in her living room last night.
"There were three tea lights on the dining table, and three on the mantelpiece, along with two big church candles in hurricane jars, two tapered candles in a different candle stand, and one scented candle."
So that's 11 candles?
"Yes," she said. "That would be the norm."
In the evenings, candles provide most of the light that she needs. "I have a reading table at either end of the sofa but I rarely turn on the pendant lights. When I do, I use a dimmer." In terms of placement, she likes to use tea lights on a dinner table because they don't get in the way.
"Tapered candles look elegant on the mantelpiece, but church-style candles last longer."
It's no surprise, then, that Moyna's shop, Nordic Elements, has a great many candleholders. These range from the Kubus 4 (€129) a 1960s classic in lacquered steel that holds four tapered candles, to simple bubble glass cylinders (from €12).
"They come in different colours and each one creates a different glow. It's another way of bringing colour into our grey society," she says.
The scented candles (€19) at Nordic Elements come from Clean Slate, an Irish company founded by Nicole Connolly.
"I love natural scented candles and Nicole makes these at her kitchen table," says Moyna. She suggests that you use a strong fragrance, like Sweet Tobacco and Black Pepper, in the hallway so that it can waft through the house, but go for something softer in the living room.
Other Irish producers of good quality scented candles include Field Day, which has just launched a limited edition Winter candle (€18); and Purcell & Woodcock, the winter range of which includes Midnight Pomegranate and Cinnamon & White Ginger (€18 each).
In general, the best scented candles are made from natural wax, most commonly soy wax but sometimes blended with coconut oil or beeswax.
If it's important to you that a product is made, rather than just packaged in Ireland, check the small print. Candles from Brookfield Farm in Tipperary, for example, are handmade from natural beeswax in a little workshop beside the farm. Two hand dipped beeswax candles will set you back €10, but beeswax candles burn more slowly than normal candles and with a brighter flame.
The tapering beeswax candles work well in the chic elm and brass candleholders from Elements of Action (€20).
"It took us a while to get the dipping right," says Ailbhe Gerrard, who runs the farm. "There's quite an art to it."
Surprisingly, the super-sophisticated brand Max Benjamin grew from similarly humble roots. Its candles are still made in Glencree, Co Wicklow, just a stone's throw from the family home of the brand's creators.
"People look at the brand and they think that we must have a huge lab up here," says Mark Van den Bergh, who runs the company with his brother David.
Max Benjamin was founded by their sister Orla and takes its name from her twin sons (Benjamin and Max). "It all began when Orla went to America on a J1 visa in the 1990s," Mark says. "She worked in a factory making candles. Then she came back and tried it at home."
At first, candle making was a hobby. Then Orla began to hold "candle parties", like Tupperware parties, and sell the candles to her friends.
"They were non-scented church-style candles in really good colours," says Mark.
Soon, it became a busy craft business, selling under the name of Oberg. But the Van den Berghs felt that they'd like to be making something a bit more luxurious. In 2007, they launched the brand Max Benjamin.
The timing was perfect. Many Irish customers, hard hit by the recession, lit on their classy-looking scented candles (from €23) as an appropriate wedding gift. Even better, room fragrancing was just coming into fashion.
"You know the way that houses all have their own particular smell and you'd always associate the smell of that house with the family who live there?" Mark says. "Well, room fragrancing is about creating a signature fragrance for a home."
"The fragrances that you use around the house should reflect your personality." If you keep a couple of scented candles on the go, you can use them to adjust the mood of the room. "Room fragrancing shouldn't be fixed. It's like playing music. If you're having a party you want to play something jazzy and interesting."
See nordicelements.com, maxbenjamin.ie, fielddayireland.ie, cleanslate.ie, purcellandwoodcock.com, brookfield.farm, elementsofaction.net.