Call me Mariah Carey, but I can’t work without a scented candle flickering softly in my presence. A flaçon of hot wax is a mainstay on my rider, along with a steaming mug of PG Tips and 6 Music on the radio. It’s become such an ingrained part of my morning ritual that I literally can’t write words on a page until I’ve lit a wick. Today’s column, incidentally, is brought to you by Tom Daxon’s Sous Les Glycines.
I’m nuts about candles. I’ve just zipped around my house and counted 17 peppering the flat surfaces of every room (bar the children’s bedrooms – I’m not insane). Why? They look pretty and they make my house smell of things other than frying onions or wet trainers. They are a small treat, an affordable (well, sometimes) luxury. They make me feel cosy and calm when the outside world feels anything but. Lots of people sneer at the folly of buying something you then basically torch – "Why don’t you just set fire to a bunch of banknotes, you div?" being the implication – but, in my experience, these tend to be the kind of people (OK, men) who’ll happily spend £2,000 on a bicycle. Each to their own, right?
Over a quarter of UK households buy scented candles, with expenditure rising a fifth over 12 months, according to figures from Kantar. Net-a-Porter has seen sales almost triple in the last year, with Britain their biggest market. Parisian heritage brand Diptyque is so coveted the empty jars sell on eBay, with the brand’s UK MD Amanda Morgan telling me she’s even known people reuse the flaçons as gin tumblers.
While I wouldn’t say no to the £390 2kg beast by fêted Milanese sculptor Fornasetti – an objet d’art as much as it is a candle – I’d prefer not to default on my mortgage. Over the years, I’ve found that, while often you get what you pay for – the luxe ones contain 10 to 15 per cent perfume oil, while the cheaper ones can be as low as one to two per cent – you can sniff out some that offer impressive "throw"* for your money. (*Candle-ponce jargon for "it smells nice")
The White Company is brilliant at candles – I’m a sucker for Fresh Fig, £20, but their new Iris and Rose ones are lovely, too. They’re £26, so half the price of most luxe brands, but the scents are strong and true. Their three-wick whoppers are £60, but have 70 hours' burn time and you only need to light them for an hour to scent a room. Muji is worth a look, too – maximum fragrance couple with minimal packaging and prices, with their glass jars £14.95 and their small tins (good for travel) only £3.50. If you’re floral-ed out, Wood Embers is pleasingly masculine and wintry.
I’ve got a soft spot for ethical cottage brands – I’m currently affording desk space to Beefayre – their Rhubarb & Raspberry, £8, sounds more like a crumble, but is fresh and quirky, and three per cent of the company’s profits are donated to bee conservation. SevenSeventeen, meanwhile, is aimed at frazzled mothers, but there’s something here for everyone – Moroccan Rose is an charming smoky floral, with £1 of the £14 price going to PANDAS, a pre/postnatal mental-illness charity.
Hardcore candle nerds consider "zoning" (don’t laugh), where you place different scents in different parts of your house. Neom’s range is very "spa", so works well in the bathroom, I find. Tranquility, £30, with lavender, basil and jasmine, is so pungent it lingers a good 24 hours after use. Beware of candles when cooking – you don’t want to overpower your labour of love on the hob. I stick to clean, lemony ones in the kitchen, such as Capri brand Carthusia’s Limone, £31.36. My living room, meanwhile, is currently dominated by newish cult brand IDEO Parfumeurs Jasmin de Beyrouth (£35, but smells far pricier). It may be winter out there, but it feels like summer on my sofa, thanks to the divine all-encompassing jasmine scent emanating from its chic grey vessel.
Talking of stylish packaging, Bella Freud’s delicious, unusual Fig Leaf & Tomato comes in a matt black glass with her classic “Ginsberg Is God” slogan – I can’t afford it on a cashmere jumper right now, but at £40 I can (just about) nab it for my mantelpiece. I’m a long-term fan of Miller Harris’s gorgeous glass pots, with their line drawings of bucolic scenes – they’re around £40, too, but enjoy an afterlife holding my make-up brushes and hair ties. And Diptyque’s new limited edition Rosa Mundi, £48, comes in an exquisitely beautiful pistachio and pink floral jar, created by wallpaper designer Antoinette Poisson, and couldn’t be more spring-like if it tried.
That’s probably enough, um, waxing lyrical from me, but I’ll leave you with my top three tips for candle lovers: 1) ignore people who say scented candles make for a rubbish present – they couldn’t be more wrong; 2) before you relight one, nip off all but 5mm of the burnt wick – a too-long wick means a massive, unwieldy flame, a shorter burn time and black soot on your pretty jar; 3) finally, never put your cup of tea next to your candle on your desk. While distractedly reading emails, I once raised a molten Jo Malone to my lips instead of my PG Tips. It’s not a mistake you make twice.