Candles turn holiday scene from so-so to sensational

IN THE RIGHT LIGHT

November 06, 1994|By Elizabeth Large

Maybe it's because people are entertaining at home more. Perhaps it's because candles harken back to a kinder and gentler past, or because they create a mood of comfort and relaxation in the age of cocooning. For whatever reason, at every party you go to these days candlelight seems to be the light of choice.

In the stores you'll find gorgeous candles of every shape, size, color and fragrance. And people are using candles more creatively than ever in their entertaining and decorating.

Candlelight creates many different moods, from festive to romantic to relaxing. A single glowing candle placed in the hall welcomes visitors into your home. A group of pillar candles of different heights on a coffee table dazzles, while two well-placed tapers on a dining room table give a formal but romantic glow to the room.

Candles are a special part of the holidays because of their importance in religious ceremonies and for entertaining, but sales year-round have increased tremendously in the past few ++ years. (The National Candle Association, a trade group, reports retail sales of $500 million last year in the United States, not including religious or institutional use.) People have come to view candles as an inexpensive luxury; the variety of shapes, colors and fragrances that are on the market make them hard to resist.

If you only buy two 10-inch white tapers at the supermarket once a year when you're having a dinner party, you're missing out on a wealth of choices.

The Rolls-Royce of candles is beeswax -- relatively dripless, smokeless and odorless as well as beautiful. Beeswax candles are, not surprisingly, more expensive than paraffin.

"Four or five years ago," says Diane Serlin, sales manager for Perin-Mowen, a manufacturer of high-end beeswax candles, "stores couldn't sell them. Now beeswax has really caught on. People want an upscale, beautiful product for their own. And beeswax candles fit into the all-natural trend."

You'll find the hottest look -- the distinctive honeycomb candles, hand-rolled from sheets of beeswax -- in many home-accessories stores, such as Nouveau on Charles Street downtown and the Store Ltd. in Cross Keys.

Botanical candles are another best seller, as decoration throughout the house and as gifts. Dried flowers, herbs or potpourri pieces are pressed into the candle for an elegant handcrafted look. You can find them locally at places like Pottery Barn in Towson Town Center.

Novelty shapes are everywhere. Menagerie, at Wyndhurst Station in Roland Park, has candles in the shape of mallards, other ducks and loons. And not every beeswax candle manufacturer offers just ivory tapers: Burt's Bees makes an amusing line of fruits and vegetables that are so realistic you might be tempted to take a bite out of them. Use them on a holiday buffet table, suggests designer Lauren Hwang of Decorative Sources. (Check out the Idaho potato and others at the Store Ltd.)

Paper luminaries make use of an age-old folk art; the votives inside glow through a cutout paper design. You can find them at Femme on Charles Street this holiday season.

If you have a touch of New Age in your soul, or you simply like whimsy, there are candles in celestial shapes and pyramids, sometimes wrapped in gold netting, that reveal little gifts as they burn. A charming stocking stuffer or hostess gift, they can be found at Littlefield's in Cross Keys and elsewhere.

Jill Wells, spokeswoman for Colonial Candle of Cape Cod, says the biggest increase in her company's sales has come in "filled containers." These are the candles sold in glass, pottery or some other holder. "Years ago people only used candles at the dinner table," she says. "Now they have them all over the house and they don't want an open flame."

The variety of subtle colors available makes candles an appropriate decorative accent in any room. Even for the holidays, colors like mulberry and bayberry are selling as well as traditional reds and greens, says Ms. Wells.

Shimmering gold and silver tapers can add a luxurious touch to a festive setting. And for a striking and elegant look, Ted Pearson of Rita St. Clair Associates suggests using black candles in bronze or gold fixtures. Designer Lauren Hwang puts candles in front of or over a mirror to enhance the shimmer of the light.

The big, chunky candles that are so popular now look good throughout the house. Pillars are most common, but you can also find wonderful large cubes in stunning colors. These are what Gale Steves, editor-in-chief of Home magazine, calls "singular statement candles." She suggests putting one outsize pillar in a nonfunctioning fireplace for an intriguing accent. She also likes using candles in groups, and describes a house in Napa Valley, Calif., that had a single row of votives all across a mantel for a striking effect when the fire wasn't lit.

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