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A beginner’s guide to decorating with candles

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Tips and product picks just in time for holiday prep

candles for dining setup
Tea lights add a soft glow to this dinner setup.
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Once an ordinary and basic part of daily living, candles have evolved to become little luxuries at home. Whether you spend $10 or $100, a candle can set a certain mood, convey an air of sophistication, and let guests know that a host has considered decor details to create a comfortable and relaxing environment. Isn’t that true luxury, after all?

“Whenever I’m designing a space I always encourage my clients to figure candles into their lighting schemes,” says New York City-based interior designer Sara Story. “They are a great way to tweak the overall ambiance of a room and lend another touch of individual personality.”

But in a market flooded with candles of all shapes, sizes, and scents, it’s no longer a one-size-fits-all game. Below, we break down how to incorporate the main candle types suitable for both everyday living and festival holiday gatherings. We’ll also offer a handful of product picks to inspire your candle shopping journey.

Candle pot

A candle pot is the most common type of candle, and as its name would suggest, it is nestled within a glass, pot, or jar. The hardy exterior base allows for a candle pot to be moved around the house easily while the diverse range of colors, sizes, and scents enable foolproof integration into any space.

But thanks to the surplus of options, it’s difficult to determine the quality candles from the junk. A good rule of thumb is to pay attention to the wick. High-quality candles use a thinly braided wick, which will burn easily, slowly and with less smoke than a wiry wick.

Love Potion

  • $24

This 100 percent soy wax candle brings together fresh, light floral notes of jasmine, lavender, and mandarin—all in a minimalist glass jar with a travel-friendly lid. This candlemaker specializes in evocative scents that are inspired by travel and nature.

Taper candles

Tapers are the little black dresses of candles. Their timeless appeal works wonders for an alluringly glowy dining room table or a sophisticated living room mantle. Tapered candles are sold without a base and thus, cannot stand alone, but the ability to select a striking candleholder is a decor bonus.

“For dining areas, I love the drama that candelabras provide,” says Story, on the glamorous throwback. “They are a nice scale and still allow for easy conversation at dinner parties. I love using simple black or white tapered candles, mostly inexpensive ones since they won’t last past a really good party!” Former Curbed staffer Robert Khederian loves this party pack from Michaels—15 candles for $7.99!

Word to the wise: Go with unscented candles in dining areas and allow the menu’s aroma fill the room.

Tea light candles

Tiny and versatile, these one-time-use candles create a beautiful, soft ambiance within a room while burning for up to two hours. Historically used to keep tea piping hot, they now play a chic role in dinner parties and everyday casual living.

Scatter tea lights in clusters or let one shine solo, depending on the amount of light you’re trying to create. Thanks to their petite size, tea lights look great outside without overwhelming a tabletop. And fun fact, they float!

Votive candles

Short in stature but mighty with light, votives are smokeless and burn for up to eight hours. Drop them in a votive holder of your choice—metallics, patterns, and warm colors give off a light shadow when alight—and place them around a room for romantic mood lighting.

“Layering votives among flowers and greenery is a fantastic look,” says Story. “It sets such a good mood, you almost don’t even notice the individual pieces, just that it looks beautiful.”

The real kicker is that they produce an environment that looks much more expensive than it actually is.

Luxury candles

More than just a pretty package, luxury candles are also serious money-makers, with sales totaling $89 million in 2017 and trending growth of more than 150 percent, according to the NPD Group. Fragrance is one of the most alluring components, if not the most attractive ingredient, to the success of luxury candles.

“You would be surprised at how complicated the chemistry is when creating a luxury scented candle,” says Laura Slatkin, founder of Nest Fragrances. “Not all scented candles are created equal.”

The secret to scented candles lies in the type of wax base. Candles fashioned from beeswax or soy actually trap the fragrance, which hinders its ability to diffuse properly and burn evenly.

“A softer, petroleum-based wax blend performs best,” she says. “Similar to fashion houses, each luxury candle brand has its own personality and style. In the world of fragrance, each brand can actually create a uniquely different array of moods in your home.”