For some, candles are the adult equivalent of receiving socks as a kid: Maybe you don’t think you care about them, or maybe you’re still haunted by the foul, fruit-scented discount candle your ex-boyfriend’s mom gave you. There’s also the real possibility that you ended up with the parody candle at a white elephant gift exchange (no one asked for Scotch tape-scented votives, Carol!). But in recent years, as even restaurants have added luxury candles into the mix — in scents like Portable Fireplace and Bibliotheque — buying, receiving, and giving candles has gained a feeling of real intimacy.
Candles have always been popular in residential spaces, but according to Danu Kennedy, design director at hospitality interior design company Parts and Labor Design, the heavy presence of custom scents in restaurants and hotels have contributed to growth of the luxury candle trend. “A lot of people are making scent-based products these days,” she says. “There’s a wide variety of products out there, they’re readily available, and they’re chic.”
That means that unlike that $10 7-Eleven gift card, a candle doesn’t have to scream, “I didn’t know what to get you, but I wanted to bring you something.” It can be a really thoughtful gift to give anyone on your list. “It’s a really nice option because you can get something that is substantial, but it’s not something you need to know the person well enough to give,” says Kennedy.
So how do you literally gift a candle to someone, especially in a world with so many options, from affordable favorites to luxe brands (hello, Diptyque)? First, consider the scent. “If we’re looking at putting tea lights on the table, that’s usually something that isn’t scented; the light is what has a presence,” Kennedy says. But “if you’re looking at including scent, go with something relatively subtle.”
Kennedy recommends keeping scents light and neutral, to avoid recipients being offended by a smell, or worse, getting a headache from one. One of Kennedy’s personal favorites is (fancy restaurant bathroom go-to) Le Labo: While Rose and Santal are the brand’s two most popular scents, Pin 12 is a more universal choice for gifting thanks to its delicate pinewood smell (and let’s be real: Who doesn’t enjoy the smell of a pine, spruce, or fir tree?). Also on the more luxurious end of the candle spectrum is Jo Malone; its Wood Sage & Sea Salt candle celebrates all things natural, a blend of earthy extracts — a cool breeze carrying the mineral-rich scent of towering cliffs and saltwater — guaranteed to uplift anyone’s home.
As a general comment on food scents, Kennedy admits that “people go crazy for fall scents like pumpkin spice, but I like to steer away from that.” Instead, she suggests something more herbal: Otherland’s Canopy candle blends of fig, mint, and ivy greens, a sure way to keep any room smelling fresh and vaguely food-inspired.
If Le Labo and Jo Malone are not within your budget — or if this is a gift for someone in the workplace — Kennedy recommends the Lavender candle from Mrs. Meyer’s. Often tucked away in household essentials at Target, this light and refreshing candle is just mild enough that it won’t dole out headaches but will fill any room with a pleasant aroma. Bonus: Because Mrs. Meyer’s jelly jars come with screw-top lids, they can be used to store pantry essentials once the candle has been burned through. Another budget-friendly pick is P.F. Candle Co.: “This company has a super-cute selection of tins and glass jars that their candles come in,” she says, calling the Swell candle a “personal favorite.”
Scent is very personal. Like art, it’s often subjective to an individual’s taste. If you really know the person you want to give a candle to, trust your gut, but if you’re not sure, always keep it light. When all is said and done, if you’re really stumped, Kennedy says there is absolutely no shame in giving someone a set of tealights (yes, really). While brands like Le Labo and Norden sell candles in concrete and ceramic votives, respectively, you can buy someone a pack of tealights in bulk and stoneware votives because, when you think about it, candles are here to help us boost the atmosphere in our homes — and what better way than through spreading a lot of light everywhere.
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