Monday, November 17, 2008

The Great Candle Controversy





While I was giving my talk at the bookstore the other night, a reader asked me about the posts that seem to generate the most controversy. And I could easily answer that question- colored candles and flowers. It seems that we have very strong opinions on the subjects. Now I know that this all seems rather trivial. After all, there are far greater and more pressing issues in our lives today. But this is a design blog and I figure if I can give my readers two minutes of escapism and design inspiration, then that's just fine.

So I've been feeling a bit mischievous lately and had been planning on writing another post on colored candles for a while. The first post I wrote that involved the candle issue was really inadvertent- I showed images of Aerin Lauder's dining room which featured blue candles. Some people thought it was quite chic, while others cried foul and found the whole thing to be the height of tackiness. I for one am a big fan of colored candles. I adore black candles on my dining table. I also have gray, turquoise, and coral candles that I use for various occasions. In order to pull off the look, you really should choose colors that work with the color scheme of your home. And I probably wouldn't fill a house with a variety of brightly colored candles- restraint is really best.

Now I know that there are many of you whose minds cannot be changed, and that's okay because ivory candles will always be the ne plus ultra of elegant table settings. But if you're willing to experiment, I think you'll find that by replacing your neutral candles with those in your favorite color, it's a great way to change things up without spending very much. Amazingly, while I was writing this post I opened my December issue of House Beautiful, and guess who is an advocate of colored candles? Robert Rufino! That man has pitch perfect taste so I suppose I feel even more confident in my argument for choosing color.

(A while back I lamented that Williamsburg Candles- my old stand-by- had been discontinued. I recently discovered
Colonial Candle, although I'm sure many of you have known about them for years. I've been using the Colonial ones for a few months now and they have become my new favorite candles... and they come in a myriad of colors too!)


Blue pillar candles in these crystal hurricanes are a nice alternative to plain vanilla candles- and speaking of which, avoid placing those scented candles on your dining table. Your guests might lose their appetite. (Interior design by Kari Cusack; styling by Grant K. Gibson; Karyn R. Millet photographer. Image from House Beautiful, Jan '07)


I love the use of different colored candles in the Atlanta home of artists Carolyn Carr and Michael Gibson. It's something slightly unexpected in these very traditional and formal candelabras. (Image from Paper City, 2005)


Don't these red candles add some flair to this sleek, Art Deco town house in London?


These silver, corkscrew candles are perfect for this poudreuse cabinet in the ornate Gallery of Mirrors at the Palazzo Gangi in Palermo, Italy (click on the image to get a better view of the sconces). Ivory candles would be too jarring, and really, if you have a room like this in your home, why not gild the lily?


Miles Redd obviously approves of black candles too. (Image from Rooms to Inspire; Tim Street-Porter photographer)


Robert Rufino suggests trying a mix of festive colors for this holiday vignette. (Image from House Beautiful, Dec 08; Jose Picayo photographer)

Image at top: The photo that started the controversy- the dining room of Aerin Lauder.

36 comments:

  1. Oh my, I didn't realize there was such a debate. I prefer the ivory/white look, but must admit that colored candles add a touch of whimsy and tiny hit of color that I've been missing. I grew up with colored candles and forgot that they had disappeared!

    I love the blue in the first post. Great post!!

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  2. Terri- I know, who knew colored candles were so controversial!!!

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  3. I am usually an ivory candle girl myself but I really liked the look of the Lauder room when you posted it. And I must admit that those silver twirls really enhanced the atmosphere of that Baroque space. I have a pair of handmade candlesticks that are very funky and colorful and they demand a colorful candle — otherwise the whole look falls flat.

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  4. I really think it depends on the room. Too many colours would be jarring.

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  5. Ms. Wis- There are definitely some unusual candlesticks that require colored candles. Good point.

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  6. Pigtown- Yes, you don't want your candles to distract from the rest of the room.

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  7. Never knew that colored candles could create such a controversy! That is tooo funny!

    Hope your talk went well......I have been out of the loop lately so if you posted about it , I missed it.....I will look back!

    Great post today, Jennifer!

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  8. Anonymous10:13 AM

    Does this include metallic toned candles?

    Once a year I switch from white candles and sterling candlesticks and love doing a "reverse" (during the holidays) - to pull out the silver taper candles and stick them in ivory bisque holders.....or a chunky silver pillar candle on a cream pedestal surrounded with deep glossy boxwood leaves and cranberries....fun for a holiday burst.
    Still wish I had bought the metallic, beautifully coppery/deep bronzed toned set of pillars I saw years ago......wouldn't those be fab on a holiday mantle or thanksgiving dinner table - with crisp white linens and deep, rich orange bittersweet berries/branches?
    A Wisconsin Fan

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  9. Mimilee- I know, it's funny, but I guess as we're all so passionate about design and aesthetics that it's inevitable that we might get worked up over such things! :)

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  10. Oh yes, I remember the Aerin Laude dining room brouhaha. Too funny really! I guess I am in the cream color candle camp, but I promise not to cause any controversy on your blog! :-)

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  11. Anon- Wow, you really are accomplished with your use of candles! I think all of your ideas sound gorgeous! I love metallic candles but don't have any. I think you've inspired me to get some! :)

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  12. I really love black for a change of season. And I think cardinal red in silver sticks can be stunning on a sideboard for the holidays.

    But for those who celebrate Hanukkah, a gorgeous blue could be just as special as my memories of red!

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  13. I only use white candles myself as I am such a "white gal", but I do appreciate the colors in these pictures that you have shown. Colored candles CAN BE be used tastefully.

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  14. Despite (or because of) growing up in a house where the candle colors changed with every holiday, I always had ecru or black candles My former partner got very upset by the black candles in the house—he said it looked very satanic or like a coven was about to take place. (You can see why he’s history!) Now I love red candles as well.

    For me, the most upsetting thing is candles that have never been lit—a sign of inhospitality!

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  15. Apart from cream or black, coloured candles are anathema to me. We use the Colonial candles in an old chandelier as they burn cleanly~nobody wants wax in their soup~but cream only. For some reason, those black candles however chic, tend to explode...it becomes a matter of style over practicality to use them in nice candlesticks on coffee tables etc. Rose Cumming used black and so too did Mark Hampton in homage to Rose.

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  16. Stephen Gambrel recently mentioned that he uses a charcoal grey candle from Creative Candles (made here in KC.) While it doesn't work as well in my house, I gave some to a friend and they are quite fab in his terribly chic home.

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  17. Anonymous1:35 PM

    I would like to introduce you to Creative Candles. We have been hand-dipping tapers in Kansas City since 1961. Visit our website at www.creativecandles.com to see our inventoried line of 16 sizes and 47 colors in addition to natural and white solid beeswax tapers. Ivory is still our best seller with white in a close second even though we offer an amazing palette. If you do not find a store in your neighborhood on our retail locator, feel free to visit our shopping cart.

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  18. hi jennifer: i remember that controversy! i remember loving lauder's blue candles and i still do : ) i love the interior shot of the home of carolyn carr and michael gibson. it's a fascinating mix...i think the pink wall / room divider is lovely. the red candles are wonderful...so is the art deco townhouse. it's like a backdrop for an episode of poirot!!! what is it about miles redd?!?! every room he does is BEAUTIFUL!

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  19. I am definitely going to try black this year... I think it will be simple and elegant.

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  20. Courtney- I have some turquoise blue candles that I love and they too would be perfect for Hanukkah.

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  21. Patricia- Yes, taste and restraint should dictate the use of colored candles!

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  22. Toby- I was going to mention that Rose used black too. Once I was burning black candles in the evening and a breeze came through the room- black wax all over the antique white linen tablecloth!

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  23. Morris- My mother drilled that into my head. You should always burn the wicks of candles. Unlit wicks are a no-no.

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  24. Patricia- I love my gray candles!

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  25. Paul- Glad to know that someone else out there liked Lauder's blue candles!

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  26. Ivy Lane- I can't recommend black candles highly enough! :)

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  27. I'm here in favor of escapism. There was a reason why they made all those movies in the 1930's. I also love colored candles, in the right place and find yellow ones necessary in my chocolate dining room. I'm not so sure about the multicolored candles and the green glass (looks like a photoshoot whimsy to me) but there are far worse decor winces to be had around holidays and "to each his own".

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  28. Wonderful stuff - illuminating if I may say so. Did you know that in certain churches with liturgical traditions it is the custom to burn unbleached beeswax candles at funerals as a sign of mourning. They are sill available from suppliers of Church candles. The unbleached color varies from a kind of dark ivory to medium brown. So even some churches use colored candles. Thank you for your writing, your ideas and the wonderful images you bring!

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  29. Ramsay, Edinburgh, Scotland6:40 PM

    I ADORE escapism, so thank you once again Peak Of Chic for brightening my day - not only with candles - but with the fabulous expression "ne plus ultra" which I intend to use at the first available opportunity! In a former life I once worked as a freelance butler - even serving Her Majesty The Queen dinner! She has this fabulous thing called a Chelsea clip, which she used to hang her very ugly handbag from the edge of the dinner table whilst she ate. Here are my top two butler tips for candles.

    1) Place candles in the freezer for a few hours before use. They won't drip and they'll last twice as long. 2) In order to make a candle fit snug in its holder, dip the end in boiling water for a moment, making it just soft enough to take on the required shape.

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  30. I can't believe I'm coming to this controversy so late in the game! when I complained of Aerin Lauder's blue candles I was really referring to her use of them here at the beach seems much to "done" in my opinion. As for my old neighbor robert rufino he does have flawless taste and colored candles are festive at the holidays and not too expensive either (let's not forget, we are in a depression). As for black I think they're quite brilliant especially if the holder is gold or bronze...the corkscrew silver ones remind me of my youth in the 70s, again quite festive. As for grey I think they're super in pillars especially wide ones it is as if the smoke were solidified--or at least that is what I thought at the Kanaal, Axel Vervoordt's showroom in Antwerp last year. Oh, and Creative Candles do make the best candles. I love their really tall tapers and the fact that they include a little piece of bee's wax in each box to help hold the candle in place...

    Thanks for letting me spout off!

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  31. Balsamfir- Amen! To each his own. I agree, and that's what I try to do on my blog. Although, I may not always be successful at that!

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  32. David- Well I just learned something new! Very fascinating. I love the tradition of it. Thank you!

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  33. Ramsay- Wow! You need to start a blog where you recount all of your experiences. That's amazing! Those are great tips too. I like your suggestion about dipping the end of the candle in boiling water. Far more elegant than my little tin of "Candle Stick-Um" that I use!

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  34. Mister- Were you the troublemaker who got all of this started??!! Shame on you! Just kidding. I get your point though. I love the way you describe gray pillars- solidified smoke. I never thought of it that way, but you're so right!

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  35. I had a boyfriend in Junior High who had parents that only used blue candles. I've never recovered.

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  36. If you have the right candlestick, or candelabra, (they would have to be silver or silver gilt), you can get away with colours. And candleshades are good too. Otherwise white will be forgiving of the less gorgeous receptacles.

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