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Candles add warmth, beauty to any design project

| Sunday, Sept. 28, 2003

One of the easiest and most affordable ways of decorating a new space or warming up an old one is with candles.

Simple, elegant and fragrant, candles are the perfect way to combine tradition with the newest trends, says Lyn Peterson, author, home designer and decorator, and consultant to the National Candle Association.

Designers agree that no single element of design is as important as lighting, and candles have the added benefit of offering pleasing scents, eye-appealing colors and interesting shapes that can fit into any motif.

In his book "Design for Entertaining" (Bulfinch Press, $45), celebrity party planner and floral arranger Preston Bailey says candlelight is a wonderful way to transform the mood in a room.

"Perhaps the popularity of candles is due to the fact that candlelight flatters everyone," Bailey says. "Flickering candles remind us of the twinkling of starlight, but there's a warmth to them as well, evoking the age-old associations of fire with life-affirming heat, hearth, home and protection."

Candles typically come in three forms: votive, pillar and taper. Bailey says each has a specific use.

Votives can be tailored to any theme, style, color scheme or mood, and, generally, the more the merrier. Votives often are placed below eye level on tables to provide an intimate kind of lighting.

Pillar candles give an impression of solidarity and strength. These substantial candles most often are round, but can be square, rectangular or even triangular with several wicks. Placed on tables, buffets and consoles, they add weight and sturdiness, making a great design statement.

Tapers come in a variety of lengths and generally are associated with the most elegant events. The length and slimness of tapers means you should elevate them. They offer a means of creating height in a room, by drawing the eye upward.

Bailey often uses various types of candles combined with flowers and other natural elements in his designs. At one Thanksgiving dinner, he placed masses of frosted square votives in groups along the length of a table in place of traditional centerpieces.

"A room's details can be enhanced or concealed when lit by candlelight," he says.

Candles, designers add, never go out of style and can complement even the most modern or eclectic designs.

"Personally, I think candles are very primitive; there's just something so warm and inviting about the flame," says Margaret Herron, interior design instructor at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

The most traditional places for candles are tabletops; however, they work well in the bedroom, bathroom or living room.

"There are so many beautiful candles and holders that people are using them as a method of accessorizing," Herron says. "I don't think you can pick up any good design magazine and not see any article about food or decor that doesn't discuss the use of candles, especially during the holidays."

Traditionally, people have used candles for various celebrations such as holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. But in the past decade, candles have become a year-round staple in many homes.

A recent survey by the National Candle Association found that more than two-thirds of Americans incorporate candles into their home decor.

"The popularity of candles has grown dramatically," says Susan Stockman, director of public relations for Yankee Candle Co. of South Deerfield, Mass.

During the past year, four out of five women say they have purchased at least one type of candle, the most popular being the jar candle, followed by votives.

Herron attributes the steady growth in candle sales to the proliferation of do-it-yourself television shows and huge home-improvement stores. "People have become design groupies," she says.

Candles are sold virtually everywhere: neighborhood drug stores, department stores, specialty gift shops, supermarkets, discount stores and on the Internet.

In her book, "Real Life Decorating" (Creative Homeowner Press, $27.95), Lyn Peterson says successful decorating is being stylish and sensible at the same time, and candles often are the perfect accoutrement.

"Candles have the ability to transform a room without making a huge dent in your pocketbook," she says. "Candle accessory options are more creative, fun and elegant than ever before."

Manufacturers such as California-based Illuminations offer a range of choices, from candlesticks and holders to sconces and "jewelry" (glass collars and cups meant to catch drippings, but they also add sparkle).

One trend uses fragrance candles as the basis for designing an entire room.

"Surprisingly, the fragrance can be the springboard for the entire room," HGTV design guru Susie Coelho says. "Colors, textures and styles will flow from the feelings and images the fragrance conjures up." Recently, Coelho teamed with Yankee Candle to explain the "styling with fragrance" concept.

Says Stockman: "The majority of people who buy fragrance candles do so because the fragrance reminds them of something wonderful. The smell triggers memories or feelings or thoughts about certain experiences."

Coelho says a simple apple-scented candle might remind someone of an apple orchard, with green and red, pink blossoms and brown bark. Or, the smell of clean cotton laundry might conjure up images of crisp white sheets blowing in the breeze under a blue sky.

In the book "The Fragrant Year" (Hearst Books, 2001), Clare Louise Hunt says candles can bring a sense of intimacy to your home.

"Depending on the scent you choose, you can create a sensual, stimulating or relaxing mood," she says. "The aroma of scented candles, combined with enticing smells from the kitchen, sets the scene for any festive occasion."

Candles can be used outside, too.

"More and more people are realizing that candles are an excellent way to spruce up a barbecue or any outdoor activity," Peterson says.

And, Stockman says, candles make perfect gifts.

"They're nonalcoholic and nonfattening. Everyone likes to get candles, even men."

Heights of illumination

Here are tips from design experts for displaying candles:

  • For more visual impact, group candles of different heights and widths.

  • Place floral arrangements around candelabras and candlesticks. Preserved leaves, dried fruits, corncobs, gourds, pinecones, crystal beads and stones make great additions to the base of candles.

  • Many household items can be used as candleholders -- mason jars, tin cans, teacups, glass tumblers, juice glasses and cupcake tins. Thrift stores are great places to shop for inexpensive holders.

  • Large floating candles in a pool and lanterns hung around the patio can set the mood for an outdoor party.

  • A pedestal fruit bowl makes a beautiful container to display floating candles for a centerpiece.

  • Choose candleholders for their unique style. Add some visual warmth to an unused fireplace by grouping candles inside.

  • To enhance your design, place the arrangement in front of a mirror.

  • Buff up candles by using an old nylon stocking.

  • Place a partially melted votive in the freezer for an hour, then pop out the unwanted wax for a clean holder.

  • To remove wax from carpeting or fabric: Gently remove as much of the hardened wax as possible. Lay a brown paper bag over the remaining wax, then apply an iron on low setting.

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    Additional Information:

    Tame the Flames

    To prevent fires, follow these safety tips when using candles:

  • Always keep a burning candle within sight.

  • Keep candles out of reach of children and pets.

  • Keep burning candles away from anything flammable, such as drapes, bedding, carpets, books, decorations and open windows or drafts.

  • Trim candlewicks to 1/4 inch before lighting.

  • Always burn candles on protected, heat-resistant surfaces specifically designed for candle use. The holder should be big enough to collect dripping wax.

  • Candles should be placed at least 3 inches apart so they don't melt each other.

  • During a power failure, flashlights and battery-powered lights are much safer than candles.

    Source: National Candle Association

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