Born to Bougie

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Are the pricier candles really better? And how can we get our money’s worth? Debra Brock asks some burning questions and tries not to get on an expert’s wick.


When it comes to candles, I have about as much self-restraint as I do with palettes – practically none. Towards Christmas my waxmania hits new heights, so it was a delight to speak to a next-level candle obsessive: Cheryl Hook, of Lancashire-based candlemakers Melt.


Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 12.10.19DB: How should someone decide which candle goes where in their home?


CH: Think about what ambience you want to create. Some people want their bathroom to be a relaxing space and would benefit from soothing fragrances, but others might want it to smell fresh and clean and so opt for finer woods or citrus notes. To my mind, somewhere as personal as a dressing room should have feminine, luxurious fragrances – like our beautiful Neroli & Rose Geranium. Something like gingerbread cookies just wouldn’t work.


Also consider who else might be sharing that space. In a lounge or entrance hall it makes sense to choose something which others don’t detest. I love candles in the hallway as they gives such a gorgeous greeting. But I can’t abide Tiare flower and if I smelled that in a hallway, you’d struggle to get me over the doorstep.


DB: Fireplaces always seem to be a popular setting for candles – where else do you think is a good spot?


CH: If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace with a surround then that’s perfect – but of course be aware of the secondary heat source from the fire, which can cause candles to collapse. Windowsills are another lovely option, and candles in front of mirrors also create a gorgeous effect.



DB: What about the different types of candle – glass jars versus free-standing?


CH: Well, candles should never be left unattended but the truth is that we’re often hopping in and out of rooms while they’re lit. So glass jars are a safer option where there are slight draughts or heat currents, whereas free-standing pillars can look gorgeous but you need to keep an eye on how they’re burning and on the whereabouts of the dog’s tail or the kids! I’m a big fan of using one lovely candle in a room for fragrance and then using cheap tea lights in gorgeous holders to rack up the candlelight quota.



Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 11.48.24DB: You hand-pour all your candles, don’t you? Why is that?  


CH: We’re very much fragrance-led and the fragrant oils we use are liquid at room temperature. Blending them with molten wax, as opposed to powdered wax, means the candle is fragranced evenly throughout. We also keep the wax and oils on heat for as short a time as possible before pouring, which helps to preserve the properties of the wax and essential oils. Each candle can take up to 36 hours to produce.



DB: How do you choose which scents to use?


CH: We do follow fine fragrance trends, but these don’t always translate well into candles.  Oud has been very popular in perfume for the last few years but in wax, with the heat of the flame behind it, it can be almost too rich and also very dry. Some simple fruit notes just smell plain unpleasant.



DB: Presumably perfecting a scent can be quite a lengthy process?


CH: We’re continually playing with fragrance. Most of ours are quite complex and contain up to 50 different oils. Some come together very quickly, like Still, which took only two weeks. Others are a proper pain in the butt and take much longer – our More fragrance took nearly two years to get right and spent a good chunk of that time sulking at the back of a cupboard as we kept falling out with it.



DB: So if yours is the right way to make candles, what’s the wrong way?


CH: We’ve been approached in the past – by companies who should know better – to make jar candles for them. They were anxious to keep the cost down, and as scent is usually the most expensive part of our candles we suggested a lower level of fragrance for them. However, they wanted us to do the initial pour in 2% fragrance levels and then top up the candle with a much higher percentage, so that when you lifted it to your nose it smelled great. Of course, after a few hours’ burn there’d just be no fragrance there. Also, some pillar candles are not fragranced all the way through, they’re just overdipped in scented wax. No good fragranced candle maker would produce candles that way.



DB: Is that why sometimes, when I’ve picked up a candle in a shop, it’s smelt amazing, yet when I’ve burnt it at home there’s no throw at all?


CH: Not necessarily. I think of fragrance a bit like people. Some fragrances are quieter, whilst some bounce out of the box and bop you on the nose. Some are more elegant, and others a little more raucous. And in a similar way, fragrance molecules can be heavy, light, fat, thin – some zip round a room effortlessly whilst others snooze on the couch.


Throw is also determined by the type of wax and wick. High grade mineral wax gives excellent scent hold and throw at lower fragrance levels, whilst some plant waxes, like soy, have to use more oil to give the same throw, which makes them more expensive to make and buy.



DB: Candles can be pretty pricey – how do you get the best out of them?


CH: Well-made candles should be burnt for as long a period as possible to encourage a wide wax pool, which in turn gives good scent throw. I always aim for a flame height of about ¾ inch as this seems to give optimum burn with our candles. If the flame is larger because the wick’s too long, the candle will be used more quickly than it should. If the flame is smaller then the wax pool will be small and it won’t give a good throw.




Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 11.48.06DB: What are your top candle tips for Christmas?


CH: You obviously can’t go wrong with the traditional seasonal fragrances of Orange, Cinnamon, Bergamot, and Clove, but there are some lovely winter alternatives which are less obvious and more sophisticated. We use a beautiful Balsam Fir in our Noel fragrance which is a rich resinous wood – and you can have warmth in a more elegant way by using Sandal, Ginger and so on combined with some elegant woody notes. Go for some rich, deep, enveloping fragrances which are possibly too hefty for the summer months.



Melt can be found online at


Debra Brock

Debra Brock is co-founder of and a contributing writer.

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