The aroma of gingerbread drifting through the house probably isn't coming from the oven.
It's more likely to be coming from the living room, the dining room, a bedroom or hallway, even from the fireplace - coming from a candle.
Thanks to improved waxes that burn cleaner and more evenly, a boom in home fragrance, and the popularity of home and garden shows and shelter magazines, candles have become decorating accessories as well as a pleasing scent and a warm flicker. According to a recent survey by Harris Interactive for the National Candle Association, 66 percent of women have candles in various rooms in their home, and 49 percent said they use candles as part of their decorating scheme.
"It used to be that candles were just burned at Christmastime," said Ann Albright, president of Swan Creek Candle Co., "but now people burn candles all the time."
And they're found through-out the home, noted Dagne Krout, manager of the Pier 1 store on Monroe Street in the Franklin Park area. "People traditionally put candles as a centerpiece on the dining room table. Now they're transitioning into all rooms," she said. Today's candles are more colorful than in the past, and come in much larger sizes, giving them more decorative punch.
Candles snuggle in hurricane lamps, votive cups, jars, and vases. They float in bowls. They stand at attention on holders as tall as 24 inches. They appear in multiples in wall-mounted panels and sconces and in freestanding racks designed to be placed in an empty fireplace. They're paired with glass marbles and chips, beads, natural materials such as pinecones and greenery, and seasonal accessories such as ornaments and wreaths.
In the arena of decorating with candles, "There are no limits and no rules, other than safety," Ms. Albright declared.
John DuVall, an interior designer and owner of Honey I'm Home, on Sylvania Avenue near Westfield Franklin Park, said he likes to use candles with natural elements such as fruits, fresh flowers, and water. For example, he places white pillar candles in a shallow bowl and adds some water, cranberries, and pine boughs.
You don't need to buy a special tray or bowl for a candle arrangement - in fact, Mr. DuVall recommends against it. "I would rather see someone take their wedding china or an heirloom plate and create a base for their candlescaping," he explained. "You can take anything from your house or your past. I like to be connected to items, so that when I look at them it means something, instead of buying a kit."
He also suggests clustering candles in odd numbers and varying heights. The eye will follow a soldierlike lineup of candles and move on, while clusters "will give the eye someplace to stop," Mr. DuVall said.
Ms. Albright said Swan Creek Candle Co.'s most popular candle holder currently is a hurricane style - a glass cylinder with a metal tray that rests inside, roughly two-thirds of the way down, leaving a pocket of open space below it. The candle is placed on the tray, and the open space is filled with some type of decorative accent - potpourri, beads, marbles, scented crystals, small ornaments, even something like candy corn at Halloween or jelly beans at Easter, Ms. Albright said.
The hurricanes are available in a variety of sizes and offer the safety advantage of enclosing the flame, she pointed out. "When you have a candle burning in your home, you really have to pay attention," she stressed.
Today's candle decor has more sophistication and clean lines, Ms. Albright said. "There's definitely a real move away from country or cute," she observed. "The candle container itself is now a pretty piece of glass that looks expensive."
For the same reason, people don't want a big label sticking on the jarred candles they use for decorative purposes, she said.
Some candles are just for show, but if you're going to put yours to work, there are some things to keep in mind in addition to style and safety.
"Always trim your wick to one-quarter inch," said Ms. Krout of Pier 1, explaining that a candle will burn cleaner with a lower flame. She also recommended turning a candle 90 degrees every time it's used, "because every house has a natural draft, so it will burn to one side" unless it's adjusted.
"The first time you light a candle is the most important," she continued. Burn it long enough that it has a large wax pool, rather than a little puddle that will become a tunnel down through the center. For a candle with a 3-inch diameter, the first burn should be at least 2 to 2 1/2 hours, Ms. Krout advised.
"You'll get more time out of a candle that way," she said - just what we need through our long winter nights.
Contact Ann Weber at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6126.
The National Candle Association (www.candles.org) recommends these rules for burning candles safely:
Always keep a burning candle within sight.
Never burn a candle on or near anything that can catch fire.
Keep candles out of the reach of children and pets.
Trim candle wicks to inch each time before burning.
Make sure candle holders are heat-resistant, sturdy, and large enough to contain any drips or melted wax.
Be sure the candle holder is placed on a stable, heat-resistant surface.
Keep the wax pool free of wick trimmings, matches, and debris at all times.
Always read and follow the manufacturer s use and safety instructions carefully.
Keep burning candles away from drafts, vents, ceiling fans, and air currents.
Always burn candles in a well-ventilated room.
Don t burn a candle all the way down. Extinguish the flame if it comes too close to the holder or container.
Never touch a burning candle or move a votive or container candle when the wax is liquid.
Never use a knife or sharp object to remove wax drippings from a glass holder.
Place burning candles at least three inches apart from one another.
Use a candle snuffer to extinguish a candle to prevent hot wax from splattering.
Never extinguish candles with water, which can cause the hot wax to splatter and might cause a glass container to break.
Be very careful if using candles during a power outage.
Make sure a candle is completely extinguished and the wick ember is no longer glowing before leaving the room.
Extinguish a candle if it smokes, flickers repeatedly, or the flame becomes too high.
Never use a candle as a night light.