Waxing lyrical

Before the arrival of electricity, candles and oil lamps were our only means of illumination. Today however, with light available at the flick of a switch, candles are used mainly for their aesthetic value and their scent.

Candles are multi-functional too; from their practical use during electrical power failures to their use as part of religious ceremonies, candles can inspire romance, relaxation and veneration. They bring peace to solemn moments, can mesmerise a fretful baby or light a darkened path back to your tropical hideaway on an exotic island. Candles are wonderful and no home should be without a few - so what types of candles are best?

All candles are created following the same basic format. Gone are the days when they were made from whiffy beef-fat tallow or sperm whale 'wax'. These days, odourless or scented wax is simply poured around a wick and into a mould, then hardened.

• If the candle is scented, then ideally the fragrance is layered alternatively with wax. However, in cheaper candles the scent is often added to the wax after the pouring, which causes the scent to diminish after just a few hours use.

• The same applies to colour. If a candle loses its colour once it begins burning, chances are it is an inexpensive candle. A good way to test this is by looking underneath the candle - if the colour there is patchy or just on the outer layer, you will likely be disappointed.

• Texture and shape are significant as well. Candles of a lesser quality are full of air pockets, lumps and ridges. Poorly made candles also tunnel in the middle while burning, create a lot of soot and have loose, puffy wicks. If the wick in your candle 'flowers' near the top and 'ashes' into the wax, chances are you are looking at a Dhs 5 candle.

• However, if you have paid a few more Dirhams, expect the texture to be smooth and the shape to be symmetrical. The wick will be coated with wax and when it burns, the wax will burn out, not tunnel down. Good quality candles also burn slower and therefore last much longer than their low-cost counterparts and their scent is consistent and rich.

• When it comes to arranging your candles, you have many options. Many people arrange them in threes while others love the simple charm of a lone pillar-style candle. Tea-light candles are best for accents around the home while the taller votive candles look good on a bedside table or next to a bathroom sink. Outdoors meanwhile, jar candles are the perfect choice because the glass protects the flame from the breeze.

• When choosing a scent, take your clues from the mood you would prefer that specific room to heighten. For example, you might like rosewood or lavender in the bedroom, maybe a fresh linen, citrus or eucalyptus scent in the bathroom, apple or pear in the kitchen, while a rich vanilla or patchouli would be great for the living area. Outdoors however, always chose citronella to keep insects at bay.

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