Playing Favorites

The Special Candle That Makes Erin McDowell's House Feel Like Home

And it can make paying bills more enjoyable—no, really.

November  8, 2021
Photo by MJ Kroeger

Welcome to Playing Favorites, a new monthly series that puts our most beloved tools and gadgets front and center. Check in each month as our favorite cooks, authors, designers, and experts share what they reach for over and over again. From the dust-buster that misses nothing to the blender that tackles anything and the packing cubes that make travel a cinch, it’s the one time when playing favorites is a good thing.

Being home means two very different things to me. It’s a battle of the two sides: my hustlin’, bustlin’ work-from-home self and the part of me that really needs a relaxing place to unwind.

Long before the pandemic, I churned out the bulk of my work from home: prepping cakes, pies, and more from my very busy ovens. My home boasts the kind of meticulous organization that looks decidedly disheveled even at its absolute tidiest. Tightly packed equipment and prop shelves stand floor-to-ceiling in just about every open space, and a room that most would consider a generously sized living space has become a full walk-in pantry over the years. How do you make a space like this feel home-y? How do you infuse a packed home—that doubles as my work place—with elements like calm, comfort, and warmth?

A constant stream of freshly baked pies, cookies, and bread emerging from the oven certainly helps, but I also keep a supply of a hometown favorite on hand to help me achieve the desired vibe: votive and column candles from Waxman Candles in Lawrence, Kansas.

Waxman’s is a true hometown shop as a family business operating in Kansas for more than 50 years and in Chicago for 25. It has a huge array of candles and scents to choose from and sweet employees that always throw a few matchbooks into your bag with every purchase. While I love visiting the store in person, the wonder of the internet has made it easy to order my favorites online—and it offers free shipping for any order more than $50, too.

It makes everything from beeswax tapers and lovely scented soy candles to elaborately shaped beauties (I’ve gifted many a morel mushroom candle to my foodie friends). My personal favorites are the classic paraffin wax candles. I even have a go-to scent, the same one my parents used to light when they were having company—a column candle known as Sweet Grass. It has a beautiful aroma that’s just strong enough to make your home smell lovely, but not at all pervasive (for those who don’t enjoy strong scents). Other favorites offered are Pear Vanilla, Blackberry Sage, and Orange Ginger. It’s no coincidence I drift towards the food-inspired smells, but Waxman’s has a huge array of floral, earthy, woodsy, and perfume-y scents, too.

My newest habit is to light a candle in the room where I’m doing a task and not blow it out until I’m done. Not only does this make for an especially lovely way to mark a few items off my (long) to-do list, but it makes mundane tasks like paying bills or drying dishes suddenly feel like self-care.

I buy votives for smaller tasks and a few columns for long projects (I light a column every time I write). It’s become an incredibly grounding practice and is so simple, but makes me feel better every time I do it. The little act of lighting a candle makes me feel like I’m bettering my space, motivating me to see a project through and keeping me calm and focused while I do it whether it's washing dishes or writing. But these candles also give me an extra little gift each time I light them: the flicker of the soft light, the sweet scent, and the undeniable feeling of being home.

Editor’s faves:

Here are some of our editors’ favorite candles.

Photo by Anthropologie

1. Mini Capri Blue 5 oz. Volcano Jar Candle, $10 $14

Brand partnerships editor Erin Alexander stocks up on Anthropologie’s signature scent—yes, as in, the one that the brand uses in all its stores. It’s the perfect blend of bright tropical citrus and warm sugar that isn’t too cloying or sweet.

Photo by Otherland

2. Otherland Candle in Fallen Fir, $36

Market editor Jada Wong loves Otherland’s seasonal Fallen Fir candle but doesn’t burn it because the scent can fill her living room even when it’s not lit. The mix of fresh balsam fir, musk, and winter spice smells like a snowy winter day straight out of a fairy tale, and the ornate jar is beautifully designed for instant decor, too.

Photo by Sephora

3. Maison Louis Marie No. 09 Vallee de Farney Candle, $36

Home52’s editorial lead Arati Menon also loves a candle with a firm throw. “A friend just recommended this candle and my favorite thing about it is that it scents a room even when it’s not burning! This one has grapefruit and cedarwood top notes, and has a great throw. It’s going to be particularly useful when cooking in winter (and with the windows closed)!”

What’s your all-time favorite candle? Share some inspo below!

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, Savory Baking, came out in Fall of 2022 - is full of recipes to translate a love of baking into recipes for breakfast, dinner, and everything in between!

1 Comment

Vicki November 13, 2021
I burn Lafco New York’s Big Sky and Feu de Bois together and without exception, everyone who comes into my house says “ oh! it smells like fall in here!” .