The Old House Candle Company

Back in April 2020, I had this to say about my decision to set up the Red’s Kingdom blog:

“If I can be said to have an ambition for this blog, it’s simply this: to build another inter-connected world of sights and sounds – however loosely connected! I’m going to be talking about projects old and new, and I’m hoping to invite some of the creative people I know and work with to feature as guest authors and artists. I’m pretty sure I’ll be talking a bit about the stuff I’m watching too and gathering in some of the writing I’ve published elsewhere. In short, this blog will seek to be a coalition of elective creative activity – mine, and other people’s. I’m very much looking forward to throwing open the door to Red’s Kingdom and inviting you to accompany me on my continuing adventures in sight and sound…”

But as it turns out, I made a mistake back then, for while it’s true Red’s Kingdom has indeed developed into ‘coalition of eclectic creative activity’, in no small part due to the wonderful contributions of the Kingdom’s many and diverse Kick-Abouters, I missed something out. When I invited visitors to the blog to accompany me on ‘my continuing adventures in sight and sound’, I should have added ‘scent’ into the mix too.

Making scented soy wax candles in my kitchen in Whitstable

Over the past year, and prior to the UK’s first lock-down, when I suspect many people’s thoughts turned to the therapeutic value of making, I’ve been developing an idea for a range of scented candles. Written down in black and white like that, I can’t help but reflect on how improbable that may sound – certainly to those who know me well, and even more so to those people who only know me from what I choose to put out on here. Are these scented candles somehow a bit uncanny, perhaps? Do they have a nasty surprise in them, an unwelcome bit of grit, or chink of razor blade? Are they somehow spooky, or kooky or fragranced bizarrely? Nope.

That said, this particular project has been an exercise in the art of conjuring, a magical act of sorts, of seeking to isolate the olfactory character of a particular place – and specific moments in that particular place – and capture them in creamy containers of soy wax.

The particular place in question is ‘The Old French House’, the rooms of which might be familiar to some on here as the settings for my various forays into long-exposure photography. Whenever I visit this old stone-walled farmhouse, I am encouraged to respond to its atmosphere, silence, privacy and space in different ways. It was here, for example, the powerful sunlight and surrounding plants worked together to produce these cyanotypes. It was here too I wrote the screenplay for the animation that gives this blog its name. It was at the big wooden table I wrote – and rewrote! – the manuscript for my children’s adventure Chimera Book 1, often working late into the night, the heat of the day leaving all the old wood of the house in sighs and creaks. It was here too, I was taken so suddenly by something as prosaic as a pool cover clogged with winter leaves.

The Old French House

In addition to all these other responses, there has always been my keen relationship to the smell of the old French house, combinations of herbs, old wood, green wood, smoke, citrus, geraniums; dry, aromatic scents, cooler botanical fragrances, and all the combinations thereof. It is what heat and time and rest smells like. It’s the fragrance of basking, of unfilled hours.

In truth, I see little difference between this project and, say, all those long-exposure photographs, in so much as I’m trying to capture something intangible. Okay, less pretentiously, I wanted to create some really lovely candles that smell like you’re on holiday, and set about doing just that through an iterative process of mixing essential oils, wick sizes and containers until I was happy with the result. My long-suffering husband was charged with walking in – and out – of rooms, to gauge the success or otherwise of each new combination, and my mum and stepdad stumped up some of the developmental costs, a family affair indeed!

With support and guidance from Whitstable’s number one florist and lifestyle guru, Jane at Graham Greener, I was able to trial the range on other people’s noses (said florist’s husband, for example!) and their feedback was great, giving me the confidence to take everything a bit further.

The eight fragrances in The Old French House range of soy wax candles.

Long story short, the candles are now stocked at Graham Greener here in Whitstable and, as of this week, The Old House Candle Company has a website and online shop. (Notice I’m missing out all the anecdotes about producing candles that a) didn’t burn or b) smelled strange. I did all those things and more). This is a small ‘cottage industry’ operation, with everything produced in small batches, and produced simply and with a minimum of fiddle – and unfortunately the candles are only available in the UK – so if you’re reading this somewhere further flung, apologies in advance.

Ultimately, my plan is to develop other ‘Old House’ ranges – for example, ‘The Old Victorian Glasshouse’ – think orange blossom and lime – so the site takes its inspiration from the romance of old spaces in general, with their worn surfaces and simple comforts, and from the following quote from Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space:

“The house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.”