Celebrate the holidays by candlelight

Celebrate the holidays by candlelight
Create a new tradition with a sculptural menorah hand carved from a single piece of mango wood. The piece has a light stained finish that easily blends with many furniture styles. (Photo: Pottery Barn)

Rheostats have nothing on candles. Dimming the lights boosts the ambience when you’re trying to dial down a bright interior at night. But candlelight interjects another dimension.

It’s romantic. Dramatic. Even magical. It lends a familiar, old-fashioned comfort to a space. Candles evoke moods from spiritual to sensual.

The glow of candlelight adds warmth — most welcome during the holiday season, along with the scent of pumpkin pie or pine. Candles are integral to many Thanksgiving, Hanukkah or Christmas tabletops.

In recent years, there’s been a proliferation of candles — tapers, pillars, votives and sculpted wax, including pumpkins, snowmen, angels, Santas and nutcrackers. They come au naturel or colored, striped, polka-dotted, sculpted or even embellished with everything from painted autumn leaves to glitter to actual crystals. Appropriately, the selection of candleholders has expanded to reflect most every design style, from ubersleek to over-the-top baroque.

Over time, candleholders have been crafted from metal, glass or crystal, porcelain, ceramic, resin and wood, as well as mixed media. From holders to accommodate short votives to tall tapers — some extend up to nearly four feet — to candelabra whose multiple “arms” housing lights can be significantly wide. Price tags range from under $1 to nearly $9,000 for a Baccarat crystal candelabrum.

Shape is pushing the design envelope. Three-dimensional and figural pieces, such as regally robed angels holding candles, are popular at this time of year, but among the newest designs are engaging sculptural looks that celebrate form. A dragon shape interpreted in richly detailed nickel-coated brass was designed by Josie Natori, and is available at Neiman Marcus.

An organic interpretation of the traditional menorah is handsomely hand carved out of a single piece of mango wood. The piece from Pottery Barn commands attention with its sculptural leaves and blooms, and its graduating candles rising and falling from 10 1/2 inches at center.

An almost cup-shaped iron tree that stands 31 inches tall is a dramatic centerpiece or anchor for a sidebar. Votive candles nestle in its black iron branches, which maintain a visual lightness because you can see into the “nest.”

There are plenty of unexpected shapes, even on a smaller scale. At CB2, for example, some low-slung contemporary candleholders are chunky and faceted, with surprising dimension. The squatty 5 1/4-inch-tall iron pieces, available in white or chartreuse powdercoat, are called Pivot because of the sharp turned angles of their sides.

Cues from fashion are being expressed in novel ways. The so-trendy animal patterns that have been cropping up on everything from sweaters and shoes to fabrics and area rugs have a spot-on interpretation in gold-painted metal at Neiman Marcus. Simple rectangular lanterns are decorated with cutout patterns suggesting the coats of Serengeti animals, allowing light to dance through.

A similar effect is achieved with piercing, like that of traditional tinwork. One particularly fetching design at Crate and Barrel features a leaf pattern. Hundreds of pinholes create the design, which looks beaded as it stands out on the face of a black iron hurricane, which is gold plated inside, glowing when the candle is lit.

Light play also is affected by media such as glass, and especially enhanced when the glass is colored, frosted, crackled or silvered. The antique silvery finish of mercury glass is a popular fashion look today. Replicated in hurricanes or shapely candleholders and available from retailers such as Pottery Barn and Ballard Designs, the low-luster pieces shimmer in candlelight.

The scale of some candleholders has been beefed up in recent years. Hurricane lamps, for example, can be quite substantial in height and diameter to lend impressive visual weight. Simple glass cylinders or traditional hourglass shapes have evolved to glass that’s thicker, sometimes rustically mottled and/or banded in metal. There may be decorative grillwork outside or inside, part of what cradles the candle. Some hurricanes are architectural in stature, such as a 30 1/2-inch tall, 15 1/2-inch wide metal bamboo model that resembles a pagoda.

A handsome design from Ralph Lauren Home, the almost 9-inch wide Nelson hurricane is wrapped in narrow leather thongs, set in neat yet irregular horizontal rows to complement brass rims. The larger version, at 17 3/4 inches tall, sells for $995 at Neiman Marcus.

Lantern-style candleholders, so popular for outdoors, now are finding their way onto indoor tabletops. On the Wisteria website, one metal tabletop coach lantern sits on a fancy scrolled base. Non-footed styles are both casual and more formal, depending on shapes and materials.

Candlesticks have fattened up and slimmed down, offering a wide variety for those seeking this traditional format. Column-like, turned, spindled, fluted and stacked elements are among the features that take on very different looks in glass or wood.

A “style your own” option offers even more flexibility. A very modern collection of five skinny holders of different heights, lined up side by side, turns out to be mounted on a base. The Ibis candleholder from Crate and Barrel actually has movable parts; you can switch up the order of the sticks, varying the heights at your whim.

Customizable, transformable design is the premise of the website Module-R. Embracing a kind of Lego approach, the idea is to make the pieces your own. A stacked crystal candleholder, for example, is composed of multiple parts and shapes — with color options in red, green, black, orange and blue — which you can rearrange to your heart’s content. Another candelabrum-style piece folds in different configurations.

Holders for pillar candles also have evolved into broader cylinders and hybrids that seem to be an extension of candelabra, such as a heavily scrolled black iron piece inspired by Moroccan gateware and available from Pottery Barn.

Finally, votives and even the smaller tea lights, which often are combined in multiples with other candleholders ranging in scale, are sporting more decorative housings. Fancy filigree-like wires, sometimes studded with jewels, create a strong dynamic. An intriguing horizontal arrangement is a glass log-shaped piece crafted from beaker glass. Available at Crate and Barrel, it holds five votives.

Although candleholders are considered decorative accessories, they can make quite an impact on decor.

More often, candlesticks are used symmetrically in pairs, especially on the table or on a fireplace mantel. Votives are effective in odd numbers, multiples of three, five or seven. Candleholders for tapers are smashing, ganged together, especially engaging in the same medium — all glass or metal in varying shapes and styles.

Classic designs, of course, are versatile. So candleholders need not be static. Those that grace the table for the holidays can move to a sideboard, mantel or cocktail table throughout the year.

With so many choices, you are bound to find candleholders to suit your taste and budget. One thing about candlelight — it never will go out of style.