I hope you plan to have the kind of summer where you’re indoors so infrequently, lighting a candle isn’t even on your radar. Laying in grass? No need for a candle. At a backyard barbecue? There’s smoke, there’s fire, but there’s not a candle in sight. For rooftop drinks (whether or not you’re sipping an aperol spritz) a candle would just be blown out by the breeze. I will put forward for suggestion, however, a lazy Sunday morning, an emergency respite from the heat, and a good soak—for those occasions, a candle still holds. And what you want to smell is… basically everything you would have been smelling outside. Think grass, smoke, seasonal berries and sunscreen, a hint of nostalgia, which seems to be the uniting factor of each of these scents. Doesn’t everyone wish that summertime still meant three months off from school, oscillating between being too wet and too dry? I sure do. Wherever your dreamiest summer spot may be, here are all the candles to take you there—without having to leave the house.
Small but mighty: The Tatine Tisane candle collection
The bad news is that these only come in votive-size. The good news is that each one is 20 bucks. Set your sights on Laurel Canyon, which smells like rain on a field of flowers, and Wild Mountain Honey, which smells like a little soapy, but still grown up. The best of the bunch, though is Field of Grass. The notes are grass and daisies, but there’s some magic going on here that smells like pure nostalgia. Very fresh, a little like lavender—a bubble bath sitting in a forest? Your favorite book is already there, and the water is perfectly warm.
The fresh one: The Village Common South of Monterey
This is the candle to burn if you don’t have AC in your house and the summer humidity is starting to become… stifling. You know, when the air is so thick that even taking a deep breath feels like work. South of Monterey smells mostly like fresh eucalyptus, and cuts through all that heaviness. Mixed in with humidity, the almost-medicated eucalyptus brings a spa to your living room. Would be a great burn in the bathroom, too. Or any time you’re dealing with seasonal allergies, like right now.
The garden in a jar: Paddywax Heirloom Tomato
What does a tomato-scented candle smell like? Well, more like a bowl of tomatoes sitting on your windowsill, next to the fresh herbs you’ve been growing—kind of green, kind of bright, and sweet but not saccharine. You know how a tomato is a fruit that behaves like a vegetable? Kind of like that.
The indoor bonfire: Retablo Ojo
If you’re obsessed with smokey, cedary, Feu de Bois-y scents in winter, here’s your summer alternative. Fires in winter are indoor fires—fires in summer are campfires in slightly wet grass, which is exactly what Ojo smells like. There’s a little bit of smokiness, but the kind that sticks to your clothes when you’ve been barbecuing all day, and a slight sweetness, like a charred marshmallow. And when it melts down, it reveals a little brass charm—what fun! This ceramic summer version is mighty pretty, but the glass version is $20 less.
Classic, but nuanced: Follain No. 2
This smells like the house of a person who owns a lot of white furniture, and has freshly cut floral arrangments in every room. You know what I mean? And if you can't beat 'em, join 'em—the white tea smells fresh, the lavender is soothing, and the scent is strong while burning.
The prettiest burn: Maison Francis Kurkdjian Rue Des Groseilliers
A good starting point for understanding what this smells like is fan-favorite, Baies. It’s got the same blackcurrant, but this one smells more juicy—I’m imagining a bowl of freshly washed berries, the water still beaded up on strawberry skin. And the stems are still on. When you light it, the inside glows red.
The encore performance: Sunday Forever Coconut (Milk and Cream)
I was all hopped up on Sunday Forever’s Tanlines last summer, but this summer I’ve transferred my affections to Coconut. It’s definitely a softer scent, and smells less like sunscreen and more like a really good piece of coconut cake. Not that it’s a dessert candle, because it definitely is not—it’s much more nuanced than that. The mild scent of cream tempers out an overly sweet, obviously summery coconut, and the resulting blend is soothing and addictive.
Fig for fig haters: Brooklyn Candle Studio Santorini
Let’s take an adventure, shall we? You’re walking under a fig tree in a large cave—the sweet, green smell of fig leaves is carried by damp air. Are you with me? Then the berries unfold, and it’s like, wow, how kind, someone has brought you a fruit bowl to eat in your cave under your fig tree. You sit on the ground, which is cold even though the air is warm and slightly salty, and take a bite out of a strawberry. TL;DR, it’ll make you feel better about the fact that you didn’t plan well enough to end up taking those vacation days after all.
Fig for fig lovers: L'Artisan Parfumeur Intérieur Figuier
I happen to be one of those people, and actually have L'Artisan Parfumeur's fig fragrance, which is what I was hoping this would smell like. The good news: it does! Pure, uninterrupted fig tree. The better news: it's significantly more potent than Diptyque's Figuier, which I always struggle to smell in large rooms. The strength alone makes it well worth the splurge.
The beach day: Pirette Signature Candle
This candle smells like coconut and sunscreen and… something else. Body wash? Rubber flip flops? Like if you spent a day on the beach, and used an outdoor shower to rinse off the sand, bathing suit and all still on. It’s the brand’s signature fragrance, and in addition to various sized candles, it’s sold as a perfume and as a dry body oil if you can’t get enough.
La dolce vita: Jenni Kayne Basil
Smells less like a salad and more like an Italian vacation. There’s a little bit of spice, like you’d find in very fancy Italian soap, or an old school Italian men’s cologne, a good dose of quintessentially Italian neroli. (Did you know it was first used as fragrance by the princess of Nerola?) The basil is still there, but subtle, like it’s growing outside, or laying on the kitchen counter waiting to be cut.
The one that looks really expensive: Target Neroli, Ylang Ylang + Eucalyptus
This candle is chic for $14. Unlike many inexpensive candles, it doesn’t smell artificial, or like you just walked into a Yankee Candle. It smells clean, like a freshly washed baby—soap the kind of neroli that would be in a child’s fragrance, not worn by a man. Actually, the scent is so mild, you can get away with putting one in every room of your house, while convincing all your friends you’re rich enough to have an expensive candle in every room of your house. Ha ha! If only you they’d forget the Venmo requests for overpriced drinks that easily.
Photographed by Tom Newton.