If you weren’t paying close attention walking down Pine Street, you might mistake Elm Candle Bar for just another one of the area’s cafes or plant shops. It does cater to millennial aesthetics.
But it just might be the only shop of its kind in the Pacific Northwest: a place entirely dedicated to making good-smelling things.
When I first arrived at Elm, my eye went to the wall of hardwood shelves stocked with pre-poured candles, one for each of Elm’s 90 mixable aromas. Of course, a “scent specialist” (or chandler) was there to guide me. She told me to smell my options and write down as many of my favorite scents as I could. Don’t worry about choosing fragrances that go well together, she assured me—she’d help me tweak the final scent later. I was more worried that I'd stand there smelling candles all day.
I went for my standards first: honeysuckle, jasmine, and magnolia. But the possibility of my apartment smelling like banana bread, straight razor, and old books coaxed me out of my comfort zone. Soon, I had eight fragrances on my list.
Then the chandler marked with a colored pencil which scents would go nicely together. I picked a trio; I sat at the L-shaped bar, sipped a coconut La Croix, and designed my candle’s label. Eventually, she brought my 9-ounce jar—now filled with soy wax from a giant metal vat—back to the bar, where I stirred in my concoction of fragrance oils with a golden spoon.
The candles dry solid in about an hour and a half, but the waiting game isn’t too bad. Co-owners and cousins Erin Page, Leah Kim, and Matt Kim took their time searching for a spot with an abundance of activities in close walking distance before opening last month: Oddfellows, Elliot Bay Book Company, Capitol Cider, and Molly Moon’s are all within a block. When you return, your candle will be smoothed out and labeled.
Elm is far from the only place in town where you can make a candle. The Works Seattle and Yaymaker both offer a few classes, but they’re more structured: you’ve got to register ahead of time (and avoid bailing last-minute, lest you wave goodbye to the 70 bucks you already paid). Or you make a candle at home—Ravenna's Zenith Supplies is my go-to for materials. That way you can pick the wax color (you can't at Elm).
I've spent a fair amount of time making candles. But the process at Elm provided fresh tips: using hot glue as a wick adhesive, taking a blow torch to the surface of a candle to smooth it out. And having a chandler on deck—Elm has at least one for every four people—is helpful for battling scent indecision, even if the premium is between $27–$37 per candle.
It did lead me to a blend I never would’ve considered: champagne, cucumber, and rose.