We’re midway through Fall, and you better believe I’ve already whipped out my favorite textured pillows and chunky knit blankets! Earlier this month, I even brought home some incredible fall flowers for an Autumnal Tablescape that got me all hyped-up for the season ahead. But my all-time favorite way to welcome the holidays into the home isn’t exactly an accessory—or even a plant. (shocking, right?!)
No… the best way to decorate for fall is with CANDLES!
When setting a holiday scene in the home, you balance out the bits and baubles with a beautiful scent! Fall candles are a fabulous way to create an inviting aura that can be truly felt. This is a subtle level of decorating that operates on the subconscious mind to generate ambiance. Although the flickering little flames do pretty well on their own! The warm light is an intentional approach for adjusting to Autumn’s shorter days while maintaining a cozy mood.
From my past life as a therapist, I know firsthand how much scent can impact mood! After all, smell is the sense most closely related to memory. Certain scents can evoke an emotional reaction, or stir up nostalgic feelings. This may be because the part of your brain that processes smell is right next to the Amygdala, the center of your emotional behaviors.
So, when we experience a certain smell, we associate it with memories of places, people, or even the emotion we were feeling the first time we smelled it. Likewise, we can also help create new memory associations by regularly using certain scents in our own homes!
With such a strong tie to emotion, a signature scent can be used to stimulate the kind of environment we want to create in the home. Results can range from setting a relaxing tone with chamomile and lavender, to invigorating the senses using a fresh lemon scent. We even associate different smells with different rooms in the home. For example, did you think of the kitchen when you read lemon? That’s a super normal association to make! It helps to play on those existing associations when selecting a candle for any given space.
As a rule of thumb, your scent should harmonize with the visual elements in the home to help support your existing design. Remember, you’re setting a mood, and if the smell is overpowering, or at odds with the experience you’re trying to have, your scent can backfire! But when done right, it’s extra-grounding to engage more than just the eyes.
The Candle Criteria
With the science behind the smells in mind, I test-drove a few of the trendiest candles of the season. I wanted to see if splurging on scent makes a difference—or if you can still create a vibe under $30. Candles can be expensive, costing as much as a bottle of perfume! So I picked up a few comparable candles from Bath & Body Works to see if you can really tell the difference.
Classic Pumpkin Spice
Bougie: P.F. Candle Co’s “Spiced Pumpkin” is my number one go-to for fall. It’s not too perfumey or pungent—but it’s not overly subtle, either. P.F. Candle nails the spicy smell without leaning too much on sweet notes. I don’t think anything will compare… but we’ll see.
Basic: There are only, like, 8 million versions of the Pumpkin Spice smell. For the purposes of my experiment, I tried two from B&BW, each leaning either sweet or spicy. I started with “Pumpkin Apple Spice,” which seemed like it would be a closer match. Honestly, it isn’t bad! It’s more apple pie than pumpkin, but this candle is a fun one for a day of staying in and feeling like you want to bake the season away.
I also picked up “Sweet Cinnamon Pumpkin,” which doesn’t tout the same ‘spicy’ element, but I figured it was worth a shot. Realtalk, this one is definitely in-ur-face BASIC. 😂 But is that bad? Maybe not! Pumpkin is a crowd-pleaser for a reason, so give the people what they want! To quote Emily In Paris, “without basic b*tches like me, you wouldn’t be fashionable.”
Bougie: Okay, this was finally my excuse to try Le Labo, and I picked out the ”Palo Santo” on a friend’s recommendation. $75 for a candle is no joke, so I was expecting a lot. You guys, this candle 100% delivered on its craftsman-quality promise.
The scent is super muted, soft, and almost tender sweet. I’m OBSESSED. It evokes a calmness and gentleness in my spirit. After an hour, my brain feels calm and not so frenetic. I think I’m going to bring this one into the office. …or the bedroom, since we recently decorated it for fall! And obviously the bathroom. Actually, I might just carry it around with me everywhere.
Basic: I bought a B&BW’s “Mahogany Teakwood” candle to compare with the Palo Santo. Oof. I didn’t like this one at all. It smells like a bad dad’s cologne. It’s a stinky kind of pungent, and I blew it out pretty quickly.
Bougie: Truthfully, I’m not usually a fan of woodsy smells. But Bryendo’s “Tree House” really took me back to my childhood days in the Pacific Northwest. I grew up in Seattle, and this reminds me so much of playing in the forest behind our house. Per their packaging, “endearing” is a great word for it. This one gave me a happy, nostalgic feeling—but was so familiar it almost felt out of place in my own home!
Basic: I tried out B&BW’s “Fresh Balsam” to compare to Bryendo. Aaaaand it’s a big nope from me. I thought this one was trying too hard to be a Douglas fir. It’s definitely pine-scented, but you can tell they are trying to be more subtle. It’s pretty good if you like the smell of Christmas trees but it still feels… fake.
The Christmas tree smell made me think of the B&BW scent I do really like, called “Let It Glow.” It’s not online, but I saw it in stores. This one is fun and not too pungent, striking the right balance. It smells like Christmas sugar cookies!
My big takeaway from this experiment? —with fragrance, you definitely get what you pay for. (I can’t get over that Le Labo candle…) Less expensive brands tend to overdo it on the sweet smells, or end up being too in-your-face perfume-y, and a little one-note. When picking a signature scented candle, subtlety is an art.
That being said, if you can find something you know you like, no amount of basic-ness should stop you! As with all things, it’s about your WHY. And if you’re looking to set a Holiday mood, your nose will know exactly what you need.