We have a special treat today!
The wonderful Sara agreed to have a chat with us about her independent business, The Reading Room Candle Co. As the name implies, her candles are inspired by fictional worlds and characters. Some are based on mythology too.
I could ramble on about her candles for pages, but why do that when I can let Sara tell you all about it herself?
Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and The Reading Room Candle Co?
My name’s Sara and I’m from perpetually rainy Northern Ireland! I’m a mum, to both my son and my furbabies, and I’ve been running the Reading Room for just over 2 years now.
The Reading Room is a candle company with the aim to bring literature alive through scent by creating an immersive experience. Smell is one of our strongest senses and one that is inextricably linked to memory. I use this idea to trigger thoughts and emotions which can bring a reader more deeply into a story.
Where did the idea come from?
I’ve always enjoyed burning candles, I find that they can centre and ground me, especially as I’ve been living with anxiety for almost twenty years now.
When my son was born, I became much more conscious about the products I used in our house. I noticed black soot marks on my walls near where I regularly burnt my candles, and I was pretty shocked when I started looking into what most big companies were using in theirs. I figured that this couldn’t be good for our lungs and wanted to find an alternative.
I’ve always been a huge reader and I was really excited when I found candles which were made out of eco-soy wax and inspired by some of my favourite books, but when I received them, I was disappointed. They were still sooty and didn’t smell at all like I expected them to. It felt as though they weren’t thoughtfully put together, and instead, the links to the books felt more like a sales technique than actually being made to represent the writing and locations they were meant to.
I’d made candles before, in fact, my mum bought me my first candle making set when I was ten years old, so I figured I would give it a go myself and see where it might lead to!
How did you get started?
I started off by choosing four places I wanted to represent (these eventually became our House Common Room Candles). I re-read the books, made notes about how the places made me feel, where they reminded me of that I had been in my life, thought about the traits of each of the houses and pondered FOR HOURS over what scent combinations might work. I bought different types of soy wax, lots of different fragrances and started to test out blends.
I also decided very early in the process that I wanted to use an alternative to cotton wicks as they’re one of the reasons that candles can be smoky. Unlike wood wicks, cotton wicks use things like paper wrapping or a lead core to stay lit, whereas wood wicks use the wax as their fuel, drawing it into the wood to keep lit.
I had used wood wick candles before and really enjoyed the added auditory aspect that the crackling of the wick brought to the candles. The other nice thing about wood wicks are they are completely natural. The wicks can be made from off-cuts from other woodwork, so it’s a great way to be more eco-friendly and reduce waste.
Saying that they were incredibly tricky to get to work right and I felt like giving up on them on more than one occasion! Through trial and error, I got there in the end and part of me quite likes that fact that every wood wick will burn a little differently.
Once I had settled on the scents, wax, vessels and wicks I wanted to use, tested until I was blue in the face (and I’d coaxed my partner into helping me design the labels!) I put them out into the world, crossed my fingers and waited to see if anyone would be willing to give them a go! Thankfully the answer was yes, and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had the support of all my followers and customers since.
How do you figure out the scents for locations?
I very rarely design a scent for a book that I haven’t read and loved so every candle starts out the same way and by asking myself the same kinds of questions- How does this place make me feel? Why does it feel that way? Where have I been that reminds me of that place? If I took a deep breath in, what scents would I notice? Is it a single overwhelming fragrance or is it layered, changing with every breath?
I use a team working app and I have it installed across all my devices. It means when inspiration hits (and this can literally be anywhere, at the most inopportune times!) I can quickly add my thoughts and ideas into a stream in the app and pick it up again when I have more time to consider it fully.
I work with lots of different fragrance manufacturers all over the world, which gives me access to a huge range of scents to play with and figure out which will work best. I’ve been known to be a bit of a fragrance oil hoarder, and probably have somewhere in the region of three hundred or more different oils at the moment.
However, I’ve been an artist for many years, and the best way I can describe it is like having a massive colour palette at my disposal and it keeps me creative.
Once I’ve blended and am happy with a scent, I’ll make up samples and test them out thinking about things like how well they throw their scent, how well they burn with the soy wax and most importantly have I achieved everything I wanted to when I set about bringing the location to life.
Once I’m finally happy, which can take months sometimes as I can be a bit of a perfectionist (fusspot) when it comes to my blends, I send off the blend to a lovely chemist I work within Lithuania who creates all the technical data for it, then I’ll release the candle and hope that my customers feel the same way about it that I do!
Which candle had the trickiest smell?
I think they can all be pretty tricky, especially when you’re trying to create something which triggers a certain memory or feeling in a huge amount of different people with different life experiences. Saying that probably the one which I was most nervous about releasing was the Signature Scent.
I think it’s a huge thing to come out and say ‘this is the thing that represents me’ and everything else you’ve ever made or will ever make has that as a benchmark, so it was the one I spent the most time on. In fact, at one point, I convinced myself that I would never release it!
Thankfully I overcame that anxiety, and like everything else I’ve made I just put it out there to see what happened. The response was incredible, far beyond what I’d ever expected, and it is far and away one of our best-sellers.
The experience was a really important lesson for me to trust myself more, and it has been key in allowing me to be more creative in my craft.
Do you have a favourite candle?
At one point or another, they all have been my favourite, even the ones that are usually really far outside my normal scent preferences like the Turkish Delight Narnia inspired scent!
There are a few scents I burn regularly at home, such as Lothlorien or Paddington’s Lunch but the one I’ve been burning most often this month is the limited-edition scent that I designed for our upcoming Maiden, Mother, Crone box. I can’t give too much away as it will ruin the surprise for those who get the box, but it’s wonderfully herbaceous and spicy and reminds me of a witch’s apothecary cabinet.
What are some of the changes you face?
The last twelve months (and I’m sure the next twelve as well) have and will be full of change. From new regulations introduced around scented and cosmetic products that we must adhere to, to lack of supplies due to the pandemic, I sometimes feel that the business is in a constant state of flux.
A number of the oils we use are often discontinued without warning, triggering a hunt for an alternative and starting to test again. One of the biggest changes we are currently experiencing is around Brexit and what that means for my Northern Irish business, UK and EU customers. In one respect I’m lucky that with the NI Protocol I can continue to post to my lovely EU customers, however, a number of my suppliers have stopped posting from the UK to here, so that’s been tricky to navigate.
It definitely keeps me on my toes, and I try to look at it as positively as I can. It also means I can explore small runs of more creative ideas that I’ve had, that perhaps aren’t designed for the main market, but I know that my loyal customers will love!
What projects do you have in the works?
Lots and lots! I suspended any new releases over the Autumn/Winter period as we were so busy in the run-up to Christmas, so I’m really excited to start releasing all the new products I’ve been working on.
We teased last year that room sprays will be coming to the store, and I’m looking at a March release for those. We also have our new Shakespeare Set releasing in February, along with the Raven Cycle candles.
I’m also having a ‘Halloween in March’ event which will be full of spooky, witchy and macabre products that I just can’t wait until October to release!
The second part of our Myth and Magick collection will be released then, called Legend and Lore, our Coven of Witches collection will be growing by three more mystical ladies, I’m currently working on a set of loose incense blends which marry gorgeous herbs, flowers and resins and I’m also in the design stages of a new limited-edition box inspired by ghost lore which I’m hoping to release that month as well.
Any closing remarks?
Just to say a big thank you to all my followers, customers and friends who have supported this crazy idea of mine and to my mum Christine who is the MVP of The Reading Room and ensures that your orders actual arrive when they’re supposed to!
And also to say a big thank you to Megan for reaching out and asking me to take part in this interview. It’s nice to be able to chat about the business from time to time, as it’s such a big part of my life so thank you for the opportunity.
I hope you found Sara’s insight as fascinating as I did.
I have been buying her candles for a while, I simply adore them. My current favourites are Persephone and Hades, Rivendell and Geralt of Rivia.