It can be intimidating and expensive to add art to your home decor. Sculptural candles — which exploded in popularity during the pandemic — are an easy, low-stakes alternative.

In shapes both abstract (knots, blobs, twists) and realistic (cakes, torsos, animals), these objects have become increasingly common on store shelves in the past several years. Videos of people making their own twisted candles and photos of coffee tables adorned with unusual wax figures had been popping up steadily on TikTok and Instagram, and the shutdowns kicked the trend into overdrive, says Dayna Isom Johnson, Etsy’s trend expert. “This is really a way for people at home to reinvent their spaces and to add a touch of personality for not really that much,” she says.

Even as more people venture outside, demand for distinctively shaped candles has held. Searches on Etsy for “bubble candles” are up 7,549% in the past three months; searches for “wavy candles” and “twisted candles” have also skyrocketed.

Annie Auchincloss, a home-goods buyer for the Museum of Modern Art’s Design Store, has seen many people trying the trend themselves. “Do-it-yourself candle-making is something that so many people can get into and experiment with,” she says. “I do think Lex [Pott, the Dutch designer of the popular free-standing Twist candle] was showing people on his social media channels how he was experimenting with candles, and that might have inspired people in a way.”

Dutch designer Lex Pott’s Twist candle, sold by Coming Soon, a New York gift and homewares store. (Courtesy of Coming Soon)

With price tags from about $8 to about $80, they are less expensive than many art objects. “They’re little works of art at an attainable price, and it is fun to burn them,” says Fabiana Faria, co-founder with Helena Barquet of the New York gift and homewares store Coming Soon, where candle sales have taken off in the past year. And if you decide the shape or style isn’t for you? “You can try it, you can burn it and it can be gone,” Faria says.

Making a statement

When you’re shopping for sculptural candles, pick ones that are fun or interesting to you. Think about what can be a conversation piece or what will make you smile when you return home. Coming Soon’s offerings include two from the shop Dada — one that looks like legs (“Baby Won’t You Light My Legs?”) and one that resembles an outstretched hand (“Baby Won’t You Light My Fingers?”) — and candles by Hannah Jewett, some of which have piercings.

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Dada’s “Baby Won’t You Light My Legs?,” sold by Coming Soon. (Courtesy of Coming Soon)

Amorphous, rounded shapes are very in; the shop owners we spoke to agree that home decor is moving away from harsh lines and toward more fluid ones, with candles following suit. Auchincloss has observed the trend going in all sorts of directions, including Areaware’s stately totems; the blobby Goober by Talbot & Yoon; Pott’s modern, rocket-like pillars; neoclassical statues and busts; kitschy food candles; and multicolored, twisted tapers for more formal dining.

Candle or food?

Connie Matisse, co-founder and chief executive of East Fork, a pottery company based in Asheville, North Carolina, tracked down the maker of a hyper-realistic candle shaped like a cake that her sister kept for years: Cereria Introna. On East Fork’s website, she stocks fruit, meat, cheese and vegetable candles (with desserts coming soon) by the Italian company, and she uses them in photo shoots for East Fork’s dishware.

The mantel in Connie Matisse’s home is filled with candles, including those made by Cereria Introna that are shaped like meat, cheese and fruit. (Courtesy of Connie Matisse)

Matisse rearranges her assortment at home regularly. “They crack me up,” she says. “I got a bunch of the fruits and put them together, then I bought my mom the chianti bottle and sausage and mixed them in with real meats and cheeses from a store near where she lives, and I just thought it was fun.”

How and where to display

When displaying candles, you can group them with other shapes or treat one candle as a stand-alone art piece. Matisse suggests using a mix of tapers and sculptural shapes. Her mantel is adorned with a taper candle in a clay wine bottle alongside pillars and food-shaped candles on each side. The tapers and pillars wash the room in light and let the sculptural candles shine.

Candles in rounded, abstract shapes are popular on Etsy. (Etsy/LeBonCandles)

Cara Woodhouse, founder of Cara Woodhouse Interiors in New York, uses interesting candles in many of her projects, and she likes them in bathrooms or clustered on a table. Layer items in these spaces, and look for contrasting shapes and colors, she advises. To treat the candle like an art object, make it the only item on a surface. “Within my designs, I always look for something a little fun and different and playful in the right areas,” she says.

Abby Price, who opened her home decor shop, Abbode, in New York in May, suggests arranging candles in groups of odd numbers; she likes them in threes. Use varying heights, too. “Especially on a shelf, I always try to do something tall on the edges to frame, almost like a U-shape, then something a little bit lower in the middle,” she says. Price, who has a background in floral design and fashion, also likes to arrange candles on stacks of coffee-table books. If a bright color is overwhelming, try a funky shape in a more muted tone, she suggests.

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To burn or not to burn?

Whether to burn the candles is completely up to you. “I don’t light any of the sculptural ones, and most of my customers don’t, either, because if you lit them one time, they would never look the same,” Price says. Isom Johnson owns several blob-shaped candles and textured pillars; she hasn’t burned hers, but she plans to. Faria lights hers, because the transformation is part of the experience. “There are just as many people who are buying from us who are burning them and in equal parts using them as decor,” she says.

Candles with a round base are good candidates for burning, because they’ll burn inward, Faria and Matisse say. Auchincloss has a ball-shaped candle that she lights, and she likes how, when half-burned, it looks like “a Jacuzzi of wax.”

Sculptural candles, such as in the shape of neoclassical busts, are “a way for people at home to reinvent their spaces,” says Etsy’s Dayna Isom Johnson. (Etsy/SouvenirsDeSoie)

Lighting and melting tips

Trim wicks before lighting to prevent soot and black smoke, and don’t forget to put a shallow dish or bowl underneath to catch drips and protect surfaces. Matisse loves the look of dripping wax; she arranges her candles directly on a small brick wall on her patio and atop an old farmhouse table, and she lets the wax drip and accumulate. If you’re going to do this, make sure the candles are in a well-ventilated area, and never leave burning candles unattended. Most sculptural candles are unscented.

“Sometimes people can be so intimidated by decorating,” Matisse says, “but if you purchase things that bring you joy and make you smile and laugh, you can’t go wrong.”