The candle looked ready. It had the trademark tall curves of its maker, Carl Durkow, and no bubbles or blemishes, which Durkow had worked to avoid in the pouring process. Still, he explained, something was off.
The River Wards-based designer was in the middle of filling an order for the Brooklyn furniture and housewares shop Home Union. Normally, he works in beeswax and lets its natural color — ranging from buttery yellow to caramel shades — speak for itself. But for this order, Home Union selected specific color swatches, in green, yellow, red, and blue. And the candle had turned out a little bit yellower than Durkow had hoped. He dropped the too-yellow result into a kitchen pot and melted it down, starting all over again.
“This was definitely one of the most challenging orders I’ve ever had because I wanted the colors to come out perfect,” he said.
Durkow has been making sculptural candles for about two years — crafting them to look like artful chess pawns, or enormous beads stacked tall, or even honey dippers — but interest in his work has been picking up in recent months. Since the fall, he estimates that candle orders have at least tripled. To keep up, Durkow has been working nights at a careful pace, shipping orders to Phoenix and Minneapolis.
“My mom has been telling me to stop taking orders," he said. "She thinks I need to rest. But I’m having fun making this. I’m still in disbelief that people are buying them.”
Durkow, a recent grad of Drexel’s product-design program, describes his candle-making endeavors as part-hobby, part-business. He started the side project in 2017, in an effort to establish his overall brand — his real trade is in furniture and lighting design.
The 23-year-old said he realizes customers might not be willing to buy an $8,000 chair or $700 lamp if they have never heard of the designer before. So, he wanted to put something out there at a more accessible price. (His candles are typically priced at $30.) He isn’t alone in this tactic. According to the style news site Business of Fashion, both smaller companies and big names like Louis Vuitton are using candles to court “entry-level consumers.”
What sets Durkow’s work in wax apart is the unique blend of craftwork. He uses a lathe to shape wooden forms, which serve as the basis for his candle molds. He makes the molds using a bronze-casting process that he learned from a high-end designer in L.A.
Durkow makes his candles on apparatus that he’s MacGyvered to suit his needs. He noticed that candlemaking kits are often close to typical kitchenware, so he took the DIY route for his pots, which sit atop stools in his workshop. He heats candle molds in a turkey roaster he found on Craigslist. He often works in the evenings, pouring the wax into the molds, then letting them sit overnight.
“There’s a lot of information on candlemaking, but not for the way that I do it,” he said. “It’s a lot of trial and error.”
He designs each form for proportion and balance, working from a shared studio close to Harrowgate and Port Richmond.
Customers notice the candles right away, according to Shannon Maldonado, who used to stock them at her Queen Village shop, Yowie.
“Some of the candles people find very whimsical. Others make people giggle,” she said. “Kind of a naughty giggle because it reminds them of other things.”
Durkow likes that the candles get reactions: “The visual language that I work in is chubby, bulbous, and lumpy, and there’s these rings and ball shapes,” he said. “I’m very aware of things that I do, but ... it’s up to the viewer to ascribe their own interpretations to it.”
Durkow is looking for a larger location, one where he can more easily build furniture. He’s just created a new candle model and is looking for Philly stockists.