The old house smelled like stir fry and someone’s dog and the cigarettes friends smoked outside.
The downtown Colorado Springs Victorian was already musky and then each of Brett Owens’ five roommates brought their own unique scent to the place. A lot of them worked at Dutch Bros. Coffee, as Owens did, bringing home a “weird coffee and sweat smell.”
The mix of stenches didn’t seem to bother his roommates much, but it really bothered Owens. He was almost embarrassed about having his girlfriend over.
But thank goodness for that smelly old house. Everything changed when he set out to solve the stink.
And not the easy way.
Owens says he needed a hobby, and the house “super needed” help. So the recent University of Colorado at Colorado Springs graduate ordered make-your-own candle kits. He taught himself how to mix and pour wax and combine fragrances.
There was lots of testing and lots of trial and error. Some candles cracked or sank or caved in. Some didn’t smell good or smell like anything.
The candles got better. And, yes, the house started to smell better.
Owens saw making craft candles like mixing a perfect cocktail. He sought out unique combinations like lavender balsam. Another is black pepper and bergamot, a citrus fruit used in perfumes and Earl Grey tea.
“That’s one thing I like to take pride in,” he said. “I like to put things together that are not things you would expect to go together.”
As a guy who tends to buy books based on a cool cover, Owens used his eye for design to build an attractive label to stick on candle jars.
“Using my love for design and creating warm spaces and good atmospheres, it was a good way to combine everything,” Owens said. “It was all these things I liked or wanted to make.”
He started sharing his work on Instagram. His page ignited a following.
Soon, the hobby he started in 2014 became a business called Light Provisions. His craft candles are now sold online (lightprovisions.com) and in local stores like Ladyfingers Letterpress.
And he still makes each one himself.
That’s what makes his candles stand out. And what drives him to stay creative. “If anyone can do it,” he often asks himself, “why should they buy mine?”
“You can buy candles anywhere and for much cheaper than mine,” he said. “It’s fun to create value by making them completely my own.”
Part of that comes from the fragrances, like “Campfire” and “Red Tea and Sandalwood.” Part of that comes from his two hands.
In the basement of the house Owens shares with his wife, who was once the girlfriend he used to be scared to invite over, he sometimes makes 100 candles per day.
On busy days like that, the house fills up with beautiful aromas so they don’t need to light a candle. On most days, though, you can bet on seeing a candle with a flame.
Owens lights a candle with his morning coffee. Or when he has friends over to share sips of whiskey. And, in the winter, he and his wife put out a candle as a sign of light when the sun starts to go down earlier.
“If you set up a place to have warm light, it means you’re going to have more intentional time in it,” he said. “It creates a good atmosphere and that’s really important to me.”
He points to the Danish word hygge, meaning a mood of ultimate coziness and comfort.
For him, the fire and the smell create a signal of calmness. It’s a reminder of the powerful smell of beeswax candles lit up at the Catholic churches he grew up attending. In a way, the candle is an extension of how Owens wants to live.
“I feel like sacredness is too powerful of a word,” Owen says. “But there’s an importance of lightning a candle. There’s a beauty in it.”
And there’s beauty in making it.
When he’s alone creating his wax masterpieces and he has a good song on, it feels meditative. He says he still has a lot to learn about building a business, but he couldn’t imagine building any other business.
So, yes, he’s thankful for that smelly old house.
“There were probably easier or cheaper ways to solve that problem,” he said. “But that’s how I did it.”