My friend Livi Bois made a beeline for the stand at the back of the Canteen craft market like a scent hound on the trail of its prey, leaving her toddler, Celia, and me to follow. She had detected a whiff of a burning candle. Its aroma was saffron and violet.
According to Heather Hackett and Katie Dufault, partners in candle-making and in life and the creators of Grey Rabbit Studio, Livi is not the only one obsessed with that combination of scents. Hackett and Dufault turned their candle-making hobby into a small-scale business in time for the Canteen holiday market in 2021. Since then, their patrons have come to swear by certain scents, like Fresh Cut Christmas Tree and Dune Shack.
Saffron and Violet, Livi’s go-to, is an eight-scent mélange with tinges of bergamot (a tangy citrus from southern Italy), geranium, rose, violet, raspberry, saffron, vetiver (akin to lemongrass), and leather.
The candles take shape — from aroma to wick — in Hackett and Dufault’s Provincetown basement. The space holds hundreds of little bottles of essential oil, each logged in a spreadsheet kept by Dufault. She handles the technicalities of the craft, including recipes, which result from row upon row of combinations tested.
Starting out, the pair melted wax in a double boiler on their kitchen stove to pour about 12 candles per hour-long session. Recently they acquired a wax-melting urn that has streamlined the work. Dufault orders natural soy wax — which burns cleaner and longer than paraffin — in flakes and pellets, which are melted in the urn. She releases the melted wax into a pitcher, where the scents are stirred in. The wax is then poured into trays of candle holders lined up on cookie trays. The wicks are set and held in place with clothespins.
While Dufault handles the candle craft, Hackett is the face of the company, managing business, brand, and labels. She worked the Grey Rabbit Studio booth behind Canteen during the holidays, while Dufault was at work indoors — she is chef and general manager at the restaurant. Canteen employees are offered free booths at the market, Dufault says, and “things just kind of snowballed from there.”
Dufault comes from a family of craftspeople, with knitting and textile design baked into her growing up. She also makes teas and cocoas. The first year that she made her kin candles as gifts, they all wanted them again. “Let’s just stick with what people love,” Hackett and Dufault decided.
When she’s not labeling candles, Hackett juggles work as a nurse at Outer Cape Health and teaching in the cosmetology program at the Community School, one of the Cape Cod Tech’s adult learning programs.
In their years of candle-making, the two have noticed a shift in people’s scent penchants, from musty to sweet. Whereas three years ago customers gravitated toward scents like tobacco, now they want coconut. Boy Beach, a newer creation that Dufault describes as sunscreen-like — its coconutty aroma is tinged with musk and banana — is a big hit.
Dufault’s favorite is Herb Garden, a decidedly savory combination with notes of basil, mint, rosemary, olive oil, lavender, and bergamot. Dufault is, by the way, a cinnamon dissident, finding the smell of that spice too sweet. She dials it back even in holidayish flavors that are usually heavy on the cinnamon, like Mulled Cider.
Hackett, on the other hand, likes just about all the scents they’ve concocted, “depending on my mood,” she says. She goes rummaging in their basement “mess-up bucket,” where candles with cracks or flaws end up, and picks one that suits the moment.
Hackett and Dufault moved to Provincetown in 2020 from Worcester, where they met working at a burger restaurant. They share a love of food, which they’re looking to bring into their candle-making. Their first attempt was a “tomato off the vine” candle “that really smells like how your fingers smell when you pluck a tomato,” and they’re dabbling in garlic and chili aromas.
But local nature, mostly, is what inspires their scent mixology. There’s Herring Clove and Bog Water; next, Hackett is looking to melt the woodsy aroma of the Beech Forest into a candle.