A CANDLE AND LIFESTYLE BOUTIQUE WITH MODERN SENSIBILITY

BY SHALEEN DESTEFANO

Candelaria embodies all of the feelings one gets when they enter a bright greenhouse, their best friend’s living room, an artist’s studio and carefully crafted and curated boutique. Kristina Thayer is the creative mind behind this lovingly put together shop in the Art District on Santa Fe.  We were lucky to have a chance to spend time with her in the shop and learn about how this all came together.

Starting from the beginning, how does a History major find herself opening a brick and mortar boutique?

It is certainly a leap and definitely not an obvious career trajectory!

My formal education is in history, earning both a BS & MA, and as the strengths required in history often lean toward the analytical, I am able to offer a unique and often multidisciplinary approach to business. But really, it’s been my work experience that has led me here. Both during college and post-grad school, I told myself I would temporarily work in retail while still working to land a career in my preferred vocation. But after an arduous task of job-hunting in the liberal arts field, I realized utilizing my degree was most likely not a reality and so continued work in retail. My retail work reached its peak as a personal shopper at Bloomingdale’s in Chicago before moving on as an antique appraiser. Actually, utilizing my degree was fulfilling in many ways, but it was becoming more apparent that I was interested and passionate in harnessing an unknown passion to curate collections. Somewhere in the middle of moonlighting as retail management, antique appraising and non-profit work, I had formulated a unique blend of entrepreneurial energy under the guise of structured and corporate training. I jumped on the subscription box trend early in 2012 where I founded a subscription box for artisanal candles. Having managed a candle shop in my early college days, it was an industry that I was fascinated with, had connections to and knew quite a bit about. I scouted and vetted (mostly) female-owned, small batch, chandlers who were taking the candle game to new heights by using alternative waxes like soy and beeswax. Years in, I’d unknowingly become the authority on candle and so decided to launch my own brand, Candelaria. From there, I used my method of curation to open a brick and mortar in 2017 to feature all the amazing independent female makers I had established strong relationships with along the way – and expanded from candles to plants and other housewares. And so the store’s motto was born ‘incubating independent makers, one candle at a time.’

Candelaria is much more than a place to make and purchase candles. Can you tell us about your vision for your shop and offer a glimpse of what newcomers can expect?

I describe my store’s style as ‘clean, cozy, jungle’ and anyone who’s been in my store would probably nod in agreement. I feel my vision can only go so far and then the rest just kind of takes course. I strongly believe in working with your surroundings and my space already offered so much to me. Soaring ceilings and loads of natural sunlight set the store’s vibes long before I began filling shelves with product. Much of what Candelaria is today was not my original intent for the store. I hadn’t planned to offer classes of any kind – just to offer a small array of candles and candle related items. Within just a few months after opening, it was obvious to me that there was an overwhelming interest in the selection that I was curating. I also strongly value my customer’s input and demand. In the end, I’ve become a lifestyle boutique offering a selection of products aligned with intentional living. Our wallet is where we can really take care to make better decisions about the products we are buying, gifting and bringing into our homes. The workshops I offer as well as the selection of products is about making your house a home. My vision is about curating a selection of quality-made products by quality people, so you’re happier and have fewer regrets about the things you surround yourself with. Basically, it’s all about focusing on what matters most to you and forgetting the rest. 

Newcomers can expect to be met with a wonderful smell that can be detected from over a block away. That’s our store! The scent(s) will greet you in conjunction with big windows and natural light upon entry and there you’ll be immersed amongst plants and candles. Paintings on the walls, plants hanging from the ceiling, candles lining shelves with cozy elements like pillows and blankets around. You’ll want to stay awhile once you discover an inspirational book and the sofa resting under the skylights. It’s even easier to spend 5 minutes reading all of the quick witted cards on the back wall. 

You are also a self-taught artist and this is apparent in the aesthetics of your store. How do you approach art and in what ways does your practice continue to evolve?

I’ve always had artistic tendencies and I often find new ways to express them, but painting was particularly new and really an uncharted avenue for me. The same way I would approach any new form of art, my inspiration is all in organic form. As you mentioned, this is apparent in the aesthetics of my store and that’s because I work with my surroundings. My new journey is in fluid art – which adorns the walls of my store – and while fluid art is not new or novel, I approach my painting much different from others I’ve seen. I like the chemistry of the paint to speak for itself with little help from my human hand. I approach the curation of my store in exactly the same way; I like the products to speak for themselves. I use white walls and white fixtures to extend focus to the product. Hopefully, I’m able to engage with you while shopping to tell the story of how the product is made or personify the artisan behind the product. It’s organic; having a relationship between elements of something such that they fit together harmoniously. This is what makes my store feel cozy. It’s the collection of products and paintings within my store’s space that resonates with my customers. The possibilities for curation really are endless. I hope that I can continue to evolve at the same rate that I have been for the last 3 or so years. In terms of art, I imagine I’ll find another way to express myself that’ll surprise me just as much as working with the vibrant colors of fluid art!

Being a mother and entrepreneur has it’s challenges. Tell us how you maintain this juggling act and still find time to get outside and explore.

Ha! I’m flattered to be considered as “maintaining this juggling act”! It often doesn’t feel like it. Like any mother, I feel those feelings of failure but I’m also filled with immense gratitude that I get to spend so much time with my growing son. My store’s space has allowed me to bring my son to work with me at least 3 days a week since I opened my doors. Of course, that comes with its own challenges of trying to accomplish a days’ work WHILE attending to a (now) 5 year old, like trying to have a conversation with a customer that is not repeatedly interrupted by the inquiring question word “mom”.

I think ‘time’ is our most precious and valuable resource. Even when I can’t financially pay myself as much as I’d like, I always pay myself with time. Whether that means taking specific moments out of my day to color or play Legos with my son, taking early morning trips to hike up in the mountains, or taking 2 weeks off for international travel, I make the time. The rest can wait.

I also have the privilege to have a husband who is an amazing father to our son and spends quality time with him whenever I feel the need to place strong focus on my entrepreneurship.

Colorado is not short on creative minds. Tell us which local artists you love and do you carry any of their goods in the shop?

I have so many terrific and unique brands that I’d love to share. I can’t carry all the brands that I love in store and so I have many brands that I support just in purchasing and gifting their items! In store, I love carrying Bjorns Honey and Cultura Chocolate to share with tourists and people who love supporting local food-makers. Whenever I can, I love to shop Urban Baby Co for all things baby. Vela Apparel is out of Minturn up in the mountains and I can’t get enough of their positive vibes! Candelaria carries their blankets and I host them for First Friday Art Walk popups occasionally. We also carry Point Blank Art done by local Sara Bowersock and collaborate to make limited edition candles. Her prints have been available in-store since the day we opened and I love having them!

What can we expect from you and Candelaria in the future?

I’d like myself and Candelaria to become a larger force in lifestyle and intentional living. My customers look up to me for choosing products that make them feel good and I want to continue to educate and inspire. I like to evolve but not change, and what I mean by that is growth. For Candelaria, growth typically looks like a small additional step in another direction. I’ll never stop making candles but I might stop fluid art and journey down photography – I don’t know. Short term: I’d love to write a book – a guide to intentional living with recipes for food and botanics, styling tips, and how to maintain a life using found objects and inspiration from your surroundings. Maybe I’ll open a second location! But I think you can expect Candelaria to stay right where we are on Santa Fe and continue to champion for us all to support small business.

Kristina, it was our absolute pleasure to have met you. You make everyone who walks through your door, feel at home. Get ready to see more of us this holiday season, cause it is all about shopping small and supporting local. 

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