Thoughts on why and how we create

By Justine Cook

Being an artist and running a business – Harp Cottage - sometimes can be challenging and a bit weird.  

Harp Cottage is a place to escape from the world.  It’s a place where people come on holiday.  For me it’s all about creating a space for people to dwell in, stop a while and experience something.  The atmosphere at the cottage is tangible, it exudes calm and nurtures the need to slow down.  It’s a place to curl up in front of the fire with a good book.  It’s a place to light candles and get hygge.  

The idea

Nurturing this atmosphere is important to me.  The idea to create candles for Harp Cottage was suggested to me many times and although we used to light lots of candles every evening when we lived there, the reality of holiday let insurance is not candle friendly.  So I resisted for a long time.  But the thought kept popping up, I needed to create something for the cottage and the thought of creating an olefactory element of the Harp Cottage experience was strong.  

But if we were to create a candle it would have to mean something.  It would have to resonate on so many different levels.


As an artist I’d always struggled with creating a ‘product’ - the creation of a work was enough, bringing an idea to life was an end in itself.  So I now find myself in the position of creating something practical.  It has a use.  It’s an object.  If you’re going to make a product there has to be a reason.  

Rice measuring cup and tractor pipe experiments

Finding the reason

I wanted or create something that wasn’t disposable.  It had to last and it had to be beautiful.  I grew up in an area of heavy industry surrounded by the countryside and I had to create something that linked us to this duality.  My art work has always been about showing opposites together.  I wanted something ephemeral to also be robust.

Finding the object

I found an old rice measuring cup as a starting point and played - our first attempts were made using an old piston tractor pipe!  I then approached a local steel company that I had worked with in the past fabricating art works.  They are a small but mighty local family firm started in 1850s and together we make our black steel containers.  

Wax just poured

Finding the wax

Concurrently, I spoke to small producers of candles whose work I respected.  I plucked up courage to ask Emily Mathieson of Aerende, whom I admire greatly, about creating candles with a social conscience.  We originally considered working together as a collaboration.  It then came to light that the company that created Aerende’s candles isn’t far from Harp Cottage.  It made sense for me to go and liaise with them independently.  This local business is a wonderful organisation.  They are a social enterprise that works with adults with learning difficulties, enabling them to work within a supportive environment.  They are super lovely to work with, nothing is too much of a problem.

We decided to use soya wax as a move towards environmental awareness.  The wax burns slowly and brilliantly when the candle has burnt down, the wax can be removed with just soapy water!  We decided on wood wicks too as cotton has it’s own production grey areas - and I loved the idea that the wood wicks can be produced easily and sustainably.  


Finding the fragrance 

Scent creation is hard!  It took a lot of smelling and blending!  Ffig du a Cassis/Black Fig & Cassis is a blend of the two holiday cottages I run, one here on the Welsh Borders, Harp Cottage, and the other in Central France, Les Coteaux.

I wanted the name to be Welsh ‘Ffig du a cassis’ but looks like French at first glance, which I love.  A perfect merging of my worlds.  Thank you to the many, many people who helped me with the translation.  Welsh is a complex language and so varied but this seemed the best choice.  Why blackcurrant and fig?   Blackcurrants to make cassis have been grown in this area of the Welsh borders for years and figs grow in the garden of our home in France!  This makes the scent very personal to me.


Finding Longevity

Creating something non disposable is key - our beautifully designed pots can be waxed and sealed to preserved once the candle has gone.  However, you can also carry on using it by using our replacements candles that just pop into the container.  One of our biggest achievements is that we can provide a refill service - so the candle can keep giving.

For me it’s a complete circle of creativity with integrity and great design at it’s heart.

Justine Cook


Justine Cook is an artist and interiors stylist who also runs Harp Cottage, a holiday let on the Welsh Borders near Hay on Wye.