We recently joined Artisanal LA for two curated events in Los Angeles. The first was at West Elm in Santa Monica. A few weeks later, we joined Tesla and SpaceX for a holiday pop-up (we even got to see a piece of the rocket enter the facility on the back of a semi truck). We loved the staff of West Elm, Tesla, and SpaceX, and on both occasions we had the complete honor of getting to know Billy of HOUSE by Billy Del Puerto. He has designed a line of hand poured soy candles and we know you'll love him as much as we do. See our interview below--
AO: What inspired you to start hand pouring soy candles?
I used to design for a candle company back in 2007/2008. It was while I was finishing school at FIDM in DTLA, and during the recession. The company tanked and I found work managing a hair salon in Beverly Hills. I missed being creative and getting my hands dirty, so I decided to create my own candle line with the experience I gained. I love interior design and creating spaces. To me, scent is an invisible layer of design. It can brighten a room or add sultry ambiance to a space.
AO: What ingredients give your candles their clean, earthy, floral, and androgynous scents?
I use a mixture of fragrance & essential oils, but its knowing how to mix them in combination with each other. Every manufacturer has their own version of “gardenia” for example, but making sure I chose the right scent for my product is the challenging and fun part. I look for something that smells real, has depth, and can last in a candle to the last ounce of soy wax is burned. Quality above anything else is what I believe, or else why do it at all?
AO: What was the first candle you poured?
LIBRARY!!!!! My first baby, she is a mixture of gardenia, sandalwood, and cypress. As soon as I smelt it, I was transferred to a library aisle with books towering over me on both sides. It was marvelous; this was also the moment I decided to give my candles names. Its much more exciting for me to see a customer read the label and anticipate what it is going to smell like, then to just call it “vanilla” or “lavender”. I enjoy the complexity it brings.
AO: Was it a success or was there a lot of experimenting to arrive at the first candle you’d launch?
It was successful. I started with 4 scents and its grown to 16 scents. In the beginning people really responded to the collection. I sold them at the Melrose Trading Post at Fairfax High, still do from time to time even now. Thats was a great way for me to get input from my consumer and I kept an eye on what was selling most or what candle wasn’t moving at all. BLONDE for example used to be an orange and cream scented candle, but I tracked sales and realized it was my lowest selling candle. I asked suggestions, and researched scent trend forecasts (yes they exist also) and created a sea salt & caramel blend. Now Blonde is my 3rd best seller all year round. The key to a successful company is listening and adapting to changes that need to be made. Give the people what they want!
AO: What inspires you to create new a new candle?
Inspiration for me comes from every direction. Music, museums, memories, a mood. I immerse myself in that inspiration and go with it. I have a limited edition collection called “the women we love”. This collection was inspired by the women in my life. I was raised by a single mother and three sisters. I have an immense respect towards women and the magic and love they bring into the world. It is a homage to them, and now my customers can share them with the women they love.
AO: What’s your process like to create a candle before you release it into the world?
A lot of thinking, playing with labels, looking at interesting scent combinations and what mood/look I want to portray with the candle. I clip magazine images, pull pins from Pinterest or ask friends to give input on containers I may want to use. Ultimately at the end of the day its my decision, but I trust the advice I seek out and I always listen to my gut feelings. You can never steer yourself wrong.
AO: You mentioned that your candles burn for a long duration, which is of course enticing for those of us who always want a candle burning! What makes this possible and why was this important to you?
Its important to me to produce a product of great quality. Bottom line. I use soy because it holds the scent better than other waxes and is a slower burning wax. That being said, there are some important rules to follow. If one of my candles says “burns 75+ hours” that doesn’t mean it will burn 75+ hours straight. You must keep the wick trimmed to about a 1/4 in before each lighting that bad boy up. Wax has memory, so the first burn needs to melt the wax all the way out to the inner walls of the container. If you don’t do this, the candle may burn in whats called a “barrel” effect, which means, when it burns it doesn’t melt all the way out, then there goes the life of your candle. Lastly don’t burn the candle for more than 2 hours, the heated wax will still emit a scent after the flame is out. Even better, invest in a candle warmer. They will let you candle last twice as long without a flame.
AO: When you arrived at West Elm you had a few vintage suitcases from which you pulled your product from. You mentioned the importance of functionality. Talk to us about this.
As a business owner I wear so many hats, some of these hats include the stock boy and the runner. Many of these pop ups I work alone and have to setup and breakdown quickly, so being organized and making sure everything can function as part of my candle display is important. Work smart, not hard.
AO: What role does sustainability play in your life?
The first thing that comes to mind, in terms of design, is my appreciation of aged furniture. My roommate and I have been refinishing furniture for years, and we incorporate revived pieces throughout the apartment. Sustainability in my life is in part an inherent appreciation for what potential items possess to continue their life. Regarding sustainability within the environment, as I mentioned before all of my candles are 100% soy wax and I refuse to use Paraffin in my products. The production of plastic products is not something I support, and absolutely isn’t something that I want to breath. Soy wax gives a clean, pure, and healthier element to my candles, and I will continue to use this healthier alternative to plastic based wax. I also offer a refill option with my Gold Cult Candle. It was a bit complicated for me in the past, but I’m working on reinstating the ability to return this candle’s vessel for it to be refilled at less of a cost to the consumer, and less waste to the environment.
AO: The smell of tomato leaves that you’ve captured in “Greenhouse” is the same scent that gave Brennan the idea of creating a lollipop that could grow herbs and flowers. Mixing tomato leaves with jalapeño seems so unusual for a candle and yet it smells incredible. What inspired this? Do you garden?
So I grew up next door to my grandparents, I was very lucky! My heritage is Native American and Mexican, so my grandfather was all about letting the earth provide for us. He had a lemon tree, a fig tree, a persimmon tree and countless veggies. That smell of fresh earth was always a part of me. Anyone who grows tomatoes knows that tomato leaf oil is STRONG and doesn’t wash off easily. As a kid it was a nuisance but as an adult its a way to travel back in time to those summer days with Nash (Grandpa).
AO: What are your best sellers? How many candles have you brought to life?
I have 16 permanent scents over 4 collections. My best sellers are “Lord”, “Whiskey” & “Greenhouse”.
AO: What’s next for you?
Whats next for HOUSE//soy candles……Im so excited to say I have partnered up with Pop Physique, an amazing workout studio. We do a “candle-lit class", where woman and men workout in pure candle light to awesome music, all while being engulfed by the scent story I chose for them. Its been an amazing opportunity for me and I am so proud to be part of the Pop Physique Family. On the horizon for HOUSE as a business, I'm in the market for a home to flip! My vision is to leave my interior design mark on homes in neighborhoods across California, and to expand from candles to an entire home decor line. It's a work in progress and I am having a blast getting there!