INCubator Spotlight: Creating the Scent of Memories

Austin Anthony


Recapturing them can be an elusive, yet engrossing endeavor.

Vivid memories are moments etched in our minds: Digging your toes into the warm sand of an empty beach, traversing through a lush forest at twilight, driving down a foggy lane on a chill autumn morning, or drinking hot cocoa with friends and family on Christmas Eve.

These memories possess a common link: scent.

The powerful relationship between scent and memory comprises the subtlest yet most intricately woven layer in the fabric of our being. And more than we realize, this magical blend perfumes the ambiance of our lives.

Like tastes, smells are extraordinarily effective in evoking a time or a place. For me, there is one smell, as distinct as it is indescribable, that brings back the exhilarating thrill and spontaneity of my travels through the Baltic States.

Cinnamon braid bread, freshly baked and left to cool, a lingering residue, is for me the smell of Estonia in the summer of 2014, when as a traveler I dutifully passed whole days visiting tranquil, sublime churches and drinking honey liqueur with hints of acacia and sunflower.

But when returning to the Baltics is not a possibility? I simply light a candle.

This powerful connection of scent and memory catalyzed the creation of The Rustic House, a company founded in August 2013 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, by Emily Warr and Chelsea Cash.

“The beckoning aroma of black coffee on a cool spring morning. The warming, caressing scent of hot tea while relaxing next to a winter fire. I wanted to master the art of invoking memories through scent,” Warr says.

“I learned the trade of candle making in high school. I was not only interested in the business side but also fascinated with how scent triggers memories. Once I finished my degree, Chelsea and I made the decision to pursue a lifelong ambition and do what we love: starting our own business and making high quality candles.”

With over 15 years of shared candle-making and related industry experience between the management team, The Rustic House has developed a competitive advantage with the use of carefully tuned and tested soy candle formulations.

The company currently offers luxury soy candle products which include 10-ounce container candles, 4-ounce travel tins, and 6-piece candle warmers. In addition to the current candle product lines, The Rustic House plans to expand the brand to include home décor, furniture and other home-related goods and services.

“One of the best things about our brand is that it is ‘The Rustic House’ versus ‘The Rustic House Candles.’ In other words, our company and brand name does not limit us to producing candles,” Warr says. “As such, we are aggressively exploring new ways to enter new markets such as home décor and cosmetics with the unifying purpose of providing and delivering world-class products to the marketplace.”

With all product lines and services, The Rustic House seeks to place special emphasis on producing “rustic,” pure, and minimalist products.

“Simplicity and purity is where it all starts. Also, the color white is gender neutral. Many candles are marketed toward women with overly vibrant colors, such as pink and purple,” Warr says. “Essentially, we wanted a natural and honest product, both inside and out, free of dyes and harmful ingredients.”

For many, Chattanooga is a city with a unique, alluring fragrance that attracts innovative young minds.

 “After visiting a friend in Chattanooga, I fell in love with the city. I moved here to finish my bachelor’s degree in Entrepreneurship at UTC. After Chelsea graduated from University of Alabama at Birmingham, she made the move to begin our journey as entrepreneurs. Chattanooga is such a friendly and welcoming city. Our company would not be where it is today if it wasn’t for the support of the Chattanooga community.”

Upon founding The Rustic House, Warr and Cash created a nonprofit sector within the company in 2015 – This Little Light.

“This is a remarkable opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives and well-being of those less fortunate,” Warr says. “My background has always centered around candle crafting and charitable work. This is a unique convergence of the two.”

“Since I started The Rustic House, I always thought it was important to give back to the community, no matter how big or small the impact. This Little Light is truly the heart of our company.”

So what makes This Little Light shine so bright?

The Rustic House partners up with nonprofit organizations to raise funds and awareness. Since November 2017, The Rustic House has teamed up with Homebound Books, a project to buy bookshelves from thrift stores, fill them with books and place them in local schools.

Although The Rustic House loves igniting charitable work at home, they also love carrying the torch internationally. Soon, The Rustic House will partner with Rising Minds, a Guatemala-based nonprofit organization that works to empower locally committed, globally active leaders through the integration of education, awareness and action.

Warr eloquently sums up The Rustic House’s fundamental mission statement:

“Our story began in a garage. No matter where your story began, or where your ‘scentses’ take you, make it great! We are all lights in this world, and it is our responsibility to help others shine.”

Perusing the multitude of scent options in The Rustic House, I stumbled upon an intriguing aroma of my own past: Harvest. Lifting the pure white candle to my nose, I was immediately transported to a clear autumn day in Gwangmyeong, South Korea.

Leaving a sea of colors, radiant red and lush orange, I exchanged the cool autumn air for the dark, chill, musty atmosphere of the Gwangmyeong Cave. Inside, I witnessed the intricate Korean Mask Dance, illuminated only by the lights dancing across the innumerable cracks and crevasses along the cavernous walls. 

The air was pungent with a plethora of odors. And now, every October or November, when the first harvest moon illuminates the night sky, I catch that same blend of aromas, headier than a fresh pumpkin beer, and my mind's eye sees Korean mask dancers, glowing in a chamber of shadows.

This is the effect of scent on memory. The effect of a Rustic House candle.

Like the texture of our lives, scent memory is enriched by the experiences we accumulate as we navigate life’s twists and turns. Therefore, scents enable us, particularly via a well-made candle, to mine our memories — to bend time, our most precious commodity, to render the present elastic by transporting us hither and yon.

This may be the singular quality that makes scent peerless among other human senses. Time waits for no one, but now and then it circles back courtesy of stimuli that tease the hidden treasures from our mind’s library of memories.

If you wish to relive or create a new memory, pause for a moment to the enjoy the aroma of a Rustic House candle. There, you will discover the crossroads of that great place so many travelers seek, but often never find: the land of the past and a glimpse of the future.

To learn more about The Rustic House or purchase their hand-crafted candles, visit their website or their Facebook page.

Photography by Nathalie Dupré

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