Kristen Pumphrey and Thomas Neuberger, P.F. Candle Co.
Grant Puckett for P.F. Candle Co.
Combining business and pleasure is no simple feat, but Kristen Pumphrey and Thomas Neuberger – the wife-and-husband team behind P.F. Candle Co. – are getting the hang of it. As their line of candles and home fragrances continues to scale (including distribution at Madewell and Urban Outfitters), this duo keeps the flame alive through clear communication and quality time outdoors with their daughter, Poppy.
We pulled Kristen and Thomas away from pouring soy wax to find out how they balance shop talk with pillow talk, which candle they burn when it’s time to relax and how they’d describe the scent of their adopted hometown, Los Angeles.
How do you unwind when you get home from work? P.S. Do you carpool together?
Kristen: We carpool together every day! We used to have a short commute, but it’s a bit longer now that we have to pick up our daughter, Poppy, at daycare. Once we get home, we’re all about family time and try our best to follow a “no phone” policy. With our busy schedules, we relish all the moments we get to spend with Poppy during the week.
Tom: We love hanging out in our backyard. I convinced Kristen to get a bean bag chair and we take it out onto the deck – Poppy loves to jump on it. Spending time outdoors with the family is the ultimate way to unwind.
Your candle line is apothecary-inspired and gives off a vintage vibe. How would you describe the style of your home decor?
Kristen: Rustic modern meets California eclectic. Our home is filled with muted tones and textures, real wood pieces and what seems like 50 billion plants (actual count is closer to 55).
Kristen, you’re a self-proclaimed crafty type, getting your company’s start on Etsy. Have you made other objects for the home?
Kristen: The amount of DIY projects I do for the home has decreased significantly since our business picked up – there’s just not enough time! I’m really proud of the baby blanket I just knit for Poppy, however.
What candle(s) would you recommend for relaxing before bed?
Kristen: Nightshade. It’s a little floral and has a base of lavender and black pepper. It’s a very soothing and sophisticated scent.
Tom: Teakwood & Tobacco – it’s warm and comforting. It’s a classic.
As a husband-wife team running a business, what’s your best tip for keeping shop talk out of the bedroom?
Kristen: There’s so much judgement over work-life balance. We’ve accepted that it’s not our strong suit! One of the keys to our success has been our willingness to work all day making candles, come home and continue to discuss the business. We eat, sleep and breathe candles. When it works, it’s amazing. We do have one rule though – no shop talk around the baby.
Bedside tables can reveal a lot about a person. What’s on yours?
Kristen: Two books, Aesop hand cream, a fake Oscar for “Best Wife” that Tom got me a couple years ago, a candle (the custom scent, Overalls, that we created for Madewell) and a plant (of course).
Tom: I don’t have one, but I do keep my phone and a utility knife on the floor next to me.
What Instagram accounts do you sneak a peek at before bed?
Kristen: Is it cheating if I say our own? I always try to answer any remaining questions and like tagged photos before falling asleep!
Tom: I mainly follow National Parks and guitar pedal makers. My favorites are @saguaronationalpark, @yellowstonenps, @abominablepedals and @earthquakerdev.
When I can’t sleep, I…
Kristen: I’ll speak for both of us on this one…sleep comes much easier since having the baby! By the end of the day, I can barely get through a couple pages of my book before I’m out.
What’s your go-to candle scent to start the day?
Kristen: We light a bunch of unscented prayer candles to start the day. Sometimes, we burn a new scent we’re testing to get the vibe.
Speaking of scents, coffee is a pretty powerful one. How do you take yours?
Kristen: I drink warm coffee with almond milk or an iced almond milk latte.
Tom: Generally, I drink cold brew black. I might add half and half on a special occasion (like vacation, a weekend or if I’m stressed).
Scents are often reminiscent of memories and places. Is there a particular scent that you associate with Los Angeles?
Kristen: We made an April Fools candle in 2016 called “City of Angels.” Here’s a throwback to the scent description: “Top notes of sunscreen, hot asphalt and bougainvillea mingle with cold-pressed juice, musky smog, exhaust and bacon-wrapped hot dogs. Hints of broken dreams, new-age mysticism and dog urine play on the edges, while a base of earthy cannabis gives a substantial finish.”
Candle versus Room Spray: Are they used differently? Do you approach product development the same way? Explain the process please.
Kristen: When we translated all of our fragrances to sprays, the scent development wasn’t super different. We did, however, work with our fragrance house to ensure all the oils we used in our room sprays were body safe – just in case! Room sprays give a lighter application of the scent. It’s concentrated at first and will linger on textiles subtly throughout the day. We spray it on our pillows, floor mats in our car and have it around for a quick pick-me-up.
You’ve scaled your business so quickly! How do you manage the stress that comes with growing the brand? Does it affect your sleep?
Kristen: To be honest, the stress comes and goes. Having the baby last year really put things in perspective for me! Tom and I try to get out and hike as much as possible – connecting with nature is my ideal way to de-stress. I also like to clean the house. I have what I call my “one hour clean” – a routine I follow that hits all the major points. It makes me feel more settled to have the space in order.
If you were on a deserted island, what’s the one P.F. Candle you’d bring along – and why?
Kristen: I’d bring our discontinued lavender scent. I’ve never met a lavender I didn’t like, so I’d be okay smelling it for the rest of time.
Tom: Copal! It reminds me of a trip Kristen and I took to Mexico.
What’s been the most challenging note to nail in a scent – and why?
Kristen: We’ve been working on a Poppy-inspired scent all year and it’s impossible! The interpretation is too powdery.
Your candles are made using domestically grown soy wax, cotton core wicks and fine fragrance oils. Why soy wax – is it cleaner or safer? Explain please.
Kristen: Soy wax, made from American soy beans, is a sustainable and renewable resource, unlike typical petroleum, which is finite. It’s plant-based, which we feel comfortable touching with our hands every day. It also takes a fragrance really well.
We heard P.F. stands for Pommes Frites. Can you confirm? And have you ever considered making a Pommes Frites scented candle for those who crave the scent of fries (without the carbs)?
Kristen: Confirmed! I started P.F. as a blog in 2007, and Pommes Frites was a play on my last name, Pumphrey. This was back in the Myspace days, and Kristen Pommes Frites was my username. All I can say is this, be careful when naming your business at the age of 22! We get a lot of requests for a french fry scented candle…no plans on that yet.