Candles mean warmth and romance, indoors and out, all year round. Rosalind Russell finds some trendy examples to light up your spring
It used to be considered socially naff to light candles for a dinner party. Shades of melon balls, Hyacinth Bucket and suburban pretensions. But now candles are selling by the bale. And although it would be impossible (and probably heretical) to prove, judging by the amount in the shops, more church candles burn in private homes than under ecclesiastical roofs.

The reason could be the diversity of design in candle holders which has seen a recent significant updating of image. And they have grown taller. Almost every major store now stocks floorstanding wrought-iron candelabra as part of a contemporary furnishing collection. Like cream sofas, they're a dinky (double income, no kids) accessory, presenting too much of a challenge to small children and boisterous dogs.

Prices cover most budgets, from chain store to designer label.

Next Home catalogue offers a three-arm floorstanding candelabra 42 inches high, in black or gold for pounds 29.99. It's the same price as Pukka Palace's mail-order tripod candle holder, 50 inches high and wrought in pewter- finish metal and which can also be wired as a standard lamp.

The Iron Design Company makes two floor-standing models to accompany its range of wrought- iron furniture. Handmade in a traditional forge in North Yorkshire, the three-candle stand costs pounds 95 and the four-candle stand is pounds 125. The firm accepts commissions, so if your ideas run to something even grander, they will oblige. Like several other designers, they also make a candle-holding chandelier, price pounds 155, which is wildly romantic... in theory.

Unless you are careful to wedge the candles in firmly and upright - and out of a draught - you could end up getting an eyebrow wax as you eat. You'll also need long arms and a candle snuffer. Pukka Palace's candle chandelier costs pounds 49.95.

A candle in the wind is best shielded by a glass case, which makes glass bell-jar lamps a practical alternative. Pukka Palace does two, both Victorian in style: a clear glass-etched bell jar at pounds 65 and a hand-painted version, sporting pears and bunches of grapes, at pounds 45. Its melon-glass lamps, in green, light blue and dark blue, are jolly, at pounds 38 each.

Wireworks, launched six years ago by designer Anna Albright, sells contemporary accessories through stores such as the Conran Shop and Heal's. The range includes a smart candleholder enclosed in a semi-opaque box to diffuse the light (pounds 35.50). Also very pretty are the chrome-stand candle holders with beaded lampshades from Debenhams. They come in white, lilac, gold and dark blue and cost pounds 20.

Cheaper and very cheerful is the Homebase collection of candles and holders which can be used indoors or out. A garden-gate-style chrome lantern with cut-out shapes around the roof and a fence design around the base is just pounds 9.99, or there are cauldron-shaped glass-bowl candles with curly feet at pounds 6.99 each.

If you really don't care what the neighbours think about your taste, you can buy Homebase's garden-gnome candles, dressed in Cool Britannia sunhat and sunglasses (pounds 7.99). Just the gnome for the Dome.

For more understated elegance, the Klint range of candle holders from Ocean is smart enough to be used on the dining table or on a white wall. They are very simple, with the clean appearance of steel and glass and come in four sizes, from wall candle-holder to the 40-inch high garden holder which has a long ground spike.

One of the most stylish outdoor candle holders comes from garden mail- order company, Windrush. Almost everything in their brochure is irresistible to the hopelessly addicted garden-centre freak; one of the more unusual items is the shepherd's-crook lamp. The painted steel crook stands 49 inches tall; the pointed end sticks firmly in the garden while the crook supports a 10-inch-wide glass lamp. Planted in a bed of tall white osteospermum, or pale green scented nicotiana, the night light would reflect a soft glow on a summer's night. All for pounds 29.95.

Contacts: Next Home (0345 100 500); Pukka Palace (0345 666 660); Iron Design Company (01609 778846); Wireworks (0171-724 8856); Debenhams (0171- 408 4444); Homebase (0645 801800); Ocean (0800 132 985); Windrush Mill (01993 770456).