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How To: Home Fragrance

there's more to it than cinnamon candles

I know: Home fragrance isn’t at the top of your to-do list. In fact, I say “home fragrance,” and you’re already thinking of girly Diptyque candles (that’s the one you can’t believe costs $65 … for a candle) or your mom’s Yankee Candle Co. cinnamon fragrance—that’s the one that makes an appearance every Thanksgiving.

We can all do better.

Like it or not, the first thing that hits you when you walk through a door isn’t so much how everything looks—but how it smells. Right? Take two identical apartments: One smells like lemons, the other like laundry. One of these is delicious. One of these is not. Pro tip: Girls tend to like the first one better. Everybody tends to like the first one better.

Ready to take the first step to a great-smelling space?

It’s easy, effective, and fast. Here’s how to do it. 

Step 1: Consider the science

We’re people, and people sweat. People cook fish. People do all kinds of things in their homes that make it smell unappealing to guests. Worst part: We might not even know. There’s research that explains this: “Scientists aren’t exactly sure why our noses adapt to smells, but it seems to be because it helps us to very quickly detect even the subtlest change in the scent of our environment”—basically, we’re so good at adapting to our “normal,” that we can’t tell when our normal smells like yesterday’s trash. Open all your windows, come back in 30 minutes, and chances are, everything will just smell nicer—even if we couldn’t pick out the earlier mustiness. It’s evolution: There’s no fighting it.

Most of all, don’t think guests just “won’t notice”: “Home fragrance sets the stage,” says Anna Gray, editor of the Homepolish Magazine. “If your space smells clean and pleasing, your guest will think highly of your taste and ability to take care of yourself. If your space smells like it hasn’t been cleaned in awhile, then it’s immediately apparent that you aren’t great at taking care of your stuff.”

Step 2: Start with the basics

“Open the windows to get some fresh air in, weather permitting,” Gray says.

Step 3: Think bigger

Home fragrance isn’t just about clueing guests into the fact that you’re an upstanding pillar of your community, given to lemon-scented foyers and leather-heavy libraries that smell of patchouli and wisdom. “I always find fragrance has the power to subtly alter your mood—either lift your spirits, help you focus, or calm you down,” says Kristen Pumphrey, owner and creative director of P.F. Candle Co. (They make the Apple Picking candle at top.) There’s a world of aromatherapy to explore, but some of the basics go like this: citrus scents have been shown to reduce stress, while research has shown that lavender can have a sedative effect. A few drops of peppermint oil dropped in an inexpensive oil burner can be energizing.

Step 4: Fragrance as a design element

There are some seriously good-looking candles at there—it’s not all just crystal bottles anymore. Take Mad et Len’s super-amazing candles, hand-poured into burned-steel containers at their studio in France’s capital of fragrance, Grasse—unlike many candle lines, these are designed with a male aesthetic in mind; consider their Black Afghan, with notes of leather, tar, animal, balsamic, and burned-wood. Also take a look at the Swedish Byredo line, with their famous black-wax formulation and appropriately sleek, Scandinavian design.

Diffusers take the candle out of the equation altogether—they’ll typically come packaged with an essential oil in a glass vessel, plus reeds that slowly distribute the scent. These, like candles, come with caveats. “Candles and oil diffusers are great but I would limit their use to no more than an hour a day,” says Gray. “Probably more like an hour every few days.” Resist the urge to overuse either: “Every time I walk by a Body Works I feel accosted by fruity, floral smells that I wish I had never encountered,” she says. “Avoid this fate by layering different kinds of smells, and avoiding anything that smells like a Jolly Rancher. If you like burning a few candles at once, place them in different areas rather than grouping them together. Layering is a great way to build your own room scent, and the possibilities are endless.”

Step 5: Add romance

When the lights are low, she will definitely, 100% notice how your place smells—and certain scents function as a sort of olfactory slow jam. “Candles are a good way to create a romantic ambience in the home,” says Johanna Meise, the CEO and founder of Metro66.com. “I would recommend that guys purchase a scent with a sexy blend of amber, vetiver, and a touch of Egyptian musk notes. I also recommend incorporating candles with notes of spicy cardamon, sensual ylang ylang or musky patchouli into a mans home.” (If you’re looking for her top suggestion, here’s her choice.)

 

Hall Newbegin of Juniper Ridge

Step 6: Advanced-placement fragrance

From their HQ in Oakland, the staff of Juniper Ridge is doing super innovative stuff with home fragrance. Founder Hall Newbegin is a dedicated forager, whose room sprays are all hand-crafted—meaning that each one is unique, created from an array of wildflowers and plants picked and processed together. That means that the Cascade Glacier Room Spray smells like “plants, conifers, bark, moss, mushrooms, and other things found hiking in the Oregon backcountry”—all the bits and pieces Newbegin’s staff collected. Every bottle has a slightly different smell, based on the season, the weather, all the little factors that go into creating a fragrance as unique and changeable as the place that inspired it. “These are the real smells of the real places we know and love,” says Obi Kaufmann, the brand’s creative projects coordinator.

Another issue worth considering is whether or not to go organic. “I always compare synthetic fragrance to fast food—it sets off all the bells in your head when you smell it the first time and you say, ‘I gotta have that, it smells so yummy,’ says Hall Newbegin, Juniper Ridge’s founder. “It’s no surprise it has that effect on us—just like fast food, it’s been engineered and tested specifically to set off all those bells so we can’t help but say ‘give me more’—but also just like fast food, after a while, it just gets icky.”

What’s your take on home fragrance?

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