Among the first impressions the old house gave off was its smell. The place hadn’t been lived in for months, and rather reeked of neglect.
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Even after I opened the windows and doors, and shook the place up by moving in, the house smelled musty, the bathrooms dank. I don’t fault the house. I’ll surely smell musty, too, when I’m 130 years old. I just hope someone douses me in Estee Lauder’s finest.
The house (like many) needed a home fragrance makeover.
Fact is every house smells. They can smell delicious, clean, fresh and familiar in the best sense. Or … they can smell like pets, gym shoes, fried fish, mildew, diaper pails, kitty litter or an aromatic blend.
People often overlook their homes’ smells, not only because they’re invisible but also because — and here’s the tricky essence of the problem — we don’t always know what our homes smell like to others.
“We adapt to scents and must be mindful that when others come in, what you no longer smell will seem strong to them,” said fragrance expert Helen Feygin, owner of Intuiscent, a fragrance designer and supplier in Middlesex, NJ.
Thank evolution. Think about it. If cavewomen didn’t adapt to how bad the cave guys smelled — and vice versa — the human race would have died out.
To get a fresh, honest whiff of your home you need to go and come back, said Feygin. Then take an unbiased sniff as if you’ve never smelled the place before.
Then blast, don’t mask, odors as much as you can. Try an open window followed by a good cleaning. Next layer in pleasant fragrance — carefully.
After a thorough cleaning and airing at my place, I tried an electric scent warmer. You plug it in, and a concealed light bulb melts scented wax. While I liked the idea, the scent was smothering.
I snuffed that idea and tried a few spray mists, which didn’t last. Next I tried reed diffusers with natural oils, a grapefruit blend in the kitchen, and lavender mint in bedrooms and baths. Ahh, now when I come home the place smells like bliss.
“People use fragrance to create a mood, and also to cover odors,” said Feygin, who also teaches environmental fragrance at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
Here’s what she says to consider if you want to make your home smell better than a barn:
Fragrance options. You can add scent to your home with potpourri, spray mists, electric diffusers, reed diffusers, scented candles, warmers, and aromatic salts and crystals. Warmed scents go farther and are best in large spaces. Reeds and salts are the most stable.
Two sides of scent. Fragrance products have two components: the fragrance itself, which varies in strength and quality; and the vehicle that transports it, or its base, which could be wax, oil or crystal. Both have to be good. A good quality fragrance in a poor quality base will disappoint.
Don’t cheap out. This is one area where price matters, says Feygin. If you buy a smaller candle of a higher-end product for a bit more money, you’ll be much happier with the scent than if you buy a huge scented candle from the dollar store. Cloying, cheap fragrance is worse than none.
Know the scents that polarize. Vanilla and musk are examples. Those scents can make people feel sick, while others can’t get enough, she said.
Be wary of warm. Heat changes scent. In the industry, they call the scent of an unlit candle the “cold throw” and lit the “hot throw.” They can be very different. When in doubt, buy a small test amount first.
What’s in a name? Don’t go by the label’s name, which can be vague. What does moonlit path smell like? Feygin wonders.
Imitate nature. Strive to make your home smell like the outdoors. The best smells are ones you can’t quite put your finger on, but they smell like nature. They’re not overtly one scent, but a blend, that makes you say, that smells nice. “Strident lemon or pine can smell like a cleaning product,” she says. “When you’re having company, that’s not what you want.”
Change smell with place. Try citrusy green scents in the kitchen, a light floral in the powder room, and something a little sexier — in the woodsy or gourmand category — in the bedroom.
What’s in? Green, lighter florals like lily of the valley, and citrusy combinations, like mandarin bergamot and citrus verbena are popular. Exotic fruit scents like acai, kiwi and pomegranate are pushing aside common fruit scents like apple and pear. Trending down are heavier florals with one-note scents, like rose or gardenia, and the heavy-scented gourmand aromas, which often have buttery undertones, including vanilla, spiced cider and apple pie. Today’s upscale consumers are picking up scents that convey their favorite beverage, she said. “Merlot and champagne are on the rise.”
Watch what your scent projects. Feygin’s husband recently put a car freshener in his car. “He couldn’t smell it any more,” she said, “but every time I got in, I thought he’d been with another woman — the kind you pay for.”
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through marnijameson.com.