I think my obsession with a well-scented home started in childhood. It isn't pleasant, but we can all remember the first time we went to a friend's house, and it smelled sort of, well, funkadelic. I was petrified of being that friend.
As a reaction, I was determined to live in a place where people walk in, inhale extra deeply, and feel totally pampered. It usually happens in nice hotels or really rich people's houses. (Fresh flowers and daily housekeeping will do that.)
Over the years, from my dorm room to my current New York apartment, I've found several cheats to create that fancy atmosphere. Today, I can safely say I have one of the Best Smelling Apartments this side of Seventh Avenue. When people come over, they comment before they take their jackets off, wanting to know what I'm burning or what I sprayed. It's not an accident: I have a very specific home scent strategy, and I'm sharing it with you here.
1. Strong is good. The candles that have gotten me the most, "Mmmm, what is that?!" compliments are the ones with the highest scent "throw," industry lingo for how powerful they are — how much they can fill a room.
So how can you tell? If the candle has a strong smell when it's unlit, that's a good sign. There is an element of trial and error, but some brands never disappoint. At the more affordable end, I love Yankee Candle, Bath & Body Works, Trapp, and Niquead (They sell it at Papyrus!). If you've got the cash to splash, Nest, Astier de Villatte, Jo Malone, Cire Trudon, and of course, celeb/scent snob favorite Diptyque all give serious scent. Votives (i.e. mini versions) are a great way to get around the steep price.
2. Think beyond candles. Candles are great, but they're not the only way to scent your space. (Also, they're not for everyone. If you have little kids or pets running around, they're a legit safety concern.) I like to supplement with linen sprays (perfect for lightly misting your couch after a marathon Netflix-and-Indian-food sesh), essential oil diffusers (good for small space like offices and bathrooms), and sachets (it sounds totally grandma, but they make your second-day jeans smell amazing — or you can use fancy wrapped soaps instead if you want). While you can get this stuff anywhere bath and body products are sold, I've always had my secret sources, which I discovered long before my beauty editor days: T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, Nordstrom Rack and similar off-price retailers often have fancy sprays, diffusers, sachets, and soaps for under $10.
3. Create a house scent. So if you want to stick with one scent, that's cool. But I love the idea of having a couple different scents at a time. (Make sure all open flames are attended, of course.) The combination will fill your whole place with a can't-put-your-finger-on-it scent that's totally proprietary. My tip: Pair something masculine with feminine. For example, my Aedes de Venustas leathery, musky room spray is the perfect mixer. I'm using a gardenia candle with it right now, but I've also paired it with vanilla and that's been divine. The Aedes spray is so good it can give a sprinkle-topped birthday cake candle serious intrigue. It's all about contrasts.
4. Bring back incense. Forget the stinky head-shop associations. My newest obsession are these sticks by Agraria and cones Blackbird. Not only are they dead chic, they smell great and are a total conversation starter.
5. Less fruit, more forest. While scent is a very much a matter of taste, I can say that the woodsier scents have a way of "dressing up" a space more so than the sweeter stuff. That doesn't mean your place needs to smell like a campsite — it just means that a bit of spice, smoke, or toasty finish has a way of elevating your space while making it, well, warm!
6. Make sure your place doesn't smell — you know, in a bad way. It doesn't matter how many Diptyques are blazing: Some home odors are so strong, they can't easily be masked. Here are some of the biggest culprits:
Mildewy towels. If your bathroom is small, not well-ventilated, or both, you must be extra vigilant to avoid it smelling like a janitor's closet. In damp quarters, bacteria and mildew can thrive, giving your towels a musty smell — the opposite of fresh and clean. Keep the towels to a minimum, move your hamper outside, and for god's sake, don't even think about a "furry" toilet seat cover or rug.
Cat litter. Not only is it totally messed up to not change your cat's litter frequently, there is nothing more powerful — or stubborn — than the smell of days-old cat urine. And the worst part is you'll get accustomed to it. Your guests will nearly drop dead upon entry.
Cooking. The moment I start cooking something stinky* — eggs and cruciferous vegetables smell particularly gaseous — I turn on the exhaust fan and open a window. Then, I light a candle.
*I don't even mess with fish.
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