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Get Ready, Get Scent, Go…

24th June 2011

Lisa Graff explores different ways of creating atmosphere in contemporary interiors

‘Fragrance is liquid emotion,’ says London-based perfumery Penhaligon's. ‘Our sense of smell unlocks memories and opens doors. Recollections are triggered by a whisper of jasmine, a burst of warm citrus, or a creamy lick of vanilla.’

We know full well that fragrance and mood are strongly linked, and that this is often used by corporations to manipulate customer emotions, for example. Clothing retailers, such as Abercrombie & Fitch, spray copious amounts of scent in their shops to enhance their brand and create an atmosphere conducive to shopping (and spending). Research studies have proved that certain fragrances can also have a dramatic impact on employee morale and productivity in the workplace. This can help to reduce stress and combat the general sense of malaise which can be found in staff during tough economic times.

If working in a delicately scented world is good, then living in one is even better and certainly an improvement on ‘eau de wet dog’ and the general aroma of last night's dinner… so it’s no surprise that the world of home fragrance is booming too, although the ways that you can make your home feel fresh and welcoming have come a long way since the invention of pot pourri and aerosol sprays.

The most popular method of the moment must surely be the candle. Its boom came about as it turned home fragrance from another housekeeping chore to a desirable gift for a friend. With a range of prices, plenty of pretty wrapping, and the implied compliment that your home is worthy of such elegance, an ideal present was found.

Room sprays are also making a name for themselves. The old fashioned aerosol can often smell worse than the offending odour it wants to hide but cologne-style sprays give elegance and subtlety. A quick spritz of natural scent and you are emotionally transported to an exotic location, right within your own home.

If you have pure essential oils, one of the nicest ways to diffuse them through the house is the traditional lamp ring. These can be brass or ceramic and are used by sitting the ring on top of a standard light bulb. The oils are dripped onto a small amount of water in the ring and when the lamp is turned on, its heat gently warms the water and the fragrance soon wafts through the air.

Working on a similar basis is the oil burner. The oil and water are put in a dish, usually held above a small tea light candle. Once again, the heat helps the fragrance to disperse through the house.

Leaving burning candles or hot lamp rings unattended around the house is not advisable though, especially for those with children and pets, so scent sticks could be a better choice in these circumstances: a real no-fuss approach to home fragrance. Simply place the reed sticks into the bottle and they absorb the scented oil and diffuse the fragrance into your room. And a tip from Velvet Brown Home Accessories (www.velvetbrown.co.uk): ‘Every few days simply flip the reed sticks for the fragrance to be continuously released into the room’.

Lastly – although in some ways it should be firstly – is the ancient but ever popular incense. The term ‘incense’ relates to the material being burnt rather than the smell it emits but that's a technicality. Whether you burn joss-sticks, powder, granules or paste, this method of home fragrance will always evoke the exotic mood of Indian shrines, Japanese tea ceremonies or Bhutanese temples. For some, the smell can be rather thick and cloying but to devotees, nothing compares.

It is quite common to categorise scents according to the effects that they’re aiming to achieve rather than what they simply are. Don’t be seduced though, into buying something you don’t like naturally, though. If the smell you choose sounds elegant in the shop but sticks in your throat and drives you to opening the windows, then it's not the one for you.

Think about the scene you hope to set, or the imbalance you want to correct. The scent of citrus fruits such as lemon, lime, grapefruit and orange, for example, is deemed to have uplifting, anti-depressive, energising effects. Eucalyptus, peppermint and rosemary, on the other hand, have been shown to increase mental stimulation, boost energy and increase clarity of the mind.

If you would like to improve levels of helpfulness, friendliness and kindness (one for parents with recalcitrant teenagers, perhaps…?) then blackcurrant, balsam and geranium are said to help, while the earthy aromas ofsandalwood and bamboo can promote calmness, ease anxiety and enhance creative thinking.

And for the many of us who seek stress-reduction and relaxation, try lavender, jasmine and chamomile.

To this end, Jo Malone does not only sell its products by fragrance but by cutting to the chase and asking what mood you want to create. ‘Sleek and Elegant’ can be created with wild fig and cassis, or with mint and white jasmine. ‘Cheerful and Welcoming’ encompasses lemon, orange blossom, grapefruit and rosemary.

Remember, when you are choosing your scent there is no need to select just one. You can have a repertoire to call on, as and when the mood, or need, takes you.

Architect Samantha Moffat is keenly aware of the atmosphere and spirituality of any place she creates and the importance of ambient scenting. “A scent can be uplifting, or relaxing. It can affect your mood in a positive way,” she explains.

Samantha has gathered many blends while travelling abroad. Her favourite came from The Maldives and many others she found in Morocco where she saw oils being prepared from raw ingredients. She firmly believes that oils must be natural, preferably organic, to achieve a truly pure and clean scent. To produce natural oils, vast amounts of plant materials are needed to harvest the tiniest drops, however, which makes them far more expensive than the synthetic scents which can be manufactured more cheaply, usually from petroleum.

Although everyone is free to choose as they wish (and can afford), Chelsea-based interior designer Stephanie Rackind agrees with Samantha. “I never buy synthetic scents. It makes 100% difference to have the real thing” – and adds that her Parisian heritage has taught her that saving up for natural products delivers a far superior result than a whole selection of cheap ones could ever achieve.

A little drop goes a long way, though. Home fragrance can achieve so much, and with so little effort…

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