The nose knows: Chang­ing how your home smells could change your life

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - PURSUITS -

Our sense of smell is deeply tied to the way we ex­pe­ri­ence our spa­ces, and can be care­fully cal­i­brated to en­hance how we feel.

Scent as an el­e­ment of in­te­rior decor may seem un­ortho­dox, M writes, but what we smell can af­fect how we feel about our homes

Nina Ber-Donkor lives in an all-rental apart­ment build­ing called Oben Flats, just above the shop she owns and runs in Toronto’s east end, Black Rooster Decor. Al­though rental prop­er­ties aren’t typ­i­cally the paragon of invit­ing cozy­ness, Ber-Donkor looks for­ward to the minute ev­ery evening when she can step into her build­ing. “Even af­ter liv­ing there for the past cou­ple years, I still get that beau­ti­ful feel­ing of ‘I’m home,’ ” she says. “I don’t even have to wait un­til I get to my unit. I feel it as soon I pass through the front doors, into the lobby.”

Oben Flats in­stills this idea in part be­cause the lobby is par­tic­u­larly nice. De­signed by noted Cana­dian ar­chi­tects Su­perkül, it’s all cool whites and greys with con­trast­ing warm woods. The smell, though, is also es­sen­tial to the strong sense of place. Be­fore build­ing it three years ago, de­vel­oper Ju­lian Bat­tis­ton com­mis­sioned a cus­tom scent for Oben Flats’ com­mon ar­eas, one with a base of Bul­gar­ian laven­der, which tends to be calm­ing, and notes of lime (prop­erty man­age­ment gives each res­i­dent a can­dle in­fused with the scent that they can burn at will in their suites). “I wanted to take away the stigma around what a rental build­ing is,” Bat­tis­ton says. “I wanted to show how de­sign can up the ex­pe­ri­ence.”

To many peo­ple, the idea of scent as a de­sign el­e­ment is un­ortho­dox, as it’s not tac­tile or vis­ual, such as paints, wall pat­terns and pil­low cush­ions. How­ever, our sense of smell is deeply tied to the way we ex­pe­ri­ence our spa­ces, and can be care­fully cal­i­brated to en­hance how we feel – even how we per­ceive colours – as we move through our homes.

But it’s not that most of us ig­nore scent en­tirely. Col­lec­tively, we seem ob­sessed with things that tickle our noses. Ac­cord­ing to Statis­tics Canada, 71 per cent of Cana­di­ans use at-home air fresh­en­ers. And, ac­cord­ing to a 2016 study from mar­ket re­search firm Kline, North Amer­ica’s home-fra­grance mar­ket is worth more than US$6.4-bil­lion and grow­ing.

Few home­own­ers, though, sit down with a scent de­signer and map out the ol­fac­tory ex­pe­ri­ence of their abodes. In­stead, it’s a lot eas­ier, and much cheaper, sim­ply to buy generic scented can­dles or per­fumed plug-ins.

For­tu­nately, scent-savvy ex­perts are in­creas­ingly pro­duc­ing off-the-shelf solutions to pair with home decor. Bramp­ton, Ont.-based scent de­signer Tracy Pepe, owner of Nose Knows De­signs, cus­tom­ized the scent for Oben Flats, in ad­di­tion to scents she’s cre­ated for big brands such as Sam­sung and the In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Ho­tel. Her be­spoke work can cost tens of thou­sands of dol­lars, but she has also re­cently in­tro­duced a con­sumer line called Whif­floves with scents av­er­ag­ing $15 to $36 that viv­ify the colours of a room, and in­still a cer­tain vibe.

Her Orange has a spunky, lively scent the in­stantly brings fiery citrus tones to mind. Her Blue, which has lush, earthy un­der­tones, works well with serene hues and helps in­still a sense of in­ti­macy. It might sound airy-fairy, but a 2016 study of scent at Wil­frid Lau­rier Univer­sity con­firmed those per­cep­tions to be com­mon among a sam­ple of 193 un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dents at the Lazaridis School of Busi­ness.

Aside from Pepe, ear­lier this year, Van­cou­ver-based celebrity de­signer Jil­lian Harris re­leased a line of three es­sen­tial oils ($35 each) for Cana­dian scent brand Saje. “I have al­ways said the aroma of my home sets the mood,” says Harris, whose Spa Spirit is de­signed for re­lax­ing, and would work well in an en­suite. “If you know me, you’ll know my love for tak­ing some me time while away on work or va­ca­tion and hit­ting up a spa. This blend is re­ally ground­ing,” she says.

And for some­thing more sen­sual (and bed­room wor­thy), Cal­gary in­te­rior de­signer Amanda Hamilton has made the Viril­ity Can­dle ($49). Its mas­cu­line, spicy un­der­tones are rem­i­nis­cent of rolling over on a partner’s pil­low and breath­ing in their lin­ger­ing af­ter­shave, body wash and what­ever else. Hamilton also points out that be­cause it’s a can­dle, it dou­bles down on the ro­mance. “I like that it cre­ates am­bi­ence, and fills the space, in more than one way,” she says. “I like how the light flick­ers in a room.”

There are im­por­tant health con­sid­er­a­tions when it comes to scent­ing spa­ces, though. While air fresh­en­ers can im­prove a room’s smell, they can’t cleanse a space of its un­der­ly­ing, odour-start­ing tox­ins or con­tam­i­nants. If mould is re­sult­ing in a musty sniff, it’s best to hire a con­trac­tor to re­me­di­ate the is­sue – not to sim­ply mask it.

There’s also the ques­tion of what ex­actly you’re breath­ing in. “Some peo­ple hear the term es­sen­tial oils and think it’s some­thing good for you,” Pepe says. “But that’s not nec­es­sar­ily true. Es­sen­tial oils sim­ply re­fer to raw ma­te­ri­als for fra­grances. They aren’t nec­es­sar­ily nat­u­ral, or­ganic or pure.” Plus, even all-nat­u­ral prod­ucts can be dan­ger­ous. “Rat­tlesnake poi­son is nat­u­ral,” Pepe says. “So is poi­son ivy. That doesn’t mean peo­ple should use ei­ther.”

It’s im­por­tant, then, to not only be aware if you, your pets, kids or spouse have any al­ler­gies – vanilla might be lovely, but not if it makes you wheeze – but also to re­search what po­ten­tially harm­ful in­gre­di­ents might be hid­den within the scent. Many oils, for ex­am­ple, are di­luted with al­co­hol, even though it’s a com­mon ir­ri­tant, be­cause it’s an in­ex­pen­sive way to help carry the scent through the air.

Look­ing at the de­tails also mat­ters when it comes to the dif­fu­sion method. Some peo­ple avoid can­dles, say, be­cause they find them smoky. But all-cotton wicks with soy-based can­dles, the kind used by de­sign­ers such as Pepe, burn clean com­pared to syn­thetic, dol­lar-store al­ter­na­tives.

For some­one such as Ber-Donkor, the renter at the Oben Flats, liv­ing in a space with such ir­ri­tant-free scents is para­mount. “I per­son­ally am not usu­ally drawn to scents as a de­sign el­e­ment,” she says, “be­cause of­ten, when it’s too strong or smells ar­ti­fi­cial, it gives me headaches. The scent in my build­ing, though, is re­ally light. It’s al­most hard to de­scribe what it smells like to me – other than clean and fresh.”


Scent-savvy ex­perts are in­creas­ingly pro­duc­ing off-the-shelf solutions to pair with home decor. When Oben Flats, top, was be­ing de­vel­oped, a cus­tom scent was com­mis­sioned for the all-rental apart­ment build­ing’s com­mon ar­eas, in­clud­ing the lobby. Scent de­signer Tracy Pepe, who cus­tom­ized the scent for Oben Flats, has re­cently in­tro­duced a con­sumer line called Whif­floves that viv­ify the colours of a room and in­still a cer­tain vibe. Celebrity de­signer Jil­lian Harris has also re­leased a line of three es­sen­tial oils for the brand Saje, above right, to help set the mood at home. Oth­ers, such as Cal­gary’s Amanda Hamilton, have de­signed aro­mas for more in­ti­mate set­tings such as the Viril­ity Scented Can­dle, above left, whose mas­cu­line, spicy un­der­tones are rem­i­nis­cent of rolling over on a partner’s pil­low.

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