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What’s that smell?

A desperate housewife in a damp rental flat, Annie Deakin discovers that room fragrance is not to be sniffed at

If you've ever been caught in a lift with someone using cheap perfume, you will understand how a room's smell instantly infiltrates your senses. I’m discovering fast that smell is grossly overlooked in a home; overcome by a strong odour, it is hard to think about anything else. "Scent is a powerful and evocative thing - it can activate instant emotions and trigger long-forgotten memories," says Chrissie Rucker, founder of The White Company.

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Since moving into a new (temporary) abode, I've become somewhat obsessed with how different interiors smell. While my house is being renovated, I am renting the cheapest and nearest flat I could find; a dark basement riddled with damp. Each time I open the front door, I’m confronted by a whiff of soggy mould so pungent it quickly clouds my mood. For a short period, it's viable to look beyond the peeling bathroom ceiling and the black plastic leather sofa but the unpleasant odour overrides all other senses. As vital as lighting, colour and music, the smell of a room conjures up ambience.

I am not alone in this novel fixation for home fragrances. Market researchers are reporting a surge in sales. As people stay home more, install improved insulation (that locks in smells) and look for cheap fixes, home fragrance is a soaring trend. 

Forget plug-ins or that can of Glade in the downstairs loo; think subtle and sophisticated methods of home fragrance from reed diffusers to linen sprays and fragrance-combining candles. Expert "noses" insist that we should spend as much time choosing a room fragrance as a personal scent.

"A house filled with familiar and comforting aromas will make us feel instantly at home," says Rucker, who recently launched a premium range White Scents - White Fig, White Narcissus and White Lavender.

The most popular home scents all year-round are lavender, vanilla and rose. During spring and summer, floral fragrances (which are sometimes referred to as the scent equal of white noise) fly off the shelves. When winter comes, homes are filled with wafts of cinnamon, cloves and grated fruit peel.

"A beautiful scented candle can lift the spirits and totally change the atmosphere of a room - it can even change one’s behavior," explains Christina Scutt, founder of lifestyle brand Cabbages & Roses. "Like wearing an apron makes you work harder, a scented candle makes you behave in a more grown-up and refined way."

There is a science behind mastering the art of home fragrance. Just as we're taught to layer different scents on the body (soap, talcum powder, moisturizer, perfume), we should layer room fragrances to create a stronger and longer lasting scent. Using different forms of the same scent will deepen the room’s ambience. Reed diffusers and pot pourri offer a subtle scent all day long, which can be intensified with a room spray or scented candle before guests arrive - or in my case, the minute I return home.

"Scent diffusers have become a big trend recently." Rucker says, "They are practical as they allow you to adjust the levels of scent simply by removing or adding reed sticks. It really is very easy and it allows you to continually retain the scent in a room - perfect for busy lifestyles."

My damp flat smells considerably sweeter since I installed a scent diffuser (in a chic heavyweight glass vase) from The White Company; uncorked and twigs in place, the fragrance should last for three months.

Pot pourri is a revised word in my vocabulary. No need to think of granny’s dusty bowls, the pot pourri of the modern world is fresh and revitalising. The White Company's "Seychelles" pot pourri is a selection of scented shells, cone and a star fish.

Jo Malone, Queen of Scent, advises covering an oasis with fresh basil leaves, spraying it with water and placing it in a white bowl. For zesty wafts, place fresh herbs, like thyme and sage, in bowls of water around the room. Lavender on church floor creates a wonderful smell as you walk in to wedding services - one that can be recreated at home by crushing herbs such as lavender, rosemary, sage or verbena. Best of all - and very Kirstie Allsopp (who likes the smell of cedar wood) - we can make our own pot pourri by drying honeysuckle, peony and jasmine petals. To boost the smell, spray them with water.

Scent is a strong memory trigger and an affordable way to impact the ambience at home. In days when we can’t financially justify too many luxuries, a scented candle provides one with enough indulgent guilt without breaking the bank.

Annie Deakin is Editor of mydeco.com