This article was originally published on Christie’s International Real Estate’s blog Luxury Defined.
Thick, heady, and sweet-smelling smoke drifting from burning woods, resins, and spices: the very earliest use of scents were not for the body but for home fragrance. In fact, the word perfume comes from the Latin “per fumum” or “through smoke.” During Ancient Egyptian and Roman times these naturally aromatic materials were burned at altars in temples to enhance worship and as offerings to the gods.
More than two millennia on, and an elite coterie of “super noses”—those perfumers who can command fees of tens of thousands of dollars for their sought-after fine fragrance creations—are also crafting home scents. These fragrances give our interior spaces a sensorial sophistication, and would surely have gained the approval of our Egyptian and Roman forebears.
These home fragrances, created by painter-turned-perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, include modern musks and ambers, sheer wood notes, exotic florals, and warm spices. Image: Paul Millar
Imagination and Aroma
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is a former painter who creates bespoke and ready-to-wear home fragrances according to fine-art principles in her studio in North Boulder, Colorado. Her unique olfactive style has been described as “encyclopedic” by her clients: ranging through modern musks and ambers, sheer wood notes, exotic florals, warm spices, and wellness scents of lavender, chamomile, and geranium. She adds that her personal favorite notes include orris, beeswax, tuberose, oakmoss, and bergamot.
Before so much as reaching for a pipette of essence, Spencer Hurwitz researches the spaces to be fragranced by visiting a client’s home or, if it’s a long-distance commission, works with photographs of the space and swatches of fabric. “Imagination mixed with years of experience with my materials informs all of my designs,” she explains.
Initial consultation to completion of design can take anything from two weeks to six months, depending on how decisive the client is as the process unfolds. “Scent is storytelling,” she says. “It can reinforce our own sense of self. And always, home fragrance adds a sense of comfort and luxury to your surroundings.”
Scents and Sustainability
Also preoccupied with comfort and the finer things in life, but with a natural and sustainable emphasis, is fast-rising bespoke perfumery star Alexandra Soveral. Based in West London, she has a growing stateside customer base.
Soveral’s signature creations for many homes in the United States are clean and fresh with lots of citrus scents, though she notes that some from her considerable client list—among them the movers and shakers of the New York art world, for example—are far more adventurous, preferring woody, earthy scents such as vetiver, cedarwood, and musky notes.
Her bespoke home fragrances not only come in the forms of room sprays, oil for diffusers, and candles, but she’ll also create bespoke cleaning materials and multifunctioning fabric sprays as a means of introducing an ambient level of olfactive artistry.
Her raw materials are always all-natural and she is zealous about sustainability. Conceiving and developing a fragrance can take anything from mere days to several months—not surprisingly, she views home fragrance as a way to foster mental and physical health and happiness. “Home fragrance is much more than a smell. It is linked to our well-being, and can influence our mood.”
This emotional enhancement is a priority for U.K.-based Roja Dove, one of the world’s more rarefied bespoke super noses. Dove’s home fragrances are as sought-after as his prized fine fragrance. Available from his Mayfair atelier, their inspirations include rare ingredients, “destinations you want to escape to,” and the rich exoticism of the Middle East.
Typical of his style is the New York-scented candle, recently launched in Bergdorf Goodman, which conflates dynamic depth-charged woods and sweet, petal-soft florals. Candles and reed diffusers are the scent maestro’s mediums of choice for the home.
“This candle’s scent is my homage to the New York rhythm of life,” Dove says. “Perfume is all about dreaming and nowhere captures the imagination more than the city that never sleeps.”
Dove’s bespoke home fragrance commissions are a detailed process of art and craft, and can take two to three years to come to fruition. “Many of the oils used in the candles are so rare and costly that they are scarcely used in perfumery, let alone candle-making,” he explains. Each candle is handmade in England using traditional artisanal skills. The oil blends, designed by Dove, are stirred by hand into the candle wax to ensure the perfume disperses evenly when the candle is burned.
“The scent of a room and the ambience of a home should be chosen with as much care, as the fragrance on your skin,” he believes. “It’s a very personal statement of owning your surroundings.”
While leading hospitality and retail brands have long used scents in their spaces, Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc. is the first to use a bespoke fragrance—LF68 by Roja Parfums—to market residential properties.
So it is entirely appropriate that Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc., has joined the home fragrance market. LF68, its signature scent, is a delicate dance of champagne rose, lavender leaves, and jungle essence crowned with sparkling citrus, designed to enhance a property’s attractiveness to potential buyers.
“Sophisticated buyers appreciate how staging lets them see the full potential of a property,” says Elena Solovyov, marketing director at Long & Foster. “Done right, it helps them envision their own life in the homes they visit. The presence of evocative scent enhances such an experience, adding an element of surprise and wonder we find in fine art.”
It’s further proof that—as two millennia ago—the way we fragrance our homes today, is as much as, if not more of, a style statement than the way we perfume our bodies.