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The Essentials of Home Fragrance

Updated on October 27, 2014

You know when you are home because it smells like home. Whether we realize it or not, we are influenced by smell in subtle and not so subtle ways. The science of affecting mood and treating illness with essential oils (known as aromatherapy) has been around since the ancient Egyptians where we have found vats of blended oils and resins, used to treat illness, affect mood, and blends of resins and spices necessary for mummification.

When we were children, there were smells in our home or our grandparent’s home or friend’s home that made us feel safe and that came to signify the very meaning of the word “home”. For me, those smells were smells of making marmalade on Sunday morning, of cooking oranges, and smells of baking. Scents of apple pies and cinnamon, and lavender powder in the bedroom, and fruit ripening in the glass bowl in the front room, redolent in the British sunlight.

It is often smells we are unaware of that make us feel safe; things that touch our subconscious. Then there are the smells of certain essential oils – and we’ll be talking about a few select ones in this article – that have been used in myriad ways to heal us both mentally and physically.

Lavender and rosemary purify the air as well as help soothe and restore a sense of calm and well-being. Chamomile soothes children as well as adults and makes a wonderful pillow and room spray. Jasmine eases the discomfort and pain of depression and sorrow, much like rose as well as works as a subtle aphrodisiac.

Then there are candle blends that are extremely evocative and that for me have been a real treat but that are affordable enough to make that treat an every day thing. I got tired of saving everything for later: the good china, the good shoes, the good perfume. I often said that I couldn’t afford those things now, then I realized that in so many ways, I couldn’t afford to not enjoy those things now. Life is brief, however long days may seem when one is sad or depressed or in the midst of crisis. But it seems to me that perhaps that is when we most need to pull out the good things – and for me, that means I now burn higher-end candles (or just candle’s and room sprays that I like). That I can afford twenty or thirty dollars for a candle that burns 100 hours because the end-result is that I feel calmer, more at home in my home, more at peace. I am able to accomplish more because things feel in order and as they should be, not haphazard and like I am just a visitor here. What could be worse than not feeling at home when you are home? And so it follows what could be better than feeling that home is not just home, but a place of luxury, relaxation, safety. A place where you accomplish things as well as rest.

To this end, I’ve put together some brief notes about what smells have worked for me: both as pure essential oils that can be easily obtained to diffuse in a candle diffuser or, as candle blends and room sprays that I personally find to be the best on the market.

A word: don’t go overboard with home fragrance. For a two-bedroom apartment I’ve found that one or two candles is perfect. Don’t mix candle scent and have a diffuser with another scent at the same time. Same is true for reed diffusers: don’t have one of those and a candle as well as the smells will clash. If you do have a reed diffuser, get a candle in a scent that goes with it. So if your diffuser is balsam or fir or pine, try a fireplace or autumn leaves or other woody sort of candle. I like to burn a fireplace/wood-smoke candle during the winter. Fir is another one that works well. In the summer I switch to lilac or lavender or thyme/rosemary. Summer seems better suited to plug-in diffusers and essential oils and winter more to the warmth of candles and woody scents. Always double-check that you have extinguished candles before leaving your house or apartment.


To gently diffuse essential oils you’ll first need a good diffuser. It used to be that diffusers came as oil burners. You would put a few drops of oil into a saucer of water on the top of a ceramic device, a sort of saucer-like area that was heated by a tea-candle. The candle would gently heat the water and oil, thus releasing the scent of the oil and filling the home or area with fragrance.

This method still works but can be a little dangerous. First, most ceramic holders get very hot and should never be used in a home or area where a child or animal could tip it over. The open flame can also be dangerous if not watched and it’s very easy to leave the home and leave the candle burning. After all, diffusers generally burn for hours – and its so easy to forget that you have one burning. The water burns off, the oil burns off, the ceramic saucer gets burned and over-heated and from there – fire.

You’re better off using a plug-in diffuser: these come in many price ranges and various shapes and sizes, from a free-standing unit to wall-units to diffusers that look like thumb drives and can be plugged into your computer’s USB port.

A company called makes some excellent ones, including diffusers that you can take with you wherever you go and that plug in to the USB port of your computer. I really like this idea a lot: it means you can take them with you when traveling so your hotel room smells great, or to work every day. Plug-in diffusers travel easily – allowing anywhere, especially hotel rooms, to smell like home. Initially, I wanted my home to smell like a fabulous home in the French country side. Now I can make anywhere I go smell like Provence.

Diffusers range in price for about twenty dollars for a pretty good one to over a hundred dollars. Mountain Rose has a really great one (aroma-mist ultrasonic diffuser) that is professional and sleek looking and not too expensive and is well-made, priced about $55. I also found some excellent diffusers on Amazon.

Essential Oils to Diffuse For Home, Healing, & Health

Working with single notes is very simple and most oils can be readily found at local shops or online. Start with the basic notes (I've listed some of the most popular notes below). You might also try some common blends. I've found aromatherapy kits online that have "starter oils" - with blends like Relaxation; Concentration; Aphrodesiac; Sleep; etc. You want to be sure that the oils are all 100% pure essential oils. If it doesn't say that, odds are the product is not pure essential oil in which case you don't want it and you certainly don't want to put it in your diffuser because it will become saturated with synthetic oils and with a yukky fake smell. It's easy enough to put a few drops of two of the oils below to create a good blend. Try camomile and lavender, rosemary and lavender, jasmine and rose (though I prefer both of those as single-notes, personally and I think a lot of people who have good noses do). Rose is particularly nice in the home and i like to have jasmine in the bedroom. So take a read and see what you think, then get yourself a diffuser and live better...


Properties: soothing; carminative; headache and migraine; insomnia; nausea; depression; irritability

Essential oil of chamomile and chamomile infusions (especially teas) have been used for centuries to treat the infirm. The same way that chamomile tea calms us down, the properties of the chamomile flower when used in pure essential oil form are used to calm us down, instill a sense of well-being and security, relax and make us sleepy, and helps to cure headache and migraine (and seizures). You’ll often find chamomile in blends with other oils that have similar sedating effects, such as oil of lavender and oil of lemon, both of which are soothing.

You can make your own chamomile spray by buying the real essential oil and putting a few drops in a spray bottle with water. Shake well before use as the oil and water do not naturally mix so the mixture has to be shaken every time. Make a chamomile-lavender spray to mist onto your pillow or your child’s pillow before bedtime. You’ll rest more easily and have a better sleep.

Chamomile candles are generally found in blends with other scents. You can find it easily online or through most candle shops. Try Yankee Camomile Tea candle.


Used to relieve stress, a great antidepressant. Worn by men in India and the Middle-east, Jasmine has long been considered one of the great smells of love, much like it’s counterpart Rose. Men have worn it as a single-note fragrance, distilled from the real jasmine flower. To understand the true worth of essence of jasmine one must first understand the great number of blossoms required to produce even a small (quality) amount of jasmine essence. Take a look at the figures below:

• One pound of jasmine oil = 1,000 pounds of jasmine = 3.6 million unpacked blossoms!

• One pound of pure jasmine oil = therapeutic quality = up to $4,500 per pound!

• One pound of synthetic jasmine oil = perfume quality = $3.50 per pound!

I used to have real jasmine plants in my home that would scent the air, particularly at night (jasmine has been called Queen of the Night and with good reason). The blossoms are headier in the evening and in the dark releasing more of the oil that makes jasmine so fantastic.

You can purchase pure jasmine oil (just make sure it is not the synthetic, you want pure essence of jasmine as the synthetic won’t have any of the medicinal effects of the real oil and might very well give you a headache). Oil can be purchased easily online or, I just go to Whole Foods or a good health food or vitamin shop where you can usually find it at a reasonable price. The candle company Votivo makes excellent candles and carries a Jasmine-Neroli blend.


The word lavender derives from the Roman word lavare - “to wash”. Lavender has long been used as an air-purifier and was sprinkled on floors to help freshen the air and the lavender flowers were and still are used in linen sachets to scent drawers and wardrobes. I often use a few drops of essential oil of lavender when doing laundry to lightly scent sheets and clothes.

The essential oil of lavender is a proven sedative. It has been used for centuries to treat migraine, epilepsy, anxiety, insomnia, headache, nausea, and to soothe and calm infants and children. It works well in concert with essential oil of chamomile and lemon.

Lavender has long been used in perfumery – I like Penhaligon’s “Lavendula” fragrance, which is unisex, made from the real oil and smells like the French countryside and has that great French country smell of bundled fresh lavender stalks drying in the sun.


Properties: antispasmodic, antidepressant, headache, insomnia, nervous tension

Like jasmine, rose oil requires a great number of fresh blooms to create a very small amount. One single drop of Bulgarian rose otto requires approximately thirty full blooms of Damask rose. The damask rose is also grown in Turkey and Morocco and used in essential oils sold under the country name: Turkish rose: Moroccan rose. Each has a distinct and unique smell. The same principal that accounts for different tastes in the wine grape (the soil, the PH of the soil, and even the wind and the rain) will all account for subtle differences in smell. I’ve found that as a general rule, whenever I’ve seen “English Rose” for sale it has been a synthetic oil used and not a natural oil so read the label carefully.

You can purchase rose oil and rose attar almost anywhere where essential oils are sold. It burns well in a free-standing diffuser and requires only a few drops. Some people do mix rose oil with other oils – often lavender or, a good combination is rose and patchouli or rose and sandalwood. Use the diffuser to both scent the house and relieve you of any stress/tension. To my mind, rose is best, however, when used alone without any other notes.

In candles, Yankee Candle makes an excellent rose candle called Fresh Cut Roses, which really does smell like fresh cut roses (this is a hard smell to find. How they make it I do not know – it might be synthetic but in this case it actually smells good and not headachey.) For candles made with 100% pure essential oil check out and aromatherapy candles made by the company Top 6, available online through


Properties: antiseptic; stimulant; headache; carminative; anxiety; colds; hysteria

Rosemary used to be burned and hung in bunches to dry to disinfect and keep the air clean in sick rooms and bedrooms. It cleans and deodorizes the air naturally, leaving a sort of herbal piney scent that is an excellent alternative to chemical-laden antiseptic sprays.

Eco-Candles at Luli Boutique, Providence Rhode Island

Candle selection display: Eco-candles; Soy-based wax candles
Candle selection display: Eco-candles; Soy-based wax candles | Source

Best Scented Candles

You can burn rosemary oil (the pure oil always) in a room diffuser to clean the air and to treat any of the above listed conditions – and it really will work. I like to use an aromatherapy candle. A good one and my personal favorite is made by a company called Candle-Lite. Their proprietary blend is called “Renew” and the candle is a green color. It is a blend of essential oils of rosemary, thyme and peppercorn. As it burns it leaves behind a clear, complex chord that is reassuring and refreshing and smells the way I think home should smell. It has a restorative quality to it, rather like a spa treatment so I think of this candle as a real treat and a good find. You can find Candle-Lite products at CVS drug stores and probably any number of places. I found it at my local CVS with other blends by the same company. Votivo also makes an excellent rosemary-infused candle.


Votivo makes some of the best long-burning candles I’ve ever found. They come in a thick, glass jar that has rounded edges and they seem to be oil-rich. A single candle burned only for fifteen minutes or less scents up a whole room, if not a whole floor of a house. One of my favorites by Votivo is its “Red Currant” blend – which smells fresh and dewy and sort of green with a red currant top-note that is not sweet or cloying at all and brings to mine a fabulous country home with lots of great fabrics and cedarwood beds and side-tables and Manet-like gardens, redolent of hay and raspberries and cassis and fresh-cut grass.

I also really like Votivo’s “Honeysuckle”, and “Teak”. Check out their “Velvet Night”, “Speakeasy”, and my very favorite, “Deep Clover” which smells like a clover-covered, grassy hill, all without being overly green. The strength of this candle company is the high concentrate of oils, their particular blends which may as well be perfume or cologne as you can tell right away they are made by someone with a really highly attuned nose, and the incredible long-burn time.

This company also sells fragrance reeds (also known as “reed diffusers”. Reed diffusers are made up of a bunch of fragrance sticks in a decorative jar that draw up fragrance oil that scents the room. They are a very safe alternative to candles, provided you put them out of the reach of young children and animals who might eat them or knock them over. “Deep Clover” comes as a fragrance reed, as does “Lavender”, “Clean Crisp Linen”, “Smoke On The Water”, and “Tobacco” to name a few. You can find these at select boutiques (try Ricky’s beauty stores: I found it at Ricky’s near West 11th on 6th Avenue in New York City). Try other, select higher-end boutiques. You can also find Votivo products readily online.

Eco Candle Company & Montserrat

The best jasmine-scented candle I found was by Eco Candle Company (of Wisconsin). Their pungent blends come in simple mason jars with screw top lids. The candles are all eco-friendly and made of a soy blend. I found these at Luli Boutique on Hope Street (Providence, Rhode Island).

I found an excellent jasmine candle by this company. All of their candles are set in mason jars with lid (to keep the smell fresh). The jasmine candle has a high-concentrate of jasmine, that when lit fills the room with the heady but gentle aroma of real jasmine flower.

Other blends include Lavender-Lemon, which has a really nice, smooth, somewhat sherbety scent that would be great for bedrooms (just be sure to extinguish the candle) as well as for the side of the bathtub for a real treat. “Spa Day” is also very good and smells fresh and herbal like a spa should smells, leaving you feeling refreshed, clean, and slightly more virtuous.

Check out the full range at Luli or find online, though I prefer to smell the blends first and Luli has an excellent range. Eco-Candle also makes a nice soothing lavender-lemon blend that has a nice fresh but sherbet smell that would help almost anyone relax (available at Luli Boutique). You can also diffuse lavender oil (either alone or blended with another oil) in a simple diffuser, or there are excellent room sprays available.

While your there you might also check out the range of 100% pure essential oil blend candles made by Montserrat. These all-natural candles come in healing blends as well as formula’s traditionally used to bring luck, good fortune, good dreams, and arouse states of peace and tranquility. Some blends include; “Peace on Earth”; “Good Fortune”; “Prayer Wheel”; and“Mystic Rose”. Each candle is hand-made and comes with explanatory label and good-luck bauble.


As with everything made by Penhaligon’s, their candles are nothing short of exceptional. All are made with real essential oils and are long-burning. My favorite among the Penhaligon’s scents is their “Blenheim Bouquet”, which comes as a cologne (unisex but made for men) and as a candle. A good way to try out the cologne is to purchase the candle first: this way you’re not wearing the fragrance but you get to sit with it for a while, though keep in mind that a fragrance burned as a candle and one worn on the skin are likely to smell slightly different. Fragrance also changes on the skin and so varies from person-to-person. If I could, I would have Blenheim scented everything, frankly – in candle, on my skin, on my sheets.

Blenheim derives its name from the Blenheim Palace, a large, fabulous country estate in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England and one of the oldest non-episcopal palaces in Britain. The cologne was developed in 1902 by Walter Penhaligons.

For a lovely home fragrance I also really like “Samarkand” which reminds me of winter nights in New York City and days in the countryside near the ocean on cold days. It has a warm, rich smell – something you would expect to find at a five-star hotel where the brass is polished daily and the patrons still know how to dress. This is the smell of a special night out, maybe even black-tie. I like to burn it every day.

Also check out “Quercas” which also comes as a spicy, rather opulent cologne that smells like a fabulous spice cabinet with a dry top-note. Other candles include “Malabah” and “Elixir”. Penhaligon’s products are sometimes available through other retailers (if they are not, you might suggest to your retailer that they carry this product). Saks Fifth Avenue often has Penhaligons as does Newton, Massachusetts’s very excellent store, Colonial Drug.

Yankee Candle Company

I’ve always counted on Yankee Candle Company for good scents. There are many candle-makers but few are as concentrate and offer the offered by this company.

I am a big fan of winter smells, so I like Balsam Fir, Snow is Glistening”, and anything that smells like a real fire (check out “Dream By The Fire”). Burning a fireplace scent makes you feel like you have a fireplace even if you don’t, or it does for me. I burn this in the wintertime and feel almost instantly calmer, warmer, more connected with my neighbors who have those wonderfully fragrant woodfires burning that send light plumes of smoke to the grey winter sky. Perfect on a snowy or cold day. Check out “Autumn Leaves” as well. The company Website has over 49 pages of candles listed, ranging in price from $17 to approximately $28. I’ve found that most Yankee scents are true to their name. So, if it says it smells like a fireplace odds are it does. If it is called “Autumn Leaves” it smells just like Autumn. Same for Lilac, Lavender, etc etc. I’m not sure whether or not Yankee uses all natural scents. I sort of doubt that they do. That said, their candles never smell headachey or fake. They are well-crafted and generally not overly sweet, but you can generally tell by the name in this case. Some to check out in the Winter season: “Autumn Lodge”; “Balsam & Cedar”; “Camp Fire”.

Votivo candle (classic).
Votivo candle (classic). | Source

Some Other Notable Products

Claire Burke

I really like the smell of good pot-pourri – the way it used to smell which was of dried rose leaf and wood smells and slightly spicy. My favorite in this genre is Claire Burke Original. Unlike a lot of fragrances (for home or body or candle) that have changed their formula, Claire Burke has remained remarkably steadfast. The original smells like it always did – which is a good thing because the original was and still is great. You can find Claire Burke on Amazon (which has a great many candle types, essential oils, diffusers etc) or you can find it on the Claire Burke Web site, or, you might find it at a local retailer. I’ve noticed that coastal towns often carry this product. Check out the candles by this company as well. They have the same great scent blends and all have a wonderful lasting quality. I tried to find out what oils and herbs are used to create this wonderful fragrance but had no luck. To guard it, they must keep the formula secure. It is a complex scent and I had trouble even determining the top note. Suffice to say it is slightly spicy (but not too), slightly incensey, and with a very dry rose note. It is never cloying.


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