Now you know: How to layer scent in your space for the most memorable experiences

Self-taught fragrance formulator Melissa Della Porta on making a signature scent in your home.

Self-taught fragrance formulator Melissa Della Porta on making a signature scent in your home

(Illustration: Katya Roxas)

When you want to create a special experience at home — whether for an evening alone on a cold night or lunch with friends — most of us know what to do. For the former, you set your phone to "do not disturb," pile more blankets on the couch than you need, and pull your drinks and snacks close. For the latter, it's about planning the menu and maybe decor. But how many of us add scents to the scene we're dreaming up? 

If you've walked into a luxurious spa, a coffee shop or the home of someone cooking something delicious, you know aroma is one of the first things to greet you and cue you to what's to come. Scents can work to situate, awaken and entice us — which is why they're worth considering when setting a mood. Plus, given their ability to evoke emotional memories, scents have the potential to leave the most lasting impression of all.

"Scent is a powerful sense, and there are so many layers to fragrances," said Melissa Della Porta, founder and CEO of the apothecary Poetry of the Gods. "Fragrance notes are abundant, yet it only takes one to strike a chord and evoke positive memories within."

As you might expect, the self-taught scent formulator and chandler (candlemaker) usually reaches for candles to scent her space — either to suit her mood or to inspire. "If I'm short on time, I may choose to use a room spray for an immediate burst of fragrance," she said. 

Scented candles, room sprays and perfumed papers are easy to find — maybe you even have a decent stash at home. But if you're not quite sure how to use them to create an experience, you will be after reading this. 

We asked Della Porta to tell us the simple trick to successfully scenting a space. To start, one should simply "choose a fragrance that you love and that makes you feel good," she said, then "decide on the method." She listed candles, incense, diffusers and even fresh flowers among the options. Next, to create a custom fragrance experience (and maybe even a signature scent for your space), add a second scent. One way to do this is to burn two different scented candles at once, though not side by side lest they compete. "Choose scents that will complement each other," she said, suggesting we start with a scent from our favourite subfamily on the fragrance wheel (a chart that groups scents based on their similarities and contrasts to one another) and then choose a scent from a subfamily on either side, since they'll likely go well together. "Another method is to choose opposites on the fragrance wheel," she added. "For example, mossy wood and soft floral would pair nicely. The combined fragrance will create a proprietary scent that will wow your guests the moment they enter the room."

Source: Poetry of the Gods Instagram

If fragrance descriptions confuse rather than clarify when you're browsing, Della Porta put it this way: top notes (which are often lighter, like herbal and citrus scents) attract us before receding and make way for the more foundational middle notes. "Middle notes keep our attention and slowly fade to reveal more robust base notes, [which] are primarily made up of complex, deep and calming notes that make a lasting impression," she said, adding that it's the middle and base fragrances that we should focus on when choosing a perfumed product. 

Before setting off to create an olfactory experience, remember that there are times when perfumed air is not ideal: if a guest is sensitive to fragrances and when serving food. Also, one can overdo it, according to Della Porta, who always avoids mixing more than two scents. "Too many scents in a room can be overwhelming," she said. "For larger rooms, you may want to choose to burn two candles at either end or invest in a large three-wick candle, which will emit more fragrance than a single-wick candle." 

And while we're starting with our own mood and vision in mind, Della Porta reminds us, "Fragrance is deeply personal, and what may smell good to you may be off-putting to others. Always consider this when having guests over, and choose fragrances that suit the mood of the activity or space. You want them to remember it once they leave — in a good way."

Yasmin Seneviratne is a producer at CBC Life and the creator of Le Sauce Magazine.

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