Scents as self-expression - scenting your living room

The living room or salon is the home's most expressive space, identifying who we are and providing comfort and relaxation for ourselves and the people we bring into our home.

Scent can be incorporated as part of a well designed living room to add the final touch to the story of the people who live there.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Interieur 1915-1

A well designed and thought out space enhances the experience you will have in it. People are more likely to enjoy a space where they feel comfortable, secure and valued and that balances their need for sociability and privacy, novelty and familiarity.

A living room that manages to provide deep feelings of identification and comfort is more meaningful than looking magazine perfect.

Providing information about the people who use a particular space is the most crucial aspect of a well designed area. Information about ourselves and others creates a context for social interaction and spurs people to figure out what is happening around them.

Scents of home

The fragrance of our home fosters an intimacy with place, giving us a sense of our place in the cosmos or equally an aroma can make a strange place feel like home.

Just as the decor of a living room can reflect the personality and history of a person, scent holds personal associations. The meaning of aromas is learnt by association. A smell is experienced in a particular context: either social, emotional, semantic or physical. Of all our senses, our sense of smell is the one that has the strongest emotional link. The meaning and emotional associations of the context becomes linked to a particular scent which is subsequently interpreted in relation to our very first experience of it.

Cassatt Mary Tea 1879-1880
A woman reading under a punkah, 1863 - BL WD 2904

Scents of self-expression and comfort

A well decorated and appointed living room or salon makes people more relaxed and in a good mood.

The living room is a social space; part of our sophisticated living, where we usually entertain guests or a space where we go to relax and indulge in our favourite past times.

Harold Harvey The red silk shawl 1932

A living room often holds treasured objects from our past; expressing who we are, where we come from and what we care about. In this room, how we see ourselves embodied in what is around us holds much significance.

Decorative pieces that we have collected and displayed reflect our life story, are icons of our identity or a way of recreating past place experiences we cherish or that have given us comfort.

Our choice of furniture, artworks, fabrics or flooring communicates our personal brand in this room. Adding scent to the narrative amplifies the sensory portrait of this room and its reflection of ourselves.

When you're thinking about what aromas you want to use in your living room to be a congruent reflection of who you are; focus on your room's decor, aesthetics, colour and design choices, personal scent preferences or memorable experiences relating to people or travel, for example, that you may wish to feel again.

Suggestions for synchronising design and scent can be found on our Scent Styling page.

Gotthardt Kuehl Das blaue Zimmer

Scents for your living room or salon

Concentrating on the feeling of comfort that is important in a living room for the people who use it or bring their guests to; I have included an example here that you can vaporise in your living room to augment this particular ambience.

Paul Hoecker-Frühlingsabend

5 parts pomelo, bergamot, 4 parts geranium, 3 parts Virginia cedarwood, Somalian frankincense, Australian sandalwood, 2 parts opoponax, vanilla (oleoresin) essential oils.

A balsamic aroma is a vanilla-like scent that has sweet, warm and smooth characteristics. They often act as base notes and add a soothing opulence and depth to a fragrance. There is often a resinous subsidiary note with these types of scents.

Vanilla has cozy, comforting intimations for many of us as it is an odour association with breast milk which contains extracts similar in smell and taste.

At Rockefeller University in the US, an experiment looking at over 60 odours showed that ethyl vanillin and vanillin (aromatic compounds found in vanilla) were among those that were the most liked. These results were consistent across different age groups, races and gender.

2014-05-13 08 32 55 Eastern Red Cedar at South Riding Golf Club in South Riding, Virginia
Vanilla 6beans
Balsamum peruvianum1

In Warren and Warrenburg's 1993 Mood Profiling Concept study, the scent of vanilla bean increased feelings of relaxation and happiness, with smaller increments in sensuality.

The combination of vanilla with opoponax (balsamic, resinous) and sandalwood generates a warm, comforting base, enhanced by the calming, resinous aroma of frankincense.

The smell of baby powder is another scent that evokes feelings of safety and security; which is suggested in the powderiness of the geranium and Virginia cedarwood pairing.

Scentcillo Starlet essential oil blend contains vanilla in its base notes.

General styling points for a relaxing, comforting living room:

Minimise sharp edges, hard finishes or angular furniture.

Organic shapes introduce softness as do curved, symmetrical or harmonious forms. Windows can be softened with the addition of curtains.

Choose soft whites, natural browns, dark green or blue colours.

Darker wall coverings make a room appear slightly smaller which encourages social interaction.

Lower levels of illumination are preferred.

Movable furniture allows different distances between people, to either bring people together or create privacy spaces which makes a room more comfortable.

Further reading

  • How to style a living room. Home Life.
  • Circle Crush. Life InStyle blog. Round shapes in interior design.
  • 50 top items in home decor. Style Curator.
  • What makes books smell so good?. LifeHack. The breakdown of cellulose and lignin in paper over time creates chemical compounds, one of which is vanillin, which contribute to the odour of old books.
  • Research paper: Smelling Shapes: Cross Modal Correspondences between Odours and Shapes. A vanilla odour is significantly associated with a rounded shape.