Smells like Home



It’s the kind of weather I wait all year for – chilly nights, crisp sunny days. This past weekend was the summer-to-winter clothes rotation, since I don’t have enough space in my wee bedroom for both. Into the box go the sundresses, linen skirts, tees; out come the wool sweaters, flannel pajamas, heavy denim. I love winter clothes. Our summers are hot and humid and, really, for me it’s about being reasonably presentable while avoiding sunburn and heatstroke. Winter ushers in my favorite boots, my loveliest scarves, my heaviest perfumes.

Right this second the kitchen smells like baked potatoes and cinnamon rolls (don’t judge.) I’m curled up in bed on my freshly laundered flannel sheets with my laptop, reeking of Teo Cabanel’s divine Alahine, with background notes of warm radiator (mine), damp dog (also mine), and black tea. Honestly, it couldn’t get any better.

Do you wander into other peoples’ houses and marvel at the smells? I know I do. I love to breathe in, try to guess the source. Sometimes it’s mostly food; food smells like love to me. Some houses smell like dusty books, or church sanctuaries, and those are delights. Even scents that by most measures are not “delightful” will register as pleasant if they’re associated with a person or event you’re fond of – the smell of horses, or dogs, or compost. I follow my nose, selfishly taking in all of these experiences. The musty-incense smell of the antique store. The wet-wool fug of the dog groomer’s. The hay in the pumpkin patch.  The hot attic, the cold basement, the gasoline in our wood garage. The exotic smell of other cities. The comforting smell of your own.   How bereft I would be if I were to wake up one day having lost my sense of smell.

Someday I’m going to own one of those Fornasetti candles. I’ve been coveting them for years, just for the scent (I’m talking about the “original” Otto scent), although the containers are lovely as well, but no way am I going to spend $175 on a candle. Or, actually, huh, it comes in a room spray, which is $135 and … that I’d consider buying. I dug around and found the notes: top: thyme, lavender; middle: orris, cedarwood; base: tolu balsam, incense, birch, labdanum.  Man, no wonder I love that thing. It’s somewhere between a church and a forest, with a hint of cozy library.  (Edited to add: TT points out in comments that the room spray refill can be gotten from Nordstrom for $75, which is basically “Free” in perfume terms! Thanks TT!)

Is there a place you love to go, just to breathe in the scent?  What smells like “home” to you?

  • PJ says:

    My cats’ heads smell like……….no idea. But it is a comforting, precious smell to me. Doesn’t hurt that there’s an auditory component. The purr. Okay. That’s just weird, isn’t it?

  • Amateur Dilettante says:

    A couple years ago now we put a new engineered wood floor in the main area of the house. It definitely has a smell to it. At first I didnt like it, but now when I get back from being away for more than a day, I can smell it, and now it just smells like my home.
    I also like the smell of the burnt dust when the forced air heat is turned on for the first time, it smells like winter is coming.

  • Kismet says:

    I love the way my 90-year old house smells–basically clean, but “old” somehow, with dust, woodsmoke from the fireplace, and (yes) a top note of mildew from the basement. It’s so comforting when I walk in the door after a trip; it means I’m home.

  • Christine says:

    That candle sounds right up my alley. Probably for the best if I never smell it.

    I miss the smell of hot radiator. The house I grew up in had them, but all the houses I’ve lived in as an adult use natural gas. Fall leaves and wood smoke are favorite “home” smells (also from childhood – so excited to finally move to a house with a fireplace! and just in time). In the summer a combination of tomato leaves and chlorine brings me right back to childhood and eating greenbeans fresh off the plant.

  • HeidiC says:

    The smell of the pine woods behind the house I grew up in, with some mud and leaf mulch. CB’s Black March is actually a dead ringer for it! I keep a vial around — not to wear, but to sniff when I’m feeling homesick.

  • Olivia says:

    The smell of dust. Not dust bunnies, but prairie dust sticking to my skin after playing outside all day. It’s earthy and wild without the inky, decaying wetness of soil. Just waiting for someone to bottle it up, probably as a “mandle” with, of course, a cowboy theme. Also, fresh sawdust seemed to be around a lot during my childhood. Love this post and all the comments!

  • Eldarwen22 says:

    Candles are a necessity here in rural areas, along with generators. I have a fair bit of candles at home. So far, our power outages last from a couple hours to about 4 hours. I still have a lot of the Bath and Body Works Lilac Blossom. I still have to make a run for the Farmstead Apple, which I am love on. I’m a little on the cheap side when it comes to scents for the home. Spend more than $25 on a candle? Not happening, I’m spending that $125 on perfume instead. The Amouage candles are almost $200 on Amazon!

  • Sarah says:

    Coffee. Growing up I thought every family made coffee all day long – waking up to it, at lunch, when friends arrived, after school, before dinner, with dinner, before bed. I wonder how my parents ever slept.

    • March says:

      That was my dad. He grew up on a farm. Whenever I went over there, he either brewed a fresh pot or was working on an evil brew that had been sitting there on the burner for hours. Of course, I love coffee, and I love the smell.

  • Ellen M says:

    No refills at Nordstrom for Otto and not at Aedes either. Perhaps Nordstrom will restock. I’m not near one where I live, so I will hope that they will get back to me. Coming back after Hurricane Matthew, I was struck with how much the scent of home changes when its occupants are not there. I had never particularly noticed it before.

    • March says:

      It does change when you’re not there, doesn’t it? On the other hand, it often smells so familiar if you get back from a trip.

  • Musette says:

    LOL! I was just thinking about this – but in the reverse! I was out of town, came back. House smelled like smell dog girl-parts :-p xoxoxoA

  • AnnJune says:

    Hi March! Favorite smells are my nana’s unheated back kitchen in the ell of their antique cape (cold air and old wood damp from the crawl space underneath, probably with more than a touch of mildew), a local restaurant/antique inn with smells of old wood paneling, wood smoke and the thousands of delicious meals prepared there over many years, and also the smell of my sons’ empty bedrooms that are currently closed up to conserve heat (they are away in the military and college) when I first open the door to them and step in.

    I’m currently fighting the urge to spring for a Solis Rex candle from Cire Trudon – really not in my meager budget, but you can’t put a price tag on the joy these little things provide, as we all know ; )

    • March says:

      I feel like my kitchen is similar to your nana’s — a hundred year old cape, no heat in the kitchen, no insulation 🙂 but a fantastic stove and oven. And I so hear you on your sons’ rooms.

  • Ann says:

    Hello, sweetie — great post! I’ve not sniffed that Fornasetti but you all make it sound divine. Wanna bet there’ll be a run on it at Nordstrom? 😉 I can’t sniff much lately, especially in the a.m. as my nose seems to stuff up a bit in chilly weather (can you be allergic to cold air?). But I do love wandering into our formal dining room, which is my perfume central. The combined efforts of hundreds of samples and decants makes for a delightful whiff. But not for long, if DH has anything to do with it. He’s off this week and on a major cleaning jag, and he keeps giving the dining room long, meaningful looks, which means I’ll soon have to start thinning the herd. Sigh …

  • Tora says:

    I felt I had to chime in when you mentioned the candle that smells like: ” It’s somewhere between a church and a forest, with a hint of cozy library.” My favorite (and affordable candle) is made by LAFCO and it is called either Feu de Bois or Ski House. It does smell like a forest, and a campfire and a bit of church insense, too. I get the small travel tins of Feu de Bois on line, which are very affordable and the lid has an integrated holder for its own box of matches. The larger big tub of Ski House is about $55, found at Blue Mercury, and is great for wedding gifts.

    I just checked online and I cannot seem to find the small blue tins of this candle. Sorry, they must have discontinued them. The larger size still has that wonderful smell!!

  • Portia says:

    Hey March,
    There was a particular smell in the house I grew up in. It smelled like fresh air, clean dog and chlorinated salt water. Mum would open all the doors and windows, even in winter, while we were at school and the smell of the pool would wander in. Once we got home in our younger years the addition of coffee smells and sometimes even biscuits or cake baking would round the smell list out.
    Add Mum’s Shalimar, No 5 or whatever extra she had at the time and that was home.
    Portia xx

    • March says:

      I got a little shiver when I read this. I know exactly what you’re talking about! Also, it made me think of the smell of my kids when they’re back from the pool, that faint chlorine on skin. Also: I have friends with a saltwater pool right outside their house. We’re nowhere near the sea, and/but it always smells faintly “marine” out there, and it is fantastic. XO

  • TT says:

    You can also get the Fornasetti spray refills for $75 at Nordstrom, if you don’t want to spring for the lovely ceramic holder. The spray is great, super luxurious (not a word I use lightly) as well as long-lasting.

    • March says:

      NO…..WAY. No way! You have changed my life, lol. I’m going to check their website/call/swing by. Nope, don’t give a hill of beans about the holder. It’s nice to know the scent is worth it! Thank you!

  • Tara C says:

    I love the last part about that Fornasetti room spray smell, forest/church/cozy library. Those are my favorites too! I have a dog with respiratory issues so I can’t burn candles or use room spray, but honestly the smell of her fur is so wonderful I don’t miss them. And of course I have my perfumes. Anosmia would be a catastrophe for me too. Fall/winter are the best months for me because I am an oriental scent girl, plus I love sweaters and boots. Oh, and baked potatoes and cinnamon rolls sound fab! My mom makes delicious cinnamon rolls. 🙂

    • March says:

      Hey there! Yep, oriental scents, here we cooooome!! And I love the way my dogs smell. They have particular smells, just like people.

  • bevfred says:

    What a lovely post. I too covet the Fornasetti candles, in part because I like Fornasetti.. But I think I’ll try the Tocca…sounds nummy. I don’t enjoy winter but scent helps. Yesterday, I cracked out the Orris Noir by Ormonde Jayne.

    • March says:

      This is the PERFECT weather for that OJ, or all OJs for that matter… it’s like the clothing rotation. Away go my lightweight summer scents, and out come the heavy, wool-sweater equivalents.

  • LaDona says:

    I go to my besties house, and since she is sensitive to fragrance, and though it pains me, I don’t wear perfume there, she’s a marvelous cook and her house makes up for it. Food with a smudge of dog thrown in…but my house, oh boy! I keep my bottles and samples of perfume in my room, so when I walk by my dresser, I catch little whiffs and wafts of scent. It’s divine. And when I’m really feeling in need of a scent cuddle, I light a Tocca Morocco candle. It fills our little apartment with tobacco and leather and makes it feel cozy and library-ish all at the same time. At about 40 bucks a pop, I thought those were spendy, I’m kinda glad I’ve never smelled that Fornasetti….or am I?

    • March says:

      That Tocca Morocco sounds delightful! I mostly don’t “do” candles, as I’m not careful enough, lol, but I place them on our radiators, unlit… it’s why I like room spray. Or those little lamp rings you put oil in, although now I’ve mostly moved to LEDs so that doesn’t work any more! And yes, the “perfume corner” of my bedroom is always a treat to stand near as well.

  • Jeanne says:

    There is a smell, to me, of dotted Swiss material. The material from which my mother made my Easter dress. Wonderful memories!

    • March says:

      Oh, goodness, I can practically smell it too. I know exactly what you’re talking about.

    • Olivia says:

      Sounds like my childhood trips to the fabric store with my mother, an avid seamstress. The smell of factory-fresh cotton fabric bales. I didn’t think of it until seeing your post!