I live in a house that's almost 100 years old; with me are two male cats (and their three litter boxes — yes, they have more "bathrooms" than I do) and my partner (who cooks all the time — seafood, Indian, Thai, Burmese, Mexican, Middle Eastern and Italian food — pungent stuff!) Apart from doing a "country-house-style" cleaning a few times a year (scrubbing walls, floors, ceilings and everything in between) I rely on scented products to make my environment smell a little better than it would if I simply relied on open windows and elbow grease. I'm a big user/addict of, pardon the cuteness, candles (fire), diffusers (twigs) and incense (smoke).
Like all scented products, home fragrance prices have skyrocketed; this post will concentrate on "affordable" (or at least reasonably priced) items. Please chime in with your own favorites in all categories. The comments from my recent soap post provided sensational ideas for soap fiends; I hope this article will generate the same response for home fragrances fanatics.
L'Artisan Parfumeur Île Bourbon candle
(vanilla); 175g; $70; 45 hr burn time
This is the most expensive item on my list; and, unfortunately, these days, $70 for an "up-market" candle is almost bargain pricing. I'm a vanilla guy in the sense I love vanilla-flavored foods and vanilla-scented home fragrance items. Île Bourbon presents a natural-smelling vanilla bean aroma that's not too sweet. As one layers perfume, you can layer home fragrances. If you can be extravagant, layer Île Bourbon with L'Artisan's beautiful Amber candle (this is a great combo for winter — powerful enough to banish cooking AND animal, two-legged and four-legged, odors from your home).
Kaufmann Mercantile Beeswax Tealight Candles
six for $12; each tealight lasts for approximately 5 hours; at Kaufmann Mercantile
Let's now turn to the least expensive item (almost free at $12!): beeswax tealights. These lights smell of...beeswax (that earthy honey-tinged scent). Beeswax is one of the very few home fragrance aromas I use at dinner parties; the natural beeswax scent doesn't interfere with the taste of food (for me, anyway). Kaufmann even sells beeswax birthday cake candles (see below), 12 for $5, if you want to recreate a Colonial America celebration. Kaufmann sells a large variety of beeswax candles: pillars, votives, tapers.
Compagnie de Provence Summer Grapefruit Fragrance Diffuser
(fresh citrus notes, spearmint, geranium, thyme, orange blossom); 100 ml; $26; 8-10 weeks
Diffusers are the workhorses of home fragrance. The average six-ounce candle burns for about 45 hours. A 100 ml diffuser scent should last at least eight weeks; that's 1,344 hours of constant scent (without the threat of burning down your house or singeing pet whiskers). If you find a diffuser scent that you like and that works as it should you've saved lots of money. Compagnie de Provence makes great diffusers...they really diffuse scent, and the scents smell good, not artificial. Summer Grapefruit has a perky aroma: a fruity-floral that's not too sweet (or feminine).
Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Lemon Verbena Room Freshener
8 oz; $5; at Mrs. Meyer's
Let's say I'm sitting around the house and someone unexpectedly knocks at the door. Let's say I had a fried-egg sandwich earlier with my morning coffee and "forgot" to clean the skillet or toss the coffee grounds. What I need is an air refresher (that does not smell like perfume) to 'clean' the air FAST. I keep Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Lemon Verbena room spray next to my front door. Its light aroma smells of herbal verbena with tinges of cool iris and tomato leaf; it's a sheer but lasting air freshener.
Nippon Kodo Mainichi-Koh Kyara (Aloeswood) Deluxe
300 sticks; $20; 30 min burn per stick
Because of the aforementioned felines in my home (and their little lungs) I don't burn much incense in my house (funny how I don't care about my own lungs and particulate matter!) In summer, I light incense on my front porch or back deck and let the scent drift inside. My go-to incense (though I have almost 50 varieties at this writing) is Nippon Kodo aloeswood incense, a soft/powdery, sweet aloeswood perfume that I'd buy in a split second if it were available in liquid perfume form.
Voluspa Warm Perique Tabac candle
(perique tabac, antique leather, "worn wooden floors"); various sizes/burn times: $12-$29, 50-120 hours
Voluspa is one of the few candle makers that realize the importance of DOUBLE WICKS — to make sure the entire surface of its candles liquefy with each burn (see "Notes" below). When you buy a Voluspa candle you'll get your money's worth: no waste. At present, Voluspa favors candles with a gourmand element (in almost all blends, even florals). I chose Warm Perique Tabac (inspired by perique tobacco) because, though I've never smoked, I love tobacco/warm-pipe/cigar aromas. This blend is strong but sweet, with a dark, vanilla bean background.
Thompson Ferrier Bulgarian Rose candle
(rose, cassis, vanilla orchid, lilac, strawberry seed, honey), 13.2 oz; $68; 85 hr burn time
I feel guilty writing about a candle scent that's JUST been discontinued (WHY? It smells wonderful!) But you can still find this online (on sale!) if you search long enough (I found mine for $35). To put it simply, this candle smells like Diptyque's L'Ombre dans l'Eau perfume, a fruity rose blend. The candle is beautiful and burns evenly and cleanly. Thanks to Bulgarian Rose, I plan on exploring other scents by Thompson Ferrier.
Notes on Candles and Diffusers
In order to utilize every drop of scented wax and diffuser oil, follow these tips:
When you burn your candle, make sure the entire top of the candle turns to liquid. If you are the type who lights your candles, lets them burn a few minutes to release fragrance, then blows them out: you will get an "ugly" (and wasteful) burn. An ugly burn is when your candle forms a "core"...with lots of wasted wax build-up along the sides of the glass — your wick will burn away before the precious, scented wax does. Quite a few expensive brands have this "core" tendency due to the wax blends used, even if you allow the candle to burn for hours (I'm looking at YOU, Diptyque). If you notice that the candle wax liquefies unevenly, reposition the wick to the center after allowing the candle to burn at least 30 minutes.
Trim the wick to 1/4 inch before each burn (this makes the candle burn at a slower rate and cuts down on candle smoke and flickering flames).
Finally, keep your candles away from drafts; a strong draft will affect the liquefying pattern of the wax.
Diffusers come with "reeds"; I've found that using half the reeds for the first half of the diffuser's life and the reserved reeds for the final half will aid in the diffusion of the perfume; in other words, if your diffuser will last six weeks and comes with eight reeds, use four reeds for three weeks, then use the remaining four (fresh) reeds for the final three weeks. Reverse the reeds in the container once a week (meaning: plunge the dry ends of the reeds into the oil and let the wet ends "air out" atop the container).
Often, you pay lots more for fancy diffuser containers than for the oils in them; I buy brands that sell fragrant oil refills so I never have to buy a duplicate (and expen$ive) container every time I want a particular diffuser scent.
Now: please share your own recommendations!