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Pass the (home) smell test

Fragrance market took off in the late '90s and offers ever-more sophisticated scents
Candles, of course, are a traditional mainstay.

When the lazy days of summer give way to hectic fall schedules, there is nothing like dashing in from the cold and being enveloped by a home filled with delicious smells.

These days, there are endless ways to add a special scent to your home. Home fragrance products have exploded into a $5-billion industry, with candles, diffusers, room sprays and oils offered everyplace from drug stores to high-end retailers. There are many use-what-you-have, do-it-yourself options as well.

The idea is to create an inviting, comforting and calming environment, whether you're having 20 people for a sit-down dinner or simply hanging out on the couch for the evening.

"This is a time when people are spending more time at home, and they want that cosy, holiday, warm feeling, and maybe you want that even when you're not entertaining - you want it on a Tuesday night when you're watching TV," said Jessica Romm, lifestyles editor at Martha Stewart Living. "Fragrance is a really nice way to do that."

Once comprised mostly of candles and potpourri, the home fragrance market took off in the mid-to late 1990s, and retail sales in the United States hit a high of $5.3 billion US in 2011, according to Karen Doskow, industry manager for consumer products at Kline and Co., a market research company in Parsippany, New Jersey. Sales last year were up four per cent over 2010, she said.

Today's offerings include candles, room sprays, reed and plugin diffusers, wax melts, essential oils, and old standards like drawer liners and sachets. Many products now offer a more sophisticated scent and they're more decorative as well, Doskow said.

Just as there are scores of scents to choose from (Yankee Candle has about 200 candle fragrances), the prices vary greatly.

"It can range from a Renuzit adjustable [air freshener] for 99 cents up to a Jo Malone scented candle that's in excess of $100," Doskow said.

In fact, Jo Malone's luxury candle offers 230 hours of burn time and sells for $425, while a large Yankee Candle that offers up to 150 hours of scent costs $27.99.

Crabtree & Evelyn has scented sprays for $19, while French perfumer Frédéric Malle's "perfume gun" spray sells for $145.

Whatever your budget, try to capture the natural smells of the season in a simple and minimal way, Romm says. She mentions masculine scents like wood and leather, and the smells of seasonal fruits and vegetables, such as pumpkin, apple, pear and squash.

"You'd think about meals that you're cooking or things you would have around - fruits of the season or spices you might use," Romm said. "Our philosophy in terms of home fragrance is to not battle or compete with what you would naturally have in your home during the fall."

As winter arrives, a fresh Christmas tree is great, Romm says, but without one, you can introduce the smell of pine, or eucalyptus, and spices like clove and cinnamon.

A good way to carry fragrance through your home is to use multiple products at once, says Hope Margala Klein, executive vicepresident for brand, design and innovation at Yankee Candle.

"We recommend a layered approach, with the candle being the focus," she said.

About an hour before guests arrive, a host might light a candle - or a no-flame alternative if kids or pets are an issue - in each of the major entertaining spaces, such as the kitchen, dining room and great room, and accent those with diffusers. "By the time guests get here, the house smells amazing," Klein said.

Don't forget to add a glow to the bathroom, where you may also want to display a can of room spray for a concentrated burst of fragrance if needed, she recommends.

The amount of scent you should use depends on the size of your home.

"People who have enormous rooms would probably need more," Klein said. "Or if you're living in a small apartment in New York City, you could probably do one candle for the whole place. You don't want it to overpower folks."

One scent can be used throughout the home for an intense smell, or you can combine scents. "People will create their own recipes for what they think is great," Klein said.

Romm is partial to DIY home fragrance, like setting a pot of apple cider with cinnamon or cloves to simmer on the stove, displaying a pretty bowl of cinnamon sticks, or drying sliced apples on parchment paper in the oven on low heat.

But before you go wild, spraying every room in the house, keep in mind that some guests might have serious and life-threatening allergies to a lot of perfumed products. Also the chemicals used in some scented products can be irritants or toxins if concentrated.

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