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Home Front: Festive fragrance ideas with Cate Burren

It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas. . . Cate Burren of Cambridge’s Angel and Blume Interior Design considers how best to bring festive fragrance into your home

Christmas can be a testing time for our senses. If you think about it, we decorate our homes so that in some cases they are barely recognisable, we eat foods that we only sample once a year and we hear carols everywhere for, well, it can seem like forever.

One of the senses that can get a bit overlooked during the festive season is smell. Even a whiff of an aroma can strongly evoke a memory or an emotion, and certainly conjures up familiarity and comfort. And also, as we all know only too well, how something smells can be very inviting, or really not so much.

Even amongst the supposedly good scents in life, there are some unfortunate clichés – baking bread has become the smell of those dead keen to sell their houses and many artificial air fresheners can transport you straight to the back of a mini-cab (probably a better class of one but a mini-cab nonetheless) – but despite all this, or perhaps because of it, a good smelling home is a highly desirable thing during the season of goodwill, just as it is throughout the rest of the year.

Byrne brass table planter, £38, rowanandwren.co.uk (21003288)
Byrne brass table planter, £38, rowanandwren.co.uk (21003288)

This lovely brass table planter from Rowan and Wren can be filled with scented plants to make your table look and smell festive.

* Byrne brass table planter, £38, rowanandwren.co.uk

So how do you make your home smell divine? The first thing to say is that it is trickier than you would think. It is definitely not about covering up less-good smells with fragrance, that would just be too easy, and so addressing areas that may not be doing your nose any favours is the first port of call.

You will probably have a pretty good idea of the guilty parties where this is concerned, but repeat offenders are pets and their bedding (give it a good wash or replace – the bedding, not the pet), bins, dodgy plumbing (give yourself an early Christmas present and address this, it won’t be any better in the New Year), dirty carpets, old cooking smells and general mustiness. The last on this list is often about clearing out storage areas that are overloaded – there seems to be a scent of clutter and it’s not good.

Once the bad smells are banished, or at least under control, the question is how do you gently bring some good smells in? Don’t go crazy is the key. Your sense of smell will adapt quickly and you won’t notice the aromas of your home so much, however when you’re returning home after a day out or when your guests enter your home, you will not want to be overwhelmed with your newly fragranced abode.

Dalwood log stand and fire tools, £68, rowanandwren.co.uk (21003289)
Dalwood log stand and fire tools, £68, rowanandwren.co.uk (21003289)

If you have invested in some good quality firewood, make sure you display it well.

* Dalwood log stand and fire tools, £68, rowanandwren.co.uk

Scented candles are a wonderful thing and are available to suit every taste but they do need to be selected carefully – some will fill your world with a comforting and inviting fragrance, others really will repulse you, and it won’t be the same for everyone. My personal recommendations are St Eval for everyday (Inspiritus is intense and warming and burns regularly in winter in my house, Sea Salt is light, seasidey and utterly delicious in summer) and Rigauld Cyrus is a wonderful luxury that is only lit on high days and holidays but sits on my mantelpiece for the rest of the year looking regal and smelling delicious.

Don’t think that your chosen beauties are doing nothing when not alight – they are, although the subtle scent they bring to a room will increase dramatically when alight. On a monumentally boring note, can I just remind you to be careful about using candles – they really do burn houses down.

Pot Pourri got such a bad rap somewhere in history. I remember it at University (proving I wasn’t in the cool crowd) and it looked and smelled terrible then but we embraced it. It can produce some wonderful smells but needs to be creatively presented (so it doesn’t look anything like vegetable crisps is a good starting point).

tlights (23455625)
tlights (23455625)

These clever little stoneware candle holders are perfect for displaying your scented tealights.

* Handmade stoneware tealight holder, £12, rowanandwren.co.uk

Homemade is the best and, while I would never go so far as to give you a recipe, if it involves gently dried orange and apple slices (half an hour on a low oven), some cinnamon sticks, cloves and star anise, you are probably on to a winner. Room fragrance diffusers are an alternative – there are some wonderful ones out there (my favourite is Eau D’Italie Frankincense and Myrrh which is delicious and despite the name is in my home all year round), but I always feel visually they are equivalent to a plug in air freshener: it just screams “artificial fragrance”, not a bad thing but aesthetically there really are better things to aspire to.

Having been unfairly rude about baking bread (ignore me, it smells amazing), there is nothing like the smell of home cooking and Christmas offers a fabulous range of possibilities – mulled wine, gingerbread, mince-pies, pigs in blankets – offering not only wonderful smells but the promise of deliciousness to come. If you can manage it, starting cooking one of these offerings before your guests arrive and not only will you provide instant nibbles of the highest order but also your home will smell fantastic.

Plants are good all year round but particularly so at Christmas when greenery is such a welcome addition to the home and we need all the fresh air that they bring into our homes. A good Christmas tree well looked after will bring a soft forest aroma, but there are lots of opportunities to bring the outside in.

Fresh plants, especially herbs, bring delicious scents and make good accessories to a room or dining table. Christmas Box, Winter Sweet, rosemary and bay are good starting points and make a great table decoration if arranged well. I absolutely love hyacinths but I steer well clear of them at Christmas because the joy and freshness they bring in January seem to herald spring, even when it is still a way off, and for me it seems a pity to spoil that by bringing them into the Christmas foray.

Finally, a roaring log fire is a wonderful focal point of a room and using the right logs will ensure that it smells good too. Well dried (kiln dried if you are using straight away) are best, as it is the damp in logs that creates the musty smell, particularly the day after. If you can get your hands on apple or cherry logs, they give a wonderful fragrant scent.

So, while your other senses are being tingled during the Christmas season, don’t forget to pamper your nose. My top tip, as with all things festive, is to try not to overdo it. But there again, best laid plans are there to be broken, as we all know only too well.

Wishing everyone a very happy - and aromatic - Christmas.

* See angelandblume.com for more.

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