Room Scenting 101: Flameless Edition


We’ve talked a lot about candles recently, and while we’re not intending to stop anytime soon (I mean, Michael only just got hooked!), a fair number of our lovely readers have told us in comments that they can’t use candles in their current living situations (dorm rooms, etc)—or maybe you just don’t love the idea of candles. They’re sort of rude to burn during dinner, for obvious reasons (food/perfume don't mix) and, as Emily pointed out the other day, sometimes if you let your Feu de Bois go for a while, you start to wonder if your apartment might be burning down. So, this brought us all to a new topic of conversation: ways to scent your space that don’t require any excess feu near your bois. Let’s talk about fragrance for the flame-averse, or Room Scenting 101. [Cue applause!] And please note, all of the below are decidedly unisex.

Admittedly, in the room-scenting game, avoiding the wax-and-wicked stuff out there will narrow your options down some, but you are by no means out of them.

For those still happy to play with (a little) fire: Both Santa Maria Novella and Francis Kurkdjian make gorgeously scented incense papers—the latter’s come in the ITG-beloved flavors Aqua Universalis, Apomand Lumiere Noir, and are really tellement chic in their little box (matches on one side, papers on the other). The procedure is the same with both: you fold up the paper like a little accordion, light one edge, blow it out, and let the perfumed smoke go, à la incense. Santa Maria Novella's Carta d'Armenia papers are shockingly effective deodorizers (if someone in your flat's been smoking, or is smelly, or your cat has been marking his territory and you just cooked gumbo, whatever), and their little red leather box is very sophisticated looking. Be sure to get some sort of ashtray/saucer on which to burn them, though, because again, please don’t burn down your house.

If you are of a particularly... let's call it "woodsy" mindset: A company called Juniper Ridge—motto: "We go to the mountains ->Harvest wild plants -> Distill natural fragrance"—sells their earthy home-scenting wares at Steven Alan boutiques and online. These include the seriously Voodoo-looking mini Smudge Sticks (available in Mugwort, also known as "dream weed," Sage, and Cedar). Note that white sage is considered 'purifying' and has been used on at least one episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills to cleanse a crash-pad of some seriously bad juju. They also carry "Campfire Incense" in flavors such as Juniper, Douglas Fir, and Piñon. (Yes, incense burns and thus is usually grouped in with candles as potential fire hazards, but, unlike candles, sticks only need a few minutes to fully scent a room, so you can light one and be done with the 'fire' part in no time.) Now, go get your neo-shaman on, because, for the record, incense is cool again: photographers Inez and Vinoodh sent out incense and a teepee-diffuser as a Christmas gift last year.

For those looking to buy something and leave it be: To us, “potpourri” has always kind of screamed "waiting room!" and/or "nursing home!" neither of which is something we’ve ever really wanted to move into. (Also, open bowls of the stuff always look like heavily fingered piles of those health chips that are made of rutabaga and yams.) But forget all that because Santa Maria Novella's Pot Pourri  is a centuries-old “secret blend” that comes in what looks like a coffee-bean bag—if those beans were hand-collected herbs and flowers grown (pesticide-free!) in the Florentine hills, collected in earthenware jars that are sealed with wax, aged for several months, and then sent off to you. You can poke holes in the bag and shake it up and hide it in your closet or a drawer (it also repels moths and insects), or pop a scoop-full into our latest obsession, the Pot Pourri Egg Diffuser, which looks like an egg cup that escaped from some very hip giant's cupboard. But instead of holding soft-boiled ostrich eggs, it holds a few palmfuls of your pot pourri, which it diffuses through ventilation holes on the lid (this keeps your stuff good for 9-10 months). While maybe a bit less chic on the outside, the Clear Air Odor Absorb Gel is light on your wallet ($3.99 at Duane Reade), smells like you've been doing nothing but laundry since you moved in, and lasts for up to 90 days. Also, L'Artisan Parfumer makes a carved terracotta scent saver called La Boule d'Ambrewhich is an attractive enough objet on its own, until you realize it has a hidden-away heart of solid amber fragrance that diffuses if kept in a warm room, but subtly spreads a warm, exotic scent throughout your living space regardless. It's the Glade Plug-In without the "Glade" or, well, the plug in. Heaven.

Itchy trigger finger? Need a quick fix? As for sprays, forget Febreeze: we’ve already told you about Frederic Malle’s "Perfume Guns", and Juniper Ridge makes natural room scents in flavors like Big Sur, Cascade Glacier, Red Rock Canyon and Steep Ravine, the latter which is a bright, herbal smell, like you're growing juniper and rosemary on the terrace. Santa Maria Novella also sells terra cotta lamp rings: you pour a few drops of your favorite essence (we like their Sandalwood) on the ring, leave it on top of a lightbulb, turn on the light, and let it go. (Note: this is dorm-room-friendly. We've checked.)

If you’re feeling SERIOUSLY D.I.Y? This is rather Christmas-y, but if you poke a clementine full of cloves (think: pin cushion) and leave it in a bowl off in a corner, your space will smell like heaven for at least a few days. Similarly, in anticipation of dinner guests, you can boil citrus peels, cinnamon sticks, and a few whole cloves in a little water on your stove and fill the room with the same citrus/spice-y fresh vibes (also recommended post-cooking something strange, or when your house smells like a hangover from a party you had last night). Also fun?  Floral arrangements and plants! Though again, they don’t last long. But there have been studies that show that fresh greenery in your living space improves mood and feelings of calm and all that other good stuff.

How about you? Any flame-free tips and tricks for keeping your pad smelling sweet? We're all ears. And noses. We're just noses with ears.



Photos by Elizabeth Brockway.

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  • Nomadic D.

    I have been wanting to try those incense papers for SO long! The concept is so odd to me but also totally irresistible. Nice to have your stamp of approval on them as well, yet another reason for me to try them out.

    My favorite flameless scenterator are the scented oil sticks from Zara Home. I've tried a bunch of flavors, and the jasmine is lovely, but my absolute favorite is the Green Herbs. Perfect for our kitchen/entry-way!

    The other awesome DIY way to make your house smell lovely is to just bake something. And then you have the bonus of having the fresh baked goods to devour. Who could say no to that idea?

  • bondgirl

    what is the moon paper/tile/? in the background of these photos? loving it and curious...

  • Ada

    Yes! I'm a huge fan of room sprays, and I think the best thing is this: ETSY.COM has an excess of awesome sellers who offer wicked good room sprays which you can (as I like) decant into nice vintage (unused) atomizers. It looks chic and your room smells like a palace.

  • Somebody from Somewhere
  • Felicia Shelton

    Great post! I discovered a little while ago the magic that is Papier d'Armenie interpreted by Francis Kurkdjian. Such a beautiful scent and easy to send to my friends in the U.S. Here in Paris you can get these lovely scented papers at your local organic store. Read more here and let me know if you at Into the Gloss would like to try them.

    Here's the link:


  • alliemh29

    I live for Jo Malone diffusers!

  • Jody

    Diptyque have these little scented hanging disc thingies, which are awesome. They keep their scent for months and give you all of the Diptyque loveliness with none of the associated fire hazards. I have one in my closet and it lightly scents my whole bedroom.


Maison Francis Kurkdjian
Maison Francis Kurkdjian Aqua Universalis Incense Paper
Juniper Ridge
Juniper Ridge Douglas Fir Incense
Maison Francis Kurkdjian
Maison Francis Kurkdjian Lumiere Noir Incense Paper
Maison Francis Kurkdjian
Maison Francis Kurkdjian Apom Incense Paper
Juniper Ridge
Juniper Ridge Desert Pinon Incense
Juniper Ridge
Juniper Ridge Juniper Incense
L'Artisan Parfumeur
L'artisan Parfumeur La Boule D'Ambre