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INTERIORS : Freshen Room With Scent du Sofa

September 04, 1993|From Associated Press

Ah, the sweet smell of . . . home. Yesterday, it was bread in the oven and a stewpot on the stove.

Today, it's takeout pizza and potpourri.

Tomorrow, it's fragrant furniture.

At least, Thomas Hucker, a New York furniture designer, would like to think so. He applied an aromatic liquid compound to tables, chairs and cabinets last year and sent them off to a gallery. A few of the avant-garde pieces sold. Those remaining in storage can be found by their smell, says Lorry Dudley, director of the Peter Joseph Gallery.

The compound, Aromacoat, is a colorless glue-like liquid developed by International Flavors and Fragrance, a producer of essential oils in New York.

"Aroma, along with sound and the play of light, can bring new dimensions to home furnishings and go beyond the heavy emphasis on the purely visual," Hucker says.

Such experiments take fragrance well beyond its original role of masking offensive odors and are based on research that suggests aroma can affect behavior.

"Home fragrance is being used nowadays to induce alertness or relaxation or other desired states," says Annette Green, president of the Fragrance Foundation, an industry trade group in New York.

The scents are usually made from essential oils of flowers, trees and herbs. Using these oils, chemists can simulate almost any smell, including a sea breeze or the woods on a rainy day.

The art of fragrance, of course, is not new. Room fresheners can be found in any supermarket, and there's an ancient tradition of perfuming the air with dried flowers and herbs or with oils wafted via the heat of candles and lamps. What's new is focusing on the effects of aroma.

"For the last 10 years, we've supported research that looks at whether fragrance can change behavior, and it often can," Green says.

For example, a study at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York found that sniffs of vanilla helped reduce stress during an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging).

Other studies have found that fragrances diffused in retail stores and museums cause some people to stay longer. Home furnishings stores found that customers tend to buy more when fragrance and music wafted through the sales floors.

"We just looked at the receipts," says Linda Jones, marketing consultant to Lineage Furniture in High Point, N.C.

When Lineage introduced three home furnishings collections to retailers last spring, the company selected different taped music and aromas for each display.

For traditional furnishings, they chose rose potpourri and classical orchestral selections. In a more eclectic setting mixing antique and modern styles, it was Harry Connick Jr., and musk was in the air. In a casual setting, it was honeysuckle and New Age piano music.

At the Kips Bay decorator show house in New York this spring, scent and music wafted from several rooms. One of the most notable was a garden setting by muralist Dianne Warner of New York that engaged sight, smell and hearing.

On the walls of her room were trompe l'oeil garden scenes. Pots of sweet-smelling lilies were planted on the floor, and her husband, composer Jan Warner, combined classical piano and birdcalls on the stereo.

"We wanted to convey the sense of being in a real garden, as opposed to being on Park Avenue," Dianne Warner said.

The whole display was well-received, and the music such a success that Jan Warner made tapes for about 20 people who requested them. The real test of success, Dianne Warner said, came in the last week of the show house:

"Somebody stole the tape."

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