A Scent Expert Shares Tips to Make Your Home Smell Amazing for the Holidays

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I’ve long been a lover of candles. The flame’s soft flicker and warming glow has always been the backdrop of my life’s favorite moments. Writing in the morning hours, reading after work, and gathering with loved ones over a glass of wine and treasured conversation—all have been illuminated by the ephemeral magic of dappled light. But it wasn’t until recently that I began to consider the scent component—the sometimes spicy, sometimes sweet, sometimes floral fragrances that waft through the dimly-lit air. They create a scent-scape unto their own, an area of liminal space that occupies the vacancies beside your guests, taking on a significance I didn’t realize the full extent of until now.

That realization is thanks to Kristen Pumphrey, who, alongside her husband Thomas Neuberger, owns and runs P.F. Candle Co. Yes, those coveted candles are all thanks to this woman’s creative genius. You’ve seen them at Urban Outfitters and picked up their candles at Madewell. In a world saturated with scent, the ubiquitous presence of P.F. Candle Co. is unmatched.

Featured image by Danielle Sabol.

Image by Michelle Nash

Today, Kristen’s sharing how to scent your home for the holidays. While you may think “pine candle” and be done with it, there’s more to making your home an inviting place for guests than you may realize. Read on for Kristen’s expert tips and get ready to cozy up to the most wonderful, sweetest-smelling time of year.

Psst… For more home fragrance information and projects, check out Kristen’s book, At Home with Fragrance!

Image by Michelle Nash

9 Tips for How to Scent Your Home for the Holidays

Scent is a key, but often overlooked, part of your hosting and entertaining experience—especially around the holidays. While having a clean and festively decorated home and tablespace impacts the way the space looks, fragrance takes it to the next level and impacts how the space feels. Fragrance is hardwired to your mind and is directly connected to the part of your brain responsible for processing memory and emotion—so creating a mood with scent will make your guests remember your holiday party long after the festivities are done.

Here are nine tips for using (and making) home fragrances at your holiday gathering.

1. Clean Up

Before lighting any candles, I do a couple of things to make sure the house smells good: I do a quick sweep or vacuum and clean up spills and stains. Then, I tackle the bathroom—clean the toilet, take out the trash—essentially, get rid of the stinky parts. I light candles for ambience (we’ll get into the types later), and then about 30 minutes before guests are set to arrive, I light a stick of incense. The incense gives instant scent and atmosphere and is my go-to daily secret for having a great-smelling home.

Image by Michelle Nash

2. Pick Your Scents Based on Energy

When picking scents for your holiday gathering—or just trying to create a festive mood in your home during the season—think about the type of energy you want to create. If the holidays have left you frazzled, create a calming and grounding atmosphere by looking for candles and home fragrances with notes of sandalwood, patchouli, lavender, and jasmine. These types of fragrances are mellow and earthy, and lavender and jasmine are good for a calming effect. From our line, I love Ojai Lavender, and I’d pair it with Sandalwood Rose.

If your style is more luxe and upscale, look for rich and resinous notes. I’d pick out anything with a note of rose or luxe fruit notes like fig or currant. Black Fig is a scent from our line that is rich and seasonal without being over the top—it’s spicy, lightly fruity, with a base of evergreen.

If you go hard for the holiday season, go straight for the Christmas-tree style scents (look for spruce, Frasier fir, or other coniferous notes), or the gourmands like apple, gingerbread, and pumpkin. Sometimes people shy away from the gourmand scents because they think it’s too typical, but when your guests think you have a pumpkin pie baking in the oven, you’ll appreciate it. Go for natural-smelling gourmands (I’m partial to our Apple Picking) that have other notes to balance it out like citrus, so it smells more sophisticated.

3. Get Cozy with Organic Ingredients

One of my favorite ways to create a natural scent in the home is through simmer pots. Much like mulled wine, simmer pots are simmered over a low flame for hours by combining fruits like oranges and apples, herbs like rosemary, and spices like cardamom, clove, and cinnamon in a pot with water. The low burble creates a cozy mood, and it warms your kitchen. You can also use simmer pots to reduce holiday waste by tossing apple cores, zest, and extra aromatic herbs into the pot.

Image by Grant Puckett

4. Setting the Table

When it comes to scenting your holiday table, avoid the gourmands—you don’t want anything that can compete with your cooking. If you wanted a light scent, an evergreen tree smell or something herbaceous like eucalyptus or rosemary could work well. One of my favorite ways to bring ambience to the table is through the use of beeswax candles. I love tea lights in mason jars or prismatic holders and pour beeswax tea lights myself. A more approachable project that requires no special equipment is rolled beeswax tapers.

5. Make Something to Light

Rolled beeswax tapers are a fun and accessible DIY project. I typically keep some beeswax sheets on hand so I can roll a couple up for a last-minute host gift. But if I’m hosting myself, I can always throw these together in a color that matches the table décor. Beeswax doesn’t compete with food smells, but it has a light and warm honey scent that is comforting and mellow. Rolled taper candles are also a fun activity you can have at your party. I recently threw a holiday craft party and had kids and adults alike customizing their rolled taper candles. They’re soothing and meditative to make, and it gets people off their phones.

Image by P.F. Candle Co.

6. DIY with Oranges

Another fragrant and festive DIY project you can have at your holiday gathering is orange garlands. Dried orange garlands are thought to symbolize the sun, and they bring light in cold winter months. Thinly slice oranges (or other citrus fruits) and bake for a couple of hours at 225 degrees F. The house smells great while you’re doing this, and if you aren’t into a gourmand like pumpkin, this is a baking smell that is bright and juicy. To make the garlands, use a blunt tapestry needle and weave through rustic twine. I like tying on cinnamon sticks as well.

7. Potpourri Mix

Potpourri is simple to make and brings a little seasonality inside. Essentially, potpourri is just dried natural materials like leaves, pinecones, petals, and seed pods, mixed with essential oil. It’s up to you to pick the materials that suit your aesthetic. I like to pick up leaves or seed pods on my morning walks to bring a bit of nature inside.

A nice holiday blend consists of pinecones, dried orange slices, and cinnamon sticks. You can use the dried orange slices from your orange garland project, and apples are pretty, too (slice them so you get the flower in the middle). Blend the materials together with 15 drops of your favorite essential oils (I’m into frankincense and patchouli, with a touch of bergamot) with a teaspoon of orris root (optional, for staying power). Bagging the blend up for a couple of weeks so the natural materials have time to absorb the oils will get you the most fragrant bang for your buck.

Image by Michelle Nash

8. Leave Scents for Guests

Back to the bathroom, which is always the worst offender for scents. I always have a candle burning in my bathroom, but to spare your guests any embarrassment, you can discreetly leave a room spray or incense for them to burn post-bathroom trip. I’m especially fond of incense matches but sticks work well, too. Just make sure to leave some matches or a lighter.

9. Take It With You

If you burn a certain candle or incense scent during the party, it can be fun to send your guests home with the same fragrance—they’ll always think of you. Mini candles or incense sticks are low-cost options, but we’ve seen people go all out for bigger events like weddings.



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