Monday, 5 October 2015

Spotlight on... a good smell

Ever since I interviewed Abigail Ahern a couple of years ago, and she told me about her secret to a good smelling house, I've been meaning to visit the shop where she gets her secret good house smell. 

The shop is Santa Maria Novella, founded in the 15th century by Dominican friars and one of the world's oldest pharmacies.

Santa Maria Novella in Piccadilly, London. Image via The Piccadilly Arcade

The magical scented item Ahern was enthusing about is not quite so old-school as the shop, but to many of us pot pourri (yes, really!) does have quite the 1990s twang about it: dust-laced decorative bowls of dried up lemons and twigs and mysteriously shaped items purportedly gathered from the forest floor. And always dyed a perplexing burgundy hue. (Looked wonderful with all those lively 1990s wall colours...)

Ahern had been inspired in turn about the pot pourri by interior designer and Vogue columnist, Rita Konig's New York apartment, so this stuff had good rep. This weekend, while chaperoning my teenage Australian nephew around the West End on a shopping trip I got a window, while he was trying on most of Lillywhites, to dash down the road to get my hands on this mythical fragrance.

The tiny shop, lined with old glass-fronted shop cabinets full of unostentatiously labelled bottles, smells – well, potent, yet delicate. When I enquire about the fabled pot pourri – there's only one variety – the man behind the full-length counter (what else?) produces a bowl of it, just a fraction of what makes up the shop's dizzyingly good smell. 'This is two years old, it's not so strong now,' he warns.

The soft, woody, unflowery and yet richly sweet little pile of dark green leaves and herbs has a smell like the texture of treacle. It reminds me of country antique shops selling beeswaxed kitchen furniture, but more complex and even better. This bag cost £20. Compared to a good scented candle, which only smells when alight, it's pretty good, especially if it'll still be going strong in two years' time.

The non two-years-old version of Santa Maria Novella's pot pourri is unexpectedly moist when I get it home and the scent easily fills the air uncloyingly. I remember Ahern saying you don't need much of it and that she puts hers in little tea-light holders all over her house; immediately I feel the need to go and find some small and interesting receptacles.

Not far from my house, near the dog's favourite park, is a little shop called The Society for the Protection of Unwanted Objects (could there be a better name for a junk shop?). The man who runs it looks a bit like Jeremy Corbyn might if he wasn't a politician. And, by the way, I recently discovered the shop has a spectacular Facebook page...

At the Society for the Protection of Unwanted Objects, I quickly locate a tiny brass swan with a hollow body, and some former pavement glass in the shape of a small bowl when turned upside down. That was a fiver as it was chipped and the swan was sitting next to a brass rabbit – no pot pourri function at all but irresistible – so I had to buy that, too. £12.50 the pair.

A slightly chipped, satisfyingly heavy piece of glass, originally used as a pavement light/glass block in the street 

So far I've used only about a quarter of the bag, so some more receptacles will be required so I can fragrance-up the entire house. Now as you come in the front door, there's no longer the fleeting thought that perhaps the dog might need a bath, just the hand-picked, soaked-and-aged-for-months Santa Maria Novella flowers. If only the internet had invented scratch and sniff...

The swan and rabbit

Do you have a favourite thing that makes your house smell good?


1 comment:

  1. 1612? There's a wow here. It's really amazing to build such a history, with what? Smells. Amazing. I use to buy flowers every 3-4 days and keep them in the living room.

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