Forgotten Fifth Sense.

A great interior will always catch your eye, but what really makes a house a home goes well beyond the visual aesthetics and includes all the other senses. Especially smell. Yes. Smell. Smell is the sense that is most strongly linked to our memory, our mood and emotions and therefore has the strongest connection with, and contributes to, the essence of home.  

Smell is so evocative that some major car companies have invested millions of dollars and have entire teams dedicated to smelling and assessing the odour of every single interior component of a car. Why? To ensure offensive odours are not going to effect sales. Smell is a serious business.  But what one person finds attractive to the nose, others can find repulsive. Leather is a good example of this. For some it evokes the sense of luxury, for others it's simply foul.  So the popular movement in new vehicle sales has moved onto minimising odours and smells in general. It's widely accepted that no smell is the best smell of all.  But what about that new car smell. It wouldn't be new, if it didn't smell new. Would it?

 We all know that new car smell. Image Source - Pexels.com

We all know that new car smell. Image Source - Pexels.com

What about smells in home interiors? There are bad, bad smells and then there are the bad ones mascarading as good.  Like the new car smell, they're the ones associated with a clean house. Mainstream cleaning products are full of chemicals and it's these that you can smell when you clean your house. Our habits have programmed our brain to associate a clean house with a certain smell. A smell that might smell good, but is most probably bad for you.  So good smells can be bad smells. Literally.

 We might all see the same white clean bathroom, but I guarantee the smell we associate with it will be different. Image Source - Pexels.com

We might all see the same white clean bathroom, but I guarantee the smell we associate with it will be different. Image Source - Pexels.com

The best example of poor air quality smelling great is a newly freshly painted space. For the vast majority the smell of newly applied paint makes a space feel fresh. Again, a bit like a new car smell. It smells... It smells.... Clean. But what you're actually smelling is Volatile Organic Compounds being released into your home. It's the same with a new carpet and many other domestics fittings and furnishings.  The materials or furniture you introduce into your home are offgassing.  Those 'new' odours are airbourne chemicals coming from glues, foams and protective coatings, not to mention the material itself.

 Looks fresh. But any furniture you bring into your house has the potential to bring in odours with it. The smell of any piece will be effected by where it comes from and the amount of chemicals used in its manufacture.  Image Source - Pexels.com

Looks fresh. But any furniture you bring into your house has the potential to bring in odours with it. The smell of any piece will be effected by where it comes from and the amount of chemicals used in its manufacture.  Image Source - Pexels.com

There are ways around this. The most effective way in terms of your walls and floors is to choose low VOC / VOC free products. For example oiling your timber floors rather than coating them in a polyurethane varnish (ie Plastic coating) not only reduces the VOC content of your home but allows the natural material to breathe.  In terms of furnishings, then sourcing local products who utilise natural materials and guarantee low VOC content is a good step. You can only really do this if there is a short and transparent supply chain. There are many companies making top quaility, low VOC content furniture, right here in Melbourne. A strong furniture making & design course in the city has created a community of local furniture makers, many of which have a sustainability focus. We're very fortunate.

Another way of reducing offgassing from furniture in your home, is buying second hand. Although these pre-loved pieces will have glues and foams in them, the products will be inert and no longer be emitting gas. All furniture becomes stable eventually, this takes anything between 5 - 7 years.  Which, ironically is about the same amount of time when people decide to replace furniture. Replacing furniture every 5 - 7 years means you have a constant supply of toxins in the air.  

 Simple. Natural. Image Source - Pexels.com

Simple. Natural. Image Source - Pexels.com

I tend to agree with the car manufacturers. I believe the best smell is no smell at all. Or at the very most an authentic undertone from a natural material or item.   I openly introduced the topic to those that attended our recent open house as part of the Sustainable House Day. "So what does my house smell like?" Often perplexed, firstly by the strange question, but then secondly trying to find the answer, many deduced "nothing".  Goal reached.

Next time, I talk about smells that smell bad, but aren't necessarily so and, more importantly, how to get rid of them.