The sweet smell of home

Every home has an idiosyncratic odor that we inhale when we first enter it.

Wherever we have been, we recognize the unique smell of home as soon as we close the door and leave the outside world behind: the smell of rice steaming; your dog’s breath on your face as he licks you; the musty smell of an old book in your library combined with the sharp, inky smell of a new one; your father’s aftershave or pipe tobacco; your mother’s shampoo. We value the aromas of home precisely for their contrast with the unfamiliar and exotic scents that greet our adventures.

Scent is a kind of intimacy with place—our place in the world.

Often we are unaware of the odor of our own home, because it is so familiar. But when we return there from afar, we can tell instantly if anything is “off” about it.

For our house is our corner of the world. As has often been said, it is our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the word.


The Poetics of Space Since the paradise of the world to come remains a mystery, the least and most we can do is to strive for an earthly one. Most of us find that place at home.

Home is our mirror, our life story, and our peace. It’s where we keep our books and treasures, commune with our friends, eat, sleep. It’s packed with memories, touchstones, and talismans—artifacts of our every age and all our travels.

The smell of home, or any smell we strongly associate with a particular person, place, or time, can bring on a flood of memories and powerful emotional responses almost instantaneously. These responses may be hardwired, but the particular smells that trigger such memories are a matter of conditioned response. As you first smell a new scent, you connect it to an event, a person, a thing, or even a moment. Your brain forges a link between the smell and a memory—associating lilies with a funeral, for example, so that when you encounter the smell again, the link is already there, ready to elicit a memory or a mood, sometimes without your even knowing why.

Smell and the functioning of our brain

Smell is the sense most closely linked to the emotional centres of our brain. Although more of our brain is dedicated to vision than to any of the other senses, more of our genes are devoted to the sense of smell (1%) than to the detection of all the other kinds of sensory information. We posses an excellent ability to detect and discriminate odours but we have great difficulty in describing them verbally. Despite this fact, odours have an extraordinary ability to remind us of events and memories of our past, sometimes from many years ago.

Source of Information:

Aftel, Mandy. Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent.  Penguin Publishing Group.

Rossi, Mariangela. Dillo con un profumo: Come scegliere la fragranza ideale (Italian Edition).

Ellena, Jean Claude. Viaggio sentimentale tra i profumi del mondo (Italian Edition)

The Chemistry of Fragrances: From Perfumer to Consumer. Royal Society of Chemistry.

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