IKEA home fragrances: it's all about memories and emotions
The smell of certain cologne, old books, or grandma’s cookies often makes us close our eyes for a few seconds and breathe deep, often opening a floodgate of memories. It is no wonder that fragrances are one of the key areas of focus for home furnishing companies, including IKEA. But creating scented candles is not about mixing a few drops of essential oil with wax. It’s a far more complex process involving intricate chemistry. We sat down with Chenyi Ke to know more.
A few years ago, Chenyi was on a trip to South Asia. She could not help but notice that wherever she went she could see people were hooked to their television sets. She shared her observation with a local colleague, who told Chenyi something she keeps close to her even today. The colleague explained that many of us cannot change our living circumstances, so the TV becomes an outlet or window to another world. It brings a break from the daily humdrum of a person's life, transporting them to a place of their dreams - a seaside or the hills - or even the cocoon of loving, funny family, and friends.
Chenyi has the big mandate of creating fragrances at IKEA, and she profoundly follows the perspective that certain things can help us take a break from our daily routines.
The reason is – scents are a powerful way to create a feeling in any space. Why is it that the smell of baking makes us think of the warmth of our home? That is probably why many people believe home is feeling more than a space.
Scents are the small ingredients of life at home that can turn four walls into an individual comfort zone and magically transform every space – every day and everywhere - no matter where in the world. And that’s why IKEA is focusing on the relationship between scents and the activities and needs of an individual’s life at home.
The scent we are developing brought that memory into my mind.
"I think it explains why we do certain things in life. What if someone cannot afford to go anywhere? But that does not mean they do not want to escape the daily chaos around them. So, I’m inspired to create scents that can help a person escape from daily life, travel away with their mind even though it could only be for a few minutes," says Chenyi Ke, Product Design Developer at IKEA.
Her focus areas are home fragrances and accessories, including scented candles. Six months ago, her assignment expanded to include frames, mirrors, and vases.
Chenyi has been deeply involved in introducing new scents at IKEA in the last year. She has played a significant role in launching eight new fragrances earlier this year, including ADLAD, the scent of IKEA.
"I always keep a customer in mind; it doesn’t matter whether it’s furniture, light, or scent. I always ask who is this person who will use this product and how they will use it," says Chenyi.
Scents all around
The sense of smell is a big part of who we are. New-born babies are said to recognize their mothers simply by smell. It's no wonder then scents can evoke strong reactions from us and can play a role in relaxing us because our sense of smell is primal, distinctly connected to memories and even emotions.
Have you wondered why ginger cookies feel like Christmas at Grandma's or whether freshly laundered cotton sheets help one relax? The smell of coffee somehow energizes us, and the aroma of baking from a neighbour's house can make us hungry.
Scent can change the feeling of space and thus, how we feel in spaces. But how are scents developed? Chenyi helps us go behind the scenes.
At IKEA, it starts with the decision to create a new fragrance. Typically, the need is connected to seasonality and the IKEA range. When it comes to seasonality, it’s often associated with the activities and interests related to the four seasons we see in a year. For example, in April, people may want to go out. But what if they cannot? So, Chenyi and her team would consider developing a scent that reminds one of the outdoors, the grass, blooming flowers, crisp air, and the bright sun.
"We also divide a day based on activities. Mornings would generally be a more active time, and in the evening, one would like to wind down and relax a bit," says Chenyi.
From the IKEA range perspective, it depends a bit on what new fragrances the brand wants to introduce as well as colours. IKEA, for example, has coloured candles – pink, green, white, and purple. But there could be a lack of a particular colour.
"It can also depend on the gap in the available scents collection that we have today. We have fruity, woody, and flowery fragrances. Is there something we are lacking? So, that's the range-based thinking we have," explained Chenyi.
Once a decision has been made that IKEA will have new fragrances (scented candles), a brief is created, highlighting the purpose of this scent – the feeling or activity it’s expected to cater to.
Once the brief is set, Chenyi and her team have two options. They can investigate the in-house scent pool of 200-300 fragrances to find the perfect match or go to an external fragrance house for it.
"I try out the scent pool every now and then. Sometimes, I like something and may want to use it somewhere," says Chenyi.
So, what makes for a good scent for her?
It’s something that brings back a memory and triggers a sort of a warm feeling in you, says Chenyi. And right now, she is developing a scent that has reminded her of her grandfather's study room.
"When I was a little, he started teaching me calligraphy in that study room. The scent we are developing brought that memory into my mind," says Chenyi.
When it comes to IKEA developing the scent with a fragrance house, it starts with sharing the brief, including what IKEA would ideally like to deliver to the customer. The fragrance house, on its part, can offer as many as two dozen options that Chenyi and her team evaluate to find the one closest to the brief. It is almost matchmaking, where the brief and scent must join the dots at some point. These samples often come in small glass containers, and one can light them up to gauge how they will feel in a room setting.
"Having concrete feedback on scents is tricky because fragrances are very personal. When it comes to a table or a chair, testers can often come back with concrete feedback, such as this was not comfortable, maybe we need to look at the back angle, or the height is too much or too low etc. But with scents, it is often about someone liking it or not," says Chenyi, adding that she has seen beaming faces and puckered noses quite regularly during the testing phases.
According to various studies, home fragrances are one of the fastest growing categories in home furnishing. IKEA offers home furnishing solutions for every dimension of home, including scents.
So, are fragrances trend-based? Can it be that one scent is more ‘in’ now than before? Chenyi says fragrances don't follow fashion trends but are often connected to culture.
"The culture doesn't change that frequently. For example, people in Asia tend to like floral scents. That is how it has been for a long time; it's still going on, and it will be like this for the next ten years. Of course, there's a slight change, but the basic preference stays quite strong."
But creating a good, scented candle is not as easy as most believe it to be. It’s not about mixing essential oils to wax. It’s a complex chemical concoction which has several layers to it.
If you want to smell orange, it can be so that there is no orange-based ingredient in it, says Chenyi. It is something else that a perfumier or a fragrance house has put into it to make the brain think that one is smelling an orange. The smell of a new car is not just restricted to a new car; it can be developed to trick our minds into thinking we can smell a new car.
"Scents are a very complex chemical mixture to make us think of things triggered by that smell. That is why we say scent is so personal because we as individuals will react to the chemical mixtures differently," says Chenyi.
So, what is her favourite scent? It’s the ADLAD, says Chenyi.
For now, Chenyi continues looking for more fragrances. And is busy using her private bathroom to test out several scents to find the one that helps us all take a flight to our dream destination.
- Materials and sourcingMaterials and sourcing