Glass containers with liquids and dried plants.

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.

A woman in a black shirt standing in front of a glass wall.
Chenyi Ke, Product Design Developer at IKEA.


Scents all around

"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.

Candle holders standing on a desk together with a fruit bowl.
The ADLAD scented candles.

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.

Glass bottles and glass containers filled with liquids and raw materials.
Samples used when developing scents.

"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. Its not about mixing essential oils to wax. Its 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? Its 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.