The first scent I remember is my father’s. As a small child, I would embrace him when he came home from the office and nuzzle into his tweed blazer, which smelled faintly of leather, tobacco, and an earthiness that’s hard to put into words. To me, this smell will forever be associated with home. I sometimes wonder what scent memories my 4-year-old daughter is forming right now.
These are the kind of psychological questions that drove Ikea’s partnership with Ben Gorham, who founded the luxury perfume house Byredo in 1996. Together, they created a collection of 13 candles, called Osynlig (Swedish for “invisible”), that aims to democratize high-end home fragrances and allow people to fill their homes with complex scents that spark memories of childhood. They will be available in-store and online starting in November.
Before creating the candles, Ikea conducted research, which found that 40% of people think their homes have a unique, recognizable scent. When we catch a whiff of some notes of this “home smell,” it can trigger memories of childhood, comfort, and intimacy. “The smells of the home are an extremely complex mix of the laundry, the smelly shoes, the vintage furniture, and the textiles,” Gorham says. “When creating the candles, the raw materials are quite different from what we would use in perfume [for] the body.”
Gorham says that while creating fragrances for Byredo is a subjective, personal process that reflects his own sensibilities and tastes, he wanted to make this collection for Ikea much more accessible. The candles are priced between $4.99 and $24.99 and are divided into three categories—fresh, floral, and woody—in order to capture the range of peoples’ associations with home. “We found that an 18-year-old girl’s reflection of smells in the home resonated with that of an 80-year-old man from Japan,” Gorham says, as an example. “Scent is interesting in that way. It connects people and reveals these common denominators.”
Ikea’s designers created ceramic vessels for the candles, which will go on sale next month, while Gorham chose the glazes. James Futcher, the Ikea designer who led this project, was drawn to the challenge of invisible design. (The collection’s name, Osynlig, means “invisible” in Swedish.) He says that interior design tends to focus on physical spaces and functionality, but ultimately, the way someone feels in a space is also dictated by things they can’t see, like light, sound, and smell. At an even deeper level, our feelings about home are also influenced by our memories. “It was never about making scented candles as much as it was about encouraging people to tap into memories and other abstract things, as they construct their own homes,” Futcher says. “Not just people who can afford to experiment with really expensive scents.”
For Gorham, this collaboration feels like coming full circle. He was born in Sweden to an Indian mother and Canadian father. He lived in the country for several years before moving to New York and Toronto, but has chosen to settle in Stockholm, where he runs his business. “Ikea has been part of my life since birth, like most Swedish people,” he said. “It’s been part of (my) home in one way or another. The opportunity to collaborate with Ikea was extremely exciting.”