Smart Tips From a Home Fragrance Expert

As the nose behind countless high-end blends, Rayda Vega has good scents to spare. Here, she shares tips on infusing your rooms with unique olfactory charm.

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Photo by Christopher Sturman

Why bother scenting our homes, anyway?
Fragrance is an accessory. It adds depth and character. And it allows you to give each space in your home a different feel.



How did you get started in this business?
While studying sociology at the University of Chicago, I discovered that I was fascinated with lab work but completely bored sitting at a desk. When I moved to New York, I answered a random ad in the Times to work at a fragrance lab. Then I apprenticed with a master perfumer and went on to become a perfumer myself. I worked for major fragrance companies. Then a few years ago I went out on my own. Companies hire me to create scents for their products—candles, diffusers, perfumes, shampoos.

Are you on team candle or team diffuser?
Both—they just have different uses. With diffusers, you can set them down and forget about them, so they’re good for continual, overall ambience. Some diffuser packaging is ugly, but you can pour the liquid into a pretty glass container of your own. Candles are best for an intimate event, like dinner or a bath, because they’re not only about the scent. The light they give off sets a mood, too.

How do you figure out what fragrance is right for each room?
Think of it like music. In a living room, you’d usually want soft background music. A subtle floral is the scent equivalent to that. I have Joya’s Quince & Heliotrope Petals diffuser ($76, beautysage.com) in my living room. But for a party where you’d turn on lively music, you’d want a happy, social fragrance that gets noticed, like Joya’s Luscious Vanilla Dragon-fruit candle ($25, joyastudio.com/shop). For the kitchen, something that’s a little bit mouthwatering—apple, fresh pear, or thyme—works well. Avoid florals here. They’ll get in the way of food aromas. I like Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Basil Soy candle ($10, mrsmeyers.com). For the bathroom, juicy grapefruit, crisp linen, or the candle version of your favorite perfume.

And in the bedroom?
Orange flower and lavender promote relaxation. You can put fresh lavender buds in a pretty dish—just not by your head. The scent would be too strong. I buy mine at the local farmers’ market. Jo Malone’s Orange Blossom candle ($65, nordstrom.com) is also quiet and soothing. For a scent that’s a little sexy, try something with musk, vanilla, and amber, like Tocca’s Collette candle ($38, tocca.com).

Any buying tips for candles?
Rub your finger on the wax around the wick to release the fragrance before you sniff. And beware of liquid beading on top. That’s the sign of a poorly made candle. It means the fragrance and the wax aren’t compatible.

What about room sprays?
The best sprays, like Bath & Body Works’ Sandalwood Citrus ($9.50, bathandbodyworks.com), have a very fine dispersion. If droplets hit you when you walk through the mist, that’s not a fine spray. Spritzing linens can be nice. Use sprays made specifically for fabric so they don’t leave a stain.

What’s good for those who don’t usually like fragrance?
Try something with daisies, wildflowers, or sunflowers on the label. That means the scent is likely to be natural and bright, not perfumy. Some flowers, like daisies, may not smell at all, so the manufacturers aren’t taking the actual oils from the plant. They’re creating a scent based on our ideas about these flowers. But if you really don’t like fragrance, skip it!

Can you recommend a candle for the holidays?
I love Archipelago’s Holiday Hope ($29, archipelago-usa.com). It’s woodsy, with bayberry and spice.

Tell us a common mistake that people make with home fragrance.
Sticking with a single element—say, just jasmine or just gardenia. Unless it’s really, really high-end, it draws too much attention to itself. People will think you’re trying to cover something up. You’re much better off with a multifaceted fragrance that’s hard to pinpoint.

But what if we really love jasmine or gardenia?
Go for an artful blend. Something I like that mixes narcissus and jasmine with a little muguet and a touch of mimosa is Nest’s White Narcisse candle ($48, neimanmarcus.com).

Do any scents spark memories for you?
Pine. It reminds me of sleep-away camp, floating in the lake, and looking at the clouds—pure freedom.

Do you have a fragrance for your car?
I have a very active Border collie. So my car fragrance is Febreze.