In March’s Marketing and Branding Month, we’ll go deep on agent branding and best practices for spending with Zillow, Realtor.com and more. Top CMOs of leading firms drop by to share their newest tactics, too. And to top off this theme month, Inman is debuting a brand new set of awards for branding and marketing leaders in the industry called Marketing All-Stars.
There’s an old school of thought that when selling a house, the owners should bake bread or cookies the morning of a showing so that the home’s smell entices buyers.
But what does “home” actually smell like? And how much is it worth?
The designers behind 1859, a recently completed mansion named for its address on Bel Air Road, are willing to bank that a home’s scent is actually worth quite a lot. Namely, a $25,000 investment.
That is the estimated value of a custom fragrance and its related products — including candles, perfumed mists, a body line and custom diffusers — developed through a collaboration between Parisian fragrance brand Ex Nihilo and interior designer César Giraldo of César Giraldo Design, with input from the property’s listing agents, specifically for use in 1859.
“Everything has a cost. Everything has a price,” Giraldo told Inman about the considerations that went into deciding what design features, including 1859’s custom fragrance, could make the cut for the final property plans. “There’s limitations to how much you can do,” he recognized, while also elaborating that the property’s developer would spare no expense on worthwhile amenities.
When it came to pairing scent memory to the 1859 branded fragrance products and giving away small samples of the 1859 products to potential buyers who visited the home, Giraldo was able to make a compelling enough case to the developer and listing agents that this business decision that bridges marketing, design and appealing to the emotions would pay off.
Having the listing agents’ support and input on this was “crucial,” Giraldo said, given their extensive experience with ultra-luxury buyers and industry intel to understand that this move was “so unique to the market that no one was doing it.”
The property on 1859 Bel Air Road is a 20,000-square-foot design gem developed by Balakhani Estates in partnership with architectural firm Tag Front. The nine-bedroom, 10-bathroom home sits on 1.6 acres in an established neighborhood, and was just completed at the beginning of 2023. The home’s sleek, curved architecture, which includes sweeping three-story floor-to-ceiling windows, clean lines and a magnificent central spiral staircase that appears suspended mid-air, exudes contemporary glamour. Designed for entertaining indoors and out, the house flows seamlessly from sunken living room to entertainment spaces and the outdoor veranda.
Amenities included in the $68 million property are an infinity pool and spa, a primary suite outfitted with a fireplace and two walk-in closets, a home theater, a gym equipped with TechnoGym machines, a 1,000-bottle-plus wine lounge, an eco-green living wall and views of the ocean and canyons surrounding Bel Air.
But all those luxurious features — incredible as they are — somehow don’t stand out in the same way that a custom fragrance, developed specifically for this home and purportedly valued at $25,000, stands out. To be clear, the home’s buyer won’t have to pay an extra $25,000 to keep the fragrance and its accoutrements in the home, but the value is included in the overall $68 million price tag.
The global home fragrance market size was valued at $22.89 billion as of 2019, and is estimated to reach a value of $27.63 billion by 2027, according to a report released by Fortune Business Insights in September 2022.
Since scent can evoke strong memories or emotions — and if overdone, can be rather off-putting — successfully executing the home’s custom fragrance was not an inconsequential task once the team behind 1859 committed to this decision. Smells are processed by the olfactory bulb, a structure in the front of the brain that sends signals to the limbic system, which includes the amygdala and the hippocampus, areas of the brain associated with emotion and memory.
Some of the most popular essential oils, according to Forbes, include lavender, lemon, sandalwood, cinnamon, peppermint and patchouli. Youngliving.com adds frankincense, cedarwood, vetiver, oregano, grapefruit and a blend of spruce, cypress and eucalyptus to the mix.
But the fragrance that listing agents Tomer Fridman, Sally Forster Jones, Levik Stephan, Anita Stephan, Chantel Mehrabanian and designer Giraldo landed on is a fresh mix primarily made up of pear, peony, tonka bean and musk — one that the agents describe as pleasantly omnipresent but not overpowering. After visiting Ex Nihilo’s headquarters and testing out a variety of scent options that Giraldo and the Ex Nihilo team came up with, the listing agents and Balakhani Estates CEO Shahram Sean Balakhani helped make the final determination.
“What we wanted, including the developer, is a very bespoke approach to not just constructing the home, but living in it,” Fridman told Inman. “We thought that a) you don’t want [the fragrance] overpowering, and b) you want some kind of freshness and something that’s going to be memorable, but not really take center stage.”
He noted that many agents of a certain caliber will bring candles to home showings to create a particular environment appealing to luxury buyers. But with 1859, the fragrance and the vibe that it exudes are already built into the home with a special diffuser.
“The truth is, certain homes have very distinct smells to them,” Fridman continued. “And this one was really instrumental in setting the ambiance and the lifestyle of the house … In this house, you actually feel at home and the fragrance is a huge part of that.”
Each moment spent in a home, memories are being generated, and the home’s scent plays into that significantly, Forster Jones explained.
“What we sell and what we promote is lifestyle, and the first thing that brings the memory of how you’re going to live in a home, how it’s going to feel in the home, what you’re going to experience and what you’re going to imagine — all of this comes together,” Forster Jones said. “So the scent is important. Just the ambiance of the furnishings, the design — every aspect comes together in the lifestyle and the different areas of the home you have.”
“It’s really all about moments,” she added.
Forster Jones likened the use of a custom fragrance in the home to those used in luxury hotels, which is familiar every time a guest returns and stirs up memories of past visits.
“You experience it again and again, and this is what you think of when you go back to that particular hotel or particular property,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to create here.”
This is the first time Giraldo has ever created a custom fragrance for a home, something he was inspired to do after a number of people while he was traveling in Milan stopped him to ask what fragrance he was wearing, and Ex Nihilo Director of Americas Marine Roland suggested Giraldo channel his penchant for scents into a home fragrance. As a fragrance enthusiast, Giraldo creates his own blends, the formulas of which he typically keeps close to his chest.
“So this lady in Milan, she goes, ‘Oh my god, can I stop you? What is it you smell of?’ And I go, ‘Oooh, top secret,'” said Giraldo, describing his Italian encounters.
Giraldo, who was born in Colombia and now resides in West Hollywood, also chose a few select pieces of art to stage in the property, one of which has a scent tie-in, allowing art, fragrance, memory and home to come full-circle.
Giraldo works with the Colombian nonprofit Espíritu Santo Project Foundation, which helps at-risk youths who have faced violence in Colombia through art and educational programs. A young woman beneficiary of the nonprofit named Ana Evelyn created with Colombian artist Angelica Kastillo “Dancing Flower,” a vibrant portrait of an indigo flower, which is now displayed in the breakfast nook at 1859.
Eveylyn was inspired to create the painting after reflecting on how the acts of dancing and remembering the comfort of her grandmother’s patio with its powerful smell of flowers helped her through a traumatic period in her life.
The inspiration behind the portrait also mirrors Giraldo’s own philosophy on how closely smell and emotional memory are linked.
“Even today, if I smell my mom’s perfume, it takes me back years and years of so much memory, so I wanted to convey that,” Giraldo said. “When someone comes to the house, they experience the scent [immediately] at the front of the house.”
And every time a potential buyer who’s received an 1859 branded product goes to use that product in their own home, the scent and image of the brand will remind them of the house itself — how it felt to them, the remarkable design, and maybe, how much they would like to live there permanently.
“If a potential buyer comes to the house, of course they’re going to fall in love with the smell,” Giraldo said. “Then they leave the house with a gift, which is a candle, so when they go to their own home, that smell still follows them.”
The exclusive fragrance and home diffuser created by Ex Nihilo will not be available for purchase to general consumers, but Giraldo may use it in another property in the future, if he so chooses, through his agreement with the Parisian perfumery. But for now, it will belong to just one lucky buyer.
As for what Giraldo thinks 1859’s custom fragrance smells like, and the emotion potential buyers may take away from it, he simply said it exudes the feeling of “I am home. This is where I belong.”
Get Inman’s Luxury Lens Newsletter delivered right to your inbox. A weekly deep dive into the biggest news in the world of high-end real estate delivered every Friday. Click here to subscribe.