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Friday, November 05, 2010

House Beautiful

By Marla

It’s the dead of winter, 20 below outside, a howling wind, and you just cooked fish with brussels sprouts for dinner. I won’t question your judgment on the menu, but your nose is suffering as you do the dishes. Do you open the window and risk being flash-frozen? No! Here in Northern Europe, we burn papier d’Armenie, small rectangles of paper infused with benzoin resin. This beautiful and practical form of incense has been used here since 1885, when it was developed in Montrouge, France. At that time, it was used both to deodorize, and also to disinfect rooms. Now we realize that the disinfectant part was a bit of wishful thinking, but the deodorizing/scenting function of papier d’Armenie is delightful. For a few years, there was a cancer scare about benzoin/benzene fumes (possibly due to the similarity of the words), but further studies have shown that of at least 72 things you can burn to scent your room, papier d’Armenie is the least likely to cause any health problems, and benzene levels are extremely low. So no worries there. Scent away.

Master perfumer Francis Kurkdjian has worked with the makers of papier d’Armenie to develop his own line of scented burning papers (Papier Encens), and I was lucky enough to take some home on my recent trip to Paris. I chose the “Lumiere Noire”, made to match his rose and patchouli perfume of the same name. To use the papers, simply tear one from the booklet, fold it accordian style, light one corner, blow it out, and let it smolder in a ceramic pot or holder. Your room will be scented with Lumiere Noire, Aqua Universalis, or APOM for about an hour or so. They’re available at Maison Francis Kurkdjian in Paris, or from his website, for approximately $20 per packet:

I’ve also been trying several types of “smokeless incense” from Japan in this cold weather, and have found two brands I really enjoy. The first, Shoyeido’s Xiang Do series, has two scents that have become household favorites, Peppermint and Forest. They burn down without smoke and leave a gentle scent of (guess) peppermint, and conifers. The second is Seikado's Kyoyama Sumi Ink (available at The latter smells exactly like the evocative camphor-spiced sumi ink of Zen calligraphy and sells for about $16 for a box of 200 sticks. I’ve tried about a dozen “smokeless incense”, and many do indeed smoke, and many do indeed fume. These two brands deliver, essentially smoke-free.

If you’d like to try one of the Kurkdjian papers, please leave a comment, and my house rabbit, Limette, will pick one of you at random. (I learned this technique from Grain de Musc’s cat, Jicky.) If you’d like to try a few sticks of Sumi Ink, let me know in the comments, and Limette will pick one of you.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

these sound amazing! i don't envy the cold at all! but i do ur lovely smelling paper...please tell limette that the dog raisenette says she most definitely should pick me!!! Oh do keep warm

2:25 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, hongkongmom, you're in the drawing! And the papers work very well in all climates, I tried them in Florida also.

2:46 AM EDT  
Blogger Tama said...

What the heck is going on in that top photo? Somebody has a pretty great fun coat!

I'd love to try a paper.

2:51 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tama, that's not my angora rabbit, that's a champion angora, but my house rabbit is the same breed, just not quite as "fluffed out"! They're very sweet-natured and friendly. Aren't they magnificent? ;-)

3:27 AM EDT  
Blogger Ines said...

Hmm, I never heard of papier d'Armenie so I would definitely love to try it. :)

5:16 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would love to try either one of these as they both sound amazing. Please tell Limette to pick me! Thanks for a fascinating article!


6:12 AM EDT  
Anonymous jen said...

Isn'v that the bunny's er... "business end" in the pic? ;)

I'd love to try the papers.


6:53 AM EDT  
Anonymous Molly said...

I'd love to try the papers or the Sumi ink incense! Isn't Sumi ink supposedly one of the notes in Comme des Garcons 2?

7:43 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too live in a colder climate and cooking smells can be brutal, especially in the winter. I would love to try the papers. What are your thoughts on Lampe Berger?
Limette, please pick me!

7:51 AM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

I adore Angora rabbits! I assume it is Limette at the top of the post? She is lovely.

I would like to be entered in the draw for either the MFK papers or the Japanese incense. Thanks for offering to do this!

8:51 AM EDT  
Blogger Katherine said...

Ohmigosh, I think I've seen that dustbunny hiding under my bed before! :)

I would love to try either the papers or the smokeless incense. Thanks!

9:27 AM EDT  
Anonymous lilacskin said...

good morning, what a funny picture! tho. like jen. i'm not quite sure what i'm looking at! i would love to try either type of incense tho' its the sumi ink if i must choose...

10:09 AM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Wait. That thing is a RABBIT? I thought it might be the rabbit's house, with it's nose just peeking out...

No need to put me in the draw, Marla, just wanted to say I always learn wonderful things from you and this post was no exception.

11:31 AM EDT  
Anonymous dleep said...

I would love to be entered in the drawing - I love Japanese incense.
Thank you.

12:55 PM EDT  
Anonymous Lilybug said...

I'm intrigued by the idea of paper incense. Would love to try some; please put me in the draw:)

1:26 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, my friends, you are all in the drawing, and I won't tell Limette about the marginally uncomplimentary asides, as she would be offended, and rabbits are easily offended. Particularly English angoras....

1:48 PM EDT  
Anonymous grizzlesnort said...

Don't know if I want my house to smell like brussels sprouts but I like a house that smells lived in rather than antiseptic. Please enter me in your drawing. thanks.

1:50 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love incense! I'd also love to try the Sumi Ink. I looked up the link for the Shoyeido but shipping to Canada is $30!! How sad :-( As a result, I hope I'm lucky enough to win this draw :-)

Many thanks for telling us about these.


1:51 PM EDT  
Blogger KnitPicky199 said...

I dream of living in Francais and of course near Paris.. my ancesters were from France and now the 'papier d'Armenie would be another reason to enjoy being in Paris! I can smell the burning paper as I sit here! :)

2:04 PM EDT  
Blogger Janet said...

I'd love to try one of the Kurkdjian papers!

2:42 PM EDT  
Blogger Tammy said...

It would be delightful to sample either of these, but what I'd love most of all is Limette!

3:53 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tammy, Limette read your comment and gave a tooth purr. (Rabbits show their approval by making little "chuckchuck" purrs with their teeth.)

4:12 PM EDT  
Anonymous zeram1 said...

Wow, I've been looking for something to enhance" the overall scent of my main room. I'd love to also be in the drawing for the "papier d'Armenie".

11:17 PM EDT  
Anonymous Natalie said...

I love my cooking, but the smell of curry/fish/sauteed shallots/etc. always lingers a tad too long. I'm on the hunt for some snazzy home fragrance, and I'd love to be entered in the drawing for these -- thank you!

11:45 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

No need to enter me, unless you are also giving away an Angora rabbit, then I'm in.... ;-)

These sound really nice, especially the Sumi ink one, I love that stuff.

12:40 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Maral:
Love the comments about the fragrance papers. Also like that they are natual fragrances, which is a bonus. I have found the papers last a long time in any weather. Love the bunny too!
Regards, Jane

3:28 AM EDT  
Blogger Dionne said...

Count me in as another Canadian who's bummed about the shipping costs here - and why, oh why isn't paper incense something that has caught on in my neck of the woods? I'd never even heard of the idea before, and it's brilliant!

11:20 AM EDT  
Anonymous Jemi said...

I would love to try the papier d'Armenie -- please include me in the draw!

Thank you!

3:36 PM EST  
Blogger Ducks said...

Marla! Do you spin Limette's fur? As a passionately addicted handspinner... well, I would not be able to resist.

Exciting and fascinating review -- thank you for a peek into the exotic.

10:34 PM EST  
Blogger Isa said...

I have read about Papier d'Armenie but I have never tried it. I would love to know what it smells like!

I love burning scented incense sticks.

Please, enter me in the draw!

Thank you!

11:40 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Ducks!
I don't spin Limette's wool, because it has to be mixed 50-50 with sheep's wool to be strong enough. However, I do felt it. My favorite is making felt balls for kids, they're great fun, and wonderful, sturdy toys (and much better than the Chinese plastic ones)!

2:29 PM EST  

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