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THE FORGOTTEN JOYS OF POTPOURRI AGAIN ADDING SPICE TO DECORATING DRIED FLOWERS, AROMATIC SPRAYS BRING OUTDOORS IN

Alisia Mayes recalls the cache of fragrances found throughout her grandmother's home. Spices simmered in the kitchen; dried hyacinths, roses and lilacs were aromatically displayed through the rest of the house.

"She made her own potpourri and she taught me how to preserve the beauty of the flowers," she said.

Today, Mrs. Mayes sews draperies, pillows and decorative accessories in the Victorian vein -- and often trims them with sachets and scented dried flowers.

"I think if you have a really nice room -- especially one with a Victorian decor -- it takes something away from it if the air is stale," the Buffalo designer said.

In her own home, sachets are tied to toss pillows or dangled from drapery tiebacks. Fabric-covered boxes are sprinkled with fragrant dried flowers and candle-heated scent pots are scattered throughout the kitchen and living areas.

"I like to take potpourri and pepper it around the room, so that you can smell something pleasant when you walk in," she said. "Some scents are obvious, some not so obvious.

"You might want softer fragrances in the bedroom, stronger ones in the bathroom," advises Mrs. Mayes, who runs a small business called Victorian Airs that specializes in custom-designed, handmade Victorian accents.

Alisia Mayes is one in a new generation of scent seekers. Ten years ago, many Americans had never even heard of potpourri let alone could pronounce it (PO-poo-ree). But last year, American consumers spent $260 million on potpourri products, according to the Fragrance Foundation.

Today, potpourri products are a staple in many homes. Some may choose a $25 "designer" mixture bearing, say, the Ralph Lauren name. Others will take a $2.98 concoction consisting more of scented wood chips than fragrant flower petals.

Even manufacturers of mundane household products have picked up on the trend. White Cloud recently introduced its "Spring Breeze" scented toilet paper; ammonia cleanser is spruced up with "pine" or "lemon" scents; Glade offers a medley of products ranging from "Mountain Heather Potpourri Spray" to "Spiced Apple Carpet and Room Deodorizer."

Certainly the popularity in English country design in home furnishings boosted potpourri sales in the past 10 years, experts say, as did the renaissance in Victorian looks. And the trend in people turning to their homes as entertainment centers helped, too.

"People today have a bit more spendable incomes. For the short period of time a lot of us are home, we want our homes to be more than utilitarian to us," said Linda Gutowski, manager of Crabtree & Evelyn Ltd. boutiques in Buffalo and Snyder.

"We want them to look pretty, smell pretty. People are giving a little extra care. We don't want our homes to smell like diapers or wet dogs," she said.

Consider, too, that many of today's offices and homes are kept closed up because of air-conditioning. "A bowl of potpourri brings a little bit of the outdoors in," Mrs. Gutowski said.

But treating one's family and guests to home fragrances is nothing new. "It's really a throwback to what what our grandmothers used to do -- bringing all fresh things in from the garden. Most of us don't have time to do that anymore," Mrs. Gutowski said.

There also is new interest in aroma therapy, in which scents are used as mood enhancers, she added.

Not only do whiffs of cinnamon, cedar or lavender conjure up images and emotions we may have long forgotten, devotees say, but different scents actually make one feel relaxed or energized.

Some designers suggest that home fragrances are another way that individuals can express themselves.

"A scent almost can almost tell the characteristics or the personality of the person living in the house," said Irene E. Adamski, professor emeritus in interior design at Villa Maria College.

Each scent has a different meaning. A lavender scent reveals a quiet person who loves to keep to herself, she said. A mix of spices shows a very vibrant person; rose petals, a giving and loving one.

"And people who love to work in the garden will choose a mixture of flowers," Mrs. Adamski said.

Mrs. Gutowski agreed, adding that potpourri lovers can create "layers of fragrances" with scented drawer liners, room sprays, dried flowers, scented hangers, carpet fresheners, pomanders, sachets and more.

"You can use different fragrances from room to room. There's even a children's fragrance that is not real perfumy but rather has an undertone of lavender," she said.

But while some say that scent certainly adds to the whole of experience of design, others keep the potpourri trend in perspective.

As one interior designer was quoted in the New York Times as saying: "Potpourri? A design statement? That's like saying deodorant is a fashion statement."

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