What's that smell?
October 2, 2010 6:13 PM   Subscribe

What is that east coast home/furniture smell?

I'm a west coaster, but love the east, especially New England. For years I've noticed a particular scent to east coast homes, that's very distinct from the west. I happen to really like that scent but where is it from?

My only guesses are:
1. A mold of some kind?
2. the wood used in furniture and construction

Has anyone else noticed this? Any ideas?
posted by Gusaroo to Grab Bag (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
posted by amro at 6:14 PM on October 2, 2010

Depends where you are. Some coastal New England smells: mildew, salt water, low tide, pine, sweet fern.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:16 PM on October 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

And in winter, wood stove/fireplace smell. And snow.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:16 PM on October 2, 2010

Lack of cedar?
posted by Sys Rq at 6:20 PM on October 2, 2010

Yes, I have noticed this, and I call the scent "basement." It gets stronger in humidity.
posted by celilo at 7:10 PM on October 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

The scent of Bed Bath & Beyond?
posted by R. Mutt at 7:34 PM on October 2, 2010

Leather, old wood, oil furnaces and damp basements, linseed oil, old moldering books, fireplaces [working or not], granite/stone basement walls. Do you notice it in any particular rooms?
posted by jessamyn at 8:06 PM on October 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm betting it's mildew.
posted by briank at 8:18 PM on October 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

It gets stronger in humidity.

Have you spent much time in the pacific northwest? If not, I'll bet that you're noticing something that's due to the (general) lack of humidity out west.
posted by schmod at 10:12 PM on October 2, 2010

Something having to do with steam heat, perhaps?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:54 PM on October 2, 2010

Most likely a function of the typical wood species used, which may be different from what you're used to, and experienced in higher humidity than you're used to (this makes a huge difference).
Plus how it's treated (against bugs), which manifests itself as variations on the mothball theme.

Add a bit of everything mentioned by others to this, and you're there, I guess.
posted by Namlit at 3:20 AM on October 3, 2010

Shellac and wood soap or furniture wax used to care for shellacked wood - it's an ancient smell, like it's been there a thousand years. A creaky floorboard, museum bannister, church pew sort of smell. Similar to the smell of a box of very old books in good condition - not musty or moldy, but substantial and old.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:56 AM on October 3, 2010

Is it more pronounced in older homes? That may help pinpoint whether it. If you've ever been someplace like Colonial Williamsburg or the whaling museum in New Bedford --- an old, well-cared for place ---I tend to find they have a distinct smell; I've always put it down to aged wood, that doesn't have the same chemicals and treatments more modern construction materials do.
posted by Diablevert at 7:01 AM on October 3, 2010

Mold, mildew, moisture. The East Coast is just lots more moist than the West, and dampened textiles and woods have a scent.
posted by Miko at 8:04 AM on October 3, 2010

The East Coast is more likely to be inhabited by antique furniture, which has been regularly treated with furniture wax for a few hundred years.

We have antiques on the West Coast, but most people prefer to leave them "distressed," and therefore aren't likely to polish them. I'm told the posh, glossy, "brand new" look is much more popular for antiques on the East Coast.
posted by ErikaB at 9:44 AM on October 3, 2010

Murphy's oil soap?
posted by cestmoi15 at 11:01 AM on October 3, 2010

If you've ever been someplace like Colonial Williamsburg

Hate to break it to you, buddy.... most of it was built in the 1930s.

Anything you smelled in CW must have been due to the building methods, the types of materials used, or the manner in which the buildings are used. Not much of it is "actually" older than your grandparents.
posted by schmod at 9:26 PM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lead paint. Endemic petty political corruption. Moisture from the basement. Stale air, because we seal everything up tight to keep out winter's cold. Dust, for the same reason.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:09 AM on October 4, 2010

I agree with celilo - I think it's basement.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:07 AM on October 4, 2010

Response by poster: Slap*Happy--you nailed the description.
I've just returned from two weeks on the Maine coast. I stayed in a 10 year old house on Penobscot Bay with no basement, very well built and winterized, so no moldy corners. It was filled with antique furniture though, and the house had that smell. So I'm definitely thinking it's the antique furniture.

I've been in plenty of moldy, damp houses, but the smell wasn't agreeable at all. This smell is very subtle.

Thanks for your thoughts MeFites!
posted by Gusaroo at 5:02 PM on October 14, 2010

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