Scent Survey: Blair Richardson

Founder and Principal, Little Mule Studio

Blair Richardson works design miracles from Little Mule Studio, the design firm she founded in Austin, Texas and took with her to Mexico City five years ago. Nowadays she works with clients worldwide, specialising in identity, print, environmental graphics, and digital design projects. Her astute hand was behind Smoke: New Firewood Cooking by Tim Byres, which won a 2013 James Beard Award in General Cooking and Austin’s much-loved Franklin Barbeque, where the line-up for Texas-style BBQ and pinto beans tumbles hungrily out the door daily. More cookbooks are on the way, together with print projects from Blair’s own in-house letterpress.

What did your childhood smell like?
I grew up in southern Virginia, in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, so my childhood smelled like rain and honeysuckle. Summer was always my favorite time of year, and I would watch thunderstorms crash through the giant, swaying trees in our backyard from the misty shelter of my screened-in porch. After the storm had passed and the scent of ozone filled the air, I’d play in the creek with the neighborhood boys, building shelters and bridges for their GI Joes in the mud. I never wanted to be the girl Joe, just the animals. We’d pick the flowers from the honeysuckle vines and suck the nectar out of the insides.

(Do kids ever play like that anymore?)

In Mexican Spanish, a sprinkling of rain is called chippy chippy. In my Mexico City home, the plant-filled patio off the kitchen is open to the sky, and those first few chippy chippies that fall before a rainstorm bring that familiar ozone scent, mixed with the earthy smells of potting soil and concrete. I find myself happily transported back to my screened-in porch as a child.

What scent has the power to stop you in your tracks and immediately transport you to a memory/moment/feeling?
I spent a week in southern France a few years back and was captivated by the crisp, herbal scent of the air. We walked through the countryside to an abandoned chateau outside of Tourtour, and the mix of mint, lavender, thyme, oregano — I was in heaven. That particular mix of herbs just stuns me.

Also a specific soap that was used at my Aunt’s house in the bathroom, some sort of generic Dial or something, mixed with a cinnamon candle … A weird mix, but something I’ve encountered elsewhere and was instantly transported to Thanksgiving vacation at her house as a teenager.

What did your grandmother smell like?
My grandmother was an amazing cook and loved wool sweaters. She smelled of mothballs, gingerbread, and old books, with some soft, powdery scent that I think came from her makeup.

What does your kitchen smell like?
Cooked onions.

What does happy smell like?

What does your favourite place in the world smell like?
The food markets of Mexico: such a mix! A green, vegetal smell. All that produce ready for my kitchen!

What is your least favourite smell?
Cheap dill pickles.

What does love smell like?
I once paused beside a rosebush in bloom in Mineral del Chico, a tiny pueblo in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico. It smelled faintly of rose, but strongly of yellow lemon. I fell in love!