Duck through the doors of acclaimed perfumer Mandy Aftel's studio cottage and the first thing you see is a hand-colored map of the heavens: "Welcome to another universe."
The map, which was made in the 1860s, still isn't enough to prepare visitors for the whole new world that lies in the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents. Opened earlier this month, the adorable cottage houses the first museum in the U.S. dedicated solely to natural perfume. Tucked away behind Aftel's house in Berkeley, the museum gives a comprehensive natural history of fragrance, from 100-year-old scents to old books to even older apothecary recipes.
"I just started by reading the books and loving the secret world they introduced me to," says Aftel, whose latest book, The Art of Flavor, cowritten with San Francisco chef Daniel Patterson, comes out in August. (The pair also teamed on a 2004 book, Aroma: The Magic of Essentials Oils in Foods and Fragrance.) "I was always showing my collection to people and it dawned on me that I could share this special world by making my cottage into a studio and museum."
The project took over three years to complete and has now been open for three weeks—which translates to just three days for this Saturdays-only museum. A ticket gives you one hour to wander around and explore artifacts such as Aftel's 220-essence "scent organ," from which you get to choose three scents to sniff.
For most, visiting the museum is a rare experience, but for Aftel, it's just a side gig. "I love it in there, I'm working the other six days of the week!" she says, laughing.
// Aftel Archive of Curious Scents, 1518 Walnut St. (Berkeley), Saturdays 10am–6pm, aftelier.com