A FRIEND'S Italian grandmother burned lemon peels on the stove to take away the lingering smell of fish, remembers New York interior designer John Stedila. "Another woman I know used two or three fresh pineapples on the table in lieu of flowers for a wonderful home fragrance," says Stedila. "But I think the first person I knew to use fragrance as an important decorating idea was Calvin Klein's former wife, Jayne. Jayne stuck cloves in lemons and oranges and put them around the house. They filled their home with a delicious, spicy scent." He believes in scent as a tool for interior design.

One Washington real-estate agent has been known to advise his clients to bake apples with cinnamon just before a visit with prospective buyers. And in her elegant home, a meeting place for the high and mighty, grande dame Lorraine (Mrs. John C. Sherman) Cooper uses heat resistant ring coverings with essence oils to pleasantly scent her many rooms.

"Scent," says Washington interior designer Emily Malino, "has been neglected around the house for a long time. People have subliminal reactions to one another based on scent."

Stedila agrees. "Scent as a design element never entered my mind until recently, although I've always unconsciously been aware of it -- even the perfumes and colognes on various friends."

Stedila calls scent as "accessory" -- in the same category as a lamp, picture or carpet.

"I like to think my interior designs stand on their own merits. I hope they don't need a scent to make them come alive. However, when I use a fragrance it may be the focus of the room. At home I have six scented candles in hurricane lamps on the ledge on the mirrored living/dining room wall."

The candles might set a romantic mood for the room, but gourmets object to frangances, even flowers, in a room for serious dining and wining. To avoid mixed smells, Stedila keeps the candles far removed from the dining table.

Another way Stedila uses scent in design is to fill a large terra-cotta pot (40 inches in diameter and about a foot high) with a few pounds of pot-pourri. "I cheated a bit -- the bottom half is stuffed with newspaper." Stedila uses the pot as a centerpiece in his living room.

Besides fruits, mixed herbs, pot-pourri, scented candles, incense sticks, sachets and soaps are other ways you can decorate with fragrance. Bebe Winkler of Bebe Winkler Interior Design in New York City, likes to use scents subtly. "Recently I poured a pound of potpourri into a large fishbowl. The fishbowl sits in the rear of my private office, where the scent of the potpourri fills the air but doesn't overwhelm me or my clients."

"I love the smell of fresh flowers, but often there's no time to stop by the florist. A natural alternative to fresh flowers is potpourri, dried flowers.

"Be sure to revitalize your potpourri each month or so with essence oils. Just a few drops will keep your potpourri scent alive," adds Winkler.

Winkler likes to repeat the same fragrance from room to room. She feels being consistent with a fragrance throughout helps to keep the scent in the background.

Floral sticks and aerosol sprays are another way to use scent. But forget the 59-cent supermarket variety, advises John Stedilla. "You remember the plastic pop-up types with flowery decorations that were supposedly made to be kept out -- I certainly wouldn't want them seen in my home," says Stedila disdainfully.

However, there are aerosol sprays made today that draw less attention to themselves and to their scent. Claire Burke, Crabtree & Evelyn and Calvin Klein all make sprays with scents ranging from potpourri to rose and spicy orange to woodsey.

Not all interior designers like the concept of using scent to decorate with. Sarah Jenkins, interior designer with W&J Sloane, thinks "decorating with fragrance is an extravagant decorating worry. I don't place potpourri anywhere when I decorate. Decorating with enery problems in mind is a more important consideration in my view."

Joan Farrell, designer with Appalachiana in Bethesda, says, "I don't like to be overwhelmed by a scent. I resent this intrusion -- kind of like Muzak -- it's all part of what I call 'stage setting,' which I find difficult to live with. I much prefer the aromas from freshly baked bread or brewing coffee."

Any scent -- no matter how subtle -- may make an allergic person seriously ill. Before you bring home bagfuls of potpourri and armfuls of scented candles, be sure to check with the person(s) you're living with -- an unfragranted house is better than a sneezing roommate.

Many people agree, however, with one Washington partygoer and giver: "When you smell a Rigaud candle burning, you know there's a party going on.".

Where to buy scented "accessories":

C'est L'Alchimiste in the Mazza Gallerie, Chevy Chase, probably carries the largest variety of scented accessories in town, starting with 15 varieties of potpourri including Clair Burke, Westminster of London, American-made Ben Rickert and even their own brand. All cost $3.25 per half cup.

L'Alchimiste also sells essence oils, extracted with solvent from the petals of the flowers, explains buyer Amy Grapes. The oils range in price from $2.25 to $27 per half ounce. They sell the French-made Rigaud candles, used by Jacqueline Kennedy at the White House -- a mini-candle (2 l/2 - 3 inches) costs $15, while the larger 5-inch candle with silver top and base cost $42. Their sachets range from $1.75 to $7.50 -- again they make their own, "the prepackaged ones don't last as long," says Grapes. And L'Alchimiste carries a lampe berger that gives off a fragrance when its wick is lit with scented alcohol. A perfume vaporizer is made by Floris of London ("who also makes the perfumes used by the queen," says Grapes). The vaporizer is a heat resistant fiber ring that is put on a light bulb. A few drops of gragranted essence oil emit a perfumed scent when the light is turned on. Two rings and a dropper bottle of oil is $13.50. A pair of rings in $3.50.

Dumbarton Pharmacy, 3146 Dumbarton Ave. NW: carries the Floris vaporizer rings and oil set ($13.50) with a choice of three scents -- sandalwood, jasmine or stefanotis.

Crabtree & Evelyn, at 1101 Connecticut Ave. NW and at White Flint, have been making their own brands for more than a decade. Co-owner of the Connecticut Avenue store, Joan Reich, says that scented acessories are "very hot right now -- they're selling like crazy." Besides their own brand, they also carry Scarborough Fair. Crabtree & Evelyn potpourri sells for $2.25 per 1 oz. bag. In addition, they also make 4-inch scented candles for $14 -- "perfumed with an old-fashioned 100-year-old recipe" as well as sachets, $2-$4.50.

Powder 'n' Smoke, Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown, carries Calvin Klein's room spray, Crabree & Evelyn's potpourri, as well as soap from the Caroline Soap Co. Store manager Gwen Schweig says there has been an increase in scented accessories during the past year, "particularly evident during Christmas."

Dolly Kay Design Ltd., 5232 44th St. NW, has a funny accessory they call a "toe stuffer" -- a pair of scented sachets that go into your shoes. Especially nice for travelers, a pair goes for $10. Dolly Kay also carries sachets ranging from $8 to $10; potpourri made by Rinaldo Maia ($4.50 per ounce); a kitchen potpourri that claims to take away unwanted kitchen odors, by Cherchez, $7 for 2 ounces; and scented candles. Rigaud candles range from $15 to $45. The medium-height Porthault candles are $65.

Bloomindale's (Tyson's Corner and White Flint) sells almost the entire American-made Clair Burke line -- sachets, loofas, sprays, potpourri. eA half-ounce of potpourri is $3. Claire Burke's foot-high potpourri candles go for $25. Bloomingdale's also carries the Calvin Klein air freshner.

Garfinckel's carries the Fresh Floral room spray made by Westminster of London, $7.50 for 3 3/4 ounces. They also have potpourri made by Westminster, $7.50 for a bottle, $20 in a china container.

Lord & Taylor carries the Clair Burke products: scented candles, $32.50; spray, $5.50 and $7.50; potpourri, $3 per ounce; sachets $5-$25. The more expensive ones, says Lord & Taylor's Mary Austin, are the music box sachets. Also at Lord & Taylor: a spray made in France -- Nobilis ($45 for 3.3 oz), comes in three scents: woodsy, rose and herbal. Also from France, a scent burner or defuseur, made by Porthault, $75 and for a 250-milliliter bottle of fragrant concentrate to fill it, $22.50.

Woodlawn Plantation, Mount Vernon, carries potpourri by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, $1.75 per ounce; Minnesotan handmade soaps that come in quilted squares, 75-cents each; and sachets for $2.50.