So what is 'Hygge'? It seems only right and fair that I kick off my blog section with this topic, now that I have named my shop HomeHygge. I am of course aware of the sudden and intense attention this concept has received recently. I will attempt to keep it short and sweet but as I get into it - there is a good chance I will fail. Bear with me. Let me get the important stuff out of the way first….
Yeah - I know. What were we thinking, right? I'm sure we could have come up with something a little more manageable. Had we only known the kind of hype this would get now..But here we are. And I've seen and heard some good ones too. Most attempts at 'hygge' have daunting phonetic spellings to silence even the bravest, so my personal suggestion would look and sound a little like:
'Hoo-guh' (Hygge) or 'Hoo-guh-lee' (Hyggelig)
Depending on the context. The latter version describes anything (and I mean anything) that evokes the feeling of 'hygge'. Which brings me to the next bit...
What is hygge?
Let me quickly qualify what I am about to share with the fact, that I am indeed Danish. Born and bred. While this will grant me some licence in talking about 'hygge' with an authentic Scandinavian voice - I cannot speak for everyone back home or the entire Nordic region. But there are commonalities that we can all agree on in Denmark and the rest of Scandinavia. These are of course the areas covered in the current discussion about 'hygge'. And the at times slightly misguided but amusing check-list approach to achieving it.
To me 'hygge' is a feeling. A feeling of comfort. But not just physical comfort. Although this is of course is a massive part of it. And yes, blankets, deer skins, ski socks, open fires, candles and hot chocolate are all worthy mentions. But perhaps more importantly, it's about the comfort you get from feeling welcome, included and cared for. And again - yes, these moments can be greatly enhanced by the presence of these same items. But they can also be completely void of them. It can simply be 'hyggeligt' to meet someone. Without candles or knitwear anywhere in sight. It can be hyggeligt to listen to the rain beating down outside, while you're somewhere warm and dry. Even if that happens to be a tent..
It can describe objects. Like a simple wooden cutting board you might see your dinner served on instead of a plate at a restaurant. It can be the seemingly effortless way items are arranged. A line-up of rain boots for the entire family in a hallway. Or a display of potted plants in someone's windowsill that makes you want to do the same at home.
An entire place or location can - and often will be 'hyggeligt'. Whether it's someone's home or garden. Or an entire town. Perhaps a perfect marina with cute seafood restaurants dotted along the harbour at sunset... Or cobbled streets and courtyard cafes. 'Hygge' can be found in anything that makes you want to be part of it. Likewise, if the cutting board with your food is gross or the food looks awful... If the potted plants in the windowsill are withering... If trash is floating around in the harbour and on closer inspection the restaurants are all tourist traps with strip lighting and laminated menus... Well, then the 'hygge' starts to go away. And eventually it leaves the building entirely.
The good news is you can find 'hygge' or create it almost anywhere. Scandinavians don't own it. But it is ingrained in our culture and part of almost everything we do, so we're very good at it. So what exactly is it that Scandinavians do to make it 'hyggeligt'?
How do you create 'hygge'?
I don't think it's a coincidence that the region associated with 'hygge', is also the same region frequently awarded title of 'happiest people in the world'... It's hard to get your 'hygge' on if you're worried about the big stuff. And I do believe 'hygge' and happiness are very much part of the same equation. So while I can't and won't presume to know how to make anyone happy, I can offer some basic tips on how to create hygge.
Light is King
Maybe it's because Scandinavia is so far north that extreme daylight conditions have influenced our lives and our homes. We worship daylight in our architecture - with enourmous windows, sky lights and panoramic glass facades. Many choose not to have curtains or blinds if location (privacy) allows it. And we almost always paint our homes white. All to increase daylight conditions in our interiors.
But we also welcome and even look forward to the darker evenings. Especially when Christmas is on the horizon. It's a time to huddle up together and light even more candles than we would during the summer months. Wood burning stoves and fireplaces come into action. Trees and bushes are kissed with warm white fairylights - avoiding flashing interval settings at all costs. And restaurants and homes display candles and lights in their windows creating a landscape of warm beacons of 'hygge' to draw you in, in the midst of our cold dark winter.
So if I had to choose one area that can increase the hygge-factor dramatically and almost immediately, it would be lighting. No contest.
Tea lights, dinner candles and lanterns. Fire places, wood burning stoves, garden torches and fire pits are all part of Scandinavian living. It's a natural source of light that brings us together in a way that artificial light just can't match. I, for one can't remember the last time I pondered life as I gazed mesmerised into the light - of a lamp.
So although nothing says 'hygge' like a (supervised) open flame, electrical lighting certainly also plays a major part. There are whole industries in Scandinavia centred around lighting design. All aimed at creating the best possible light to compliment your home. And there are a few things your average Scandinavian would instinctively aim for in the name of 'hyggelig' electrical lighting:
- Keep the bulb wattage low or dimmable. This will help avoid flooding a room with artificial light more suitable for surgery than a cosy get-together.
- Exposed light bulbs have generally suggest you're about to interrogate someone rather than offer them a drink. But they have become part of interior fashion over the past 5 years and can add definite wow-factor. The trick here. And this is important. Is choosing a light bulb that was actually intended for exposure. Such as filament bulbs with soft glow coils. Exposed halogen bulbs anywhere other than a work area is the kiss of death. As are using lamp shades that don't adequately shield you against a direct line of sight to a regular bulb. With the temporary blinding and disorientation that follows. Not so 'hyggelig'.
- Position lights at varying levels (ceiling, wall, floor, table etc). This gives you more control of the lighting scheme in a room. Turning off a bright ceiling light in favour of a table lamp and a few wellplaced tea-lights for instance, will up the 'hygge' considerably.
Scandinavian interiors get a lot of attention and they come in all shapes and sizes. Ranging from the stripped back minimal and almost clinical to carefully coordinated clutter. Most of what's depicted in the media however, including almost any Danish/Scandi home I've paid a visit to - will be a perfectly executed balance between the two. Regardless of preferred individual style. The one thing you will always find in Scandinavian interiors, is the use of natural materials.
It can be in the actual building and construction of a space. Or added later to the mix with furniture and accessories. Natural materials such as wood, leather, wool, cane, jute and living plants all add undeniable and instant warmth. This in turn also helps take the edge off the cooler elements such as steel, stone, concrete and glass. Adding natural materials and taking care to balance contrasting elements, colours and textures will bring you one step closer to 'hyggelig'.
Back to Basics
It's as though Scandinavians get pulled aside at a young age to be trained in the mystical ways of interiors. And we tend to move through this world leaving a wake of white-painted walls and exposed wooden floors wherever we hang our hat for more than a heartbeat.
We are known and widely mocked for our love of wood. Although we regularly cheat on her with any number of natural materials. And we'll often light enough candles to make you wonder whether we're trying to set the mood - or set fire to the room. But what's true of this and very much at the heart of 'hygge', is the feeling of a return to basics. Without having to go through the inconvenience of a power cut to experience it.
My favorite 'hyggelig' moment involves sitting around a fire with like-minded people and those I care about. Preferably on a beach with the open water and sunset in backdrop. The fresh sea breeze sending sparks and embers into the air. Drinks chilled in water. My Danish designer chair has been replaced with a piece of drift wood. And there's more than enough to go round. Welcome.