I cannot remember when I first heard of the word hygge (pronounced hue-guh or hoo-gah), but I do know that there was some Googling, some Pinterest browsing, and yep- I was in love. The word is jam packed with a whole lot of perfection, a Danish phrase used when acknowledging a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary, as cozy, charming, or special. It is not a thing you buy but a feeling you evoke, a sense of harmony that settles into the world around you. Hygge appeared in written Danish for the first time in the early 1800’s, but is actually Norwegian in origin. The earliest phrase means, “well-being,” but is believed to originate from the word “hug.” So I guess we can think of hygge as a metaphorical embrace, a symbol of ultimate comfort.
I was ecstatic to get the book “The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets To Happy Living” by Meik Wiking as a Secret Santa gift this past Christmas- It had been on my wish list for a while. Wiking is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, Sweden and his book sets out to explain why Danes are the happiest people on earth, despite living in darkness from October until March.
Let me start by saying that this lifestyle does not require anything lavish but is actually quite the opposite. Bringing hygge into your home does not involve a four-hundred-dollar Target bill (unless you wish to indulge) but is in fact the art of settling into the space you have, surrounding yourself in all that is gently loved or worn in. While you may need to replenish the occasional candle or favorite bath products, or add to your “cozy” collection over time, I have noticed that our culture (and advertising) is jumping on the “hygge bandwagon” with things, so many physical and pricey objects on the must have list- Pottery Barn candles, cashmere socks, faux fur blankets, promoting as the “Scandinavian Way.” I have read in my research, that there really isn’t that much materialism involved. It’s not a lifestyle of excess, but one of gratitude and appreciation for all of the “right” things. It’s about creating effortless comfort in the everyday.
In the book, Wiking outlines the “Hygge Manifesto,” that touches upon all aspects of hygge culture. Below are the attributes that are looked at closely in each chapter:
- Atmosphere- Turn down the lights.
- Presence- Be here now. Turn off the phones.
- Pleasure- Coffee, chocolates, cookies, cakes, candy. (In moderation, as a treat.)
- Equality- “We” over “me.”
- Gratitude- Take it in. This might be as good as it gets.
- Harmony- It’s not a competition. Focus on the love. Live the humble way.
- Comfort- Get comfy. Take a break. It’s all about relaxation.
- Truce- No drama.
- Togetherness- Build relationships and narratives.
- Shelter- This is your tribe. This is your place of peace and security.
I took notes as I turned the pages and when I was done, studied the takeaways that I could implement in my own day to day. My home seemed like a good place to start in examination- once again, I did not want to break the bank but simply explore ways that I could repurpose, reposition, add or remove. According to “The Little Book Of Hygge,” these details were paramount:
- Bring The Outdoors In With Plants & Natural Elements- My husband and I always buy fresh flowers for the kitchen table but I have recently started adding other plants indoors. I grow an herb collection above my sink (having fresh rosemary and mint year-round is an outstanding life enhancement) and have succulents and hanging plants in my upstairs bathroom. Don’t have much of a green thumb? This article makes suggestions on indoor plants that are nearly impossible to kill, and I do mix fake plants in with real ones. (Trader Joes and Ikea both have herbs, succulents, cacti, etc. for cheap!) Either way, there is now some sort of greenery in every room of the home.
- Let There Be Light: Add Candles, Feature The Fireplace, Invoke A Warm Color Palette- According to Meik Wiking, no recipe for hygge is complete without candles. When Danes are asked what they most associate with hygge, an overwhelming 85% will mention candles. There is actually a word in the Danish language that made me laugh out loud when I read it, because it is my husband in a nutshell. (The word for “spoilsport” in Danish is lyseslukker, which means “the one who puts out the candles.” Yes, my husband blows out every ambiance I create for fear of a fire at the Faustine house.) The reality though is that my house is contemporary, wearing a cool color palette of grays and whites. Brushed nickel and stainless steel surrounds my kitchen and even though I’d like more rustic, natural elements incorporated, I cannot make big moves at this time. So I light candles everywhere, turn on the fireplace when I can, and create little pockets of light around the home rather than putting my 2015 décor choices on display beneath bright white light. Ultimately, the house feels cozy.
- Layer It On: Add Blankets, Pillows, & Textures- I have throw blankets on every couch and its not for aesthetic appeal but for comfort- we live in every room of the house and there is nothing better than wrapping yourself up in a blanket with a cup of coffee in hand. I love that a cocooned oasis is always within reach.
- Cook Wholesome Aromatic Foods, Sip Warm Beverages In Your Favorite Mug. Indulge Mindfully- I will admit, I am not much of a cook. I inherited my mother’s love for cleaning and am happy that I found a man like my father, who enjoys being in the kitchen. We have settled into our roles very well. But even when we are not at the table, devouring elaborate dinners of linguine and clams or steak pinwheels, the kitchen is always stocked with smells. About six months ago I started drinking tea more often, purchase loose-leaf blends from a store in Old Town Alexandria called the Spice & Tea Exchange. We have three coffee makers at our bar: a Nespresso from our wedding registry, a Keurig for weekday mornings, and an old-fashioned pot style for multiple cups on Sundays. Although we don’t keep sweets in the house at large, all of our favorite indulgences are closeby when we want a cup of something warm or a little nibble of dark chocolate with sea salt.
- Remove Stressors & Add Wistful, Whimsical Pleasures Like Board Games, A Knitting Basket, & Magazine Holder- When I was younger, my vision board included a house of board games. Growing up, my large Italian family always played cards after dinner, and my father’s parents played Solitaire at the kitchen table, round after round, rattling off the rules in French. Games- the non-electronic kind- are therefore very nostalgic for me. Our house is now the party house and we have spent years strategically purchasing and positioning some of our “must haves” for perfect days at home, alone or with friends: Mike has a beer fridge and a dart board in the basement, I have a reading room. We redid our back patio with a firepit, smoker, and hammock. Magazine holders are in every room on the first floor and I make vision boards with the old ones, before recycling. And my board games? Yes, there are a lot.
- Wear Comfortable Clothing- This one is a favorite, because who doesn’t love sweatpants and slippers? No context needs to be added here: When my husband and I get home from work, its straight to our coziest clothes.
- Soften And Simplify Your Home With Hygge Décor-I know that earlier on I spoke about a smoker and such- I want to reinforce again that expensive items are not requirements on the hygge list. We just love food, the slow build up of melt in your mouth perfection… it’s a hobby of ours and the process of smoking is very “hyggeligt.” One time we were cooking a brisket with friends and we sat out on the patio all day, talking and sipping cold beer as the hours rolled by. At one point, it even started raining and instead of going inside, we pulled our patio umbrella over the smoker, ourselves, and huddled under the awning (practically shivering!) laughing at our inability to leave our post. The memory makes me smile, even now. But in the book, Wiking writes, “if you want more hygge, there is no amount of money that you can spend which will increase the hygge factor. Drinking tea is more hyggeligt than drinking champagne, playing board games is more hyggeligt than playing computer games, and home-cooked food and biscuits are more hyggeligt than store bought ones.” Hygge is humble and slow, simple and modest. So some items that the author asks you to consider adding to your home include: candles, things made out of wood, nature, books, ceramics, textiles, vintage items, blankets, and cushions. Many of these are discussed elsewhere in this article, but I will say that in recent years, my home has become more of a treasure trove, versus a collection of Homegoods items. While I still love to venture there for little indulgences like dishtowels, cutting boards, new sheets, etc, I adore looking around my space and recalling the stories associated with all furnishings. The kitchen table was once a high table- my husband cut the legs and painted it, made it look brand new. It now serves as the ultimate gathering place for guests- It’s where we enjoy both food and games. There are quite a few flea markets within 50 miles of our home and we have purchased coffee tables, lamps, and other interesting items secondhand. One of my favorite finds includes old ceramic soup bowls that a restaurant by my childhood home used to make French onion soup in. I used to order that yummy, salty treat all of the time at “The Log Cabin,” would peel the melted cheese off the sides of the cup. We have artwork from my husband’s grandmother who loved to paint, China from my great-uncle, decorative trinkets from my mother’s home that fill me with so much warmth, since her passing. I used Craigslist for a dining room table and Facebook Marketplace for interesting odds and ends- It makes me happy, knowing that I am breathing new life into something old. The past few years then, have been about decluttering, giving items that no longer serve me to places like Savers and Goodwill, posting on pages like Facebook, and replacing with things that make me feel something. I love that everything that I look at has a narrative.
- Designate A Hygge Nook & Bring In The Books- The one thing that I didn’t highlight above is Meik Wiking’s mention of adding a “hyggekrog” into the home, the word translating roughly to mean “a nook.” He refers to the place in any room where you can snuggle up in a blanket, with a book and a cup of tea. He writes, “Danes love their comfy space. Everyone wants one, and hyggekroge are common in Copenhagen and throughout the country. Walking on the streets of the city, you will notice that many of the buildings have a bay window. On the inside, there are almost certainly filled with cushions and blankets, providing the people who live there with a cozy place to sit and relax after a long day. Some real estate agents even use a hyggekrog as a way to sell houses.” I am fortunate to have a finished basement in my home with a little room on the side- I have converted that space into my book nook. It holds all of my shelves and is an office of sorts, complete with a comfortable area to cozy up.
- Put The Things That Make You Feel Good On Display- My husband used to complain that our home looked too much like a showhouse, that everything that we used had a discreet place, but nothing seemed lived in. There were always lines on the carpet, dog toys put away, the house proclaimed loyalty to a singular style and color palate. I now try my best to be conscious of this, have taken out items that warrant consistent use such as my diffuser and Mike’s back massager. Little details now reflect more of our personality, such as our patriotic doorbell ringer and our typewriter shaped birdhouse. This house is very much a part of us and we love “wearing it in.”
- Enjoy This Sanctuary With Family And Friends- The book has many chapters on how to enjoy the comforts of home with others, including recipes to try, games to play, traditions to instill and seasonal nudges on hygge success. While solo self-care days are the bees-knees, nothing is better than a home filled with love and laughter.
I want to take these ideals one step further in 2020 and make sure that every room in the home is utilized. Our dining room is currently only used for holidays and large gatherings, but gets some incredibly beautiful light. Three bedrooms are only occupied when guests come over but have great closet space. I therefore am looking at building an herb apothecary in my dining room, using the open table landscape as creative space for projects… I have started using a spare bedroom for my Poshmark side hustle. It’s amazing to know that when I walk through my front door at the end of the day, I can collapse in comfort. When my creative juices are flowing after a weekend round of caffeine, I can stay in, immerse myself in this all-inclusive playground.
The book is a good one, I have actually gifted it to a friend as well who is looking to open a someday Bed & Breakfast. Although it explains, time and time again, that hygge is a feeling, I will reference this little book often to get new ideas on how to evoke this sense of cozy in my home.
What enhancements have you made in your nest, to make things more hyggeligt? Or what simple pleasures currently manifest in your home- the lighting, the colors, the creaks of the wood floors or the small but oh-so-spectacular square footage? Tell me about your favorite views, outside and in. Have you tried any other lifestyle trends, like minimalism or Marie Kondo’s cleanup methods? I’d love to hear your thoughts!