The Scandinavian concept of hygge is often banded around and we talk of it freely, Susan Robertson finds out more about what it really is, and how we can bring this quality to our homes.
Hygge (pronounced ‘hoo-ga’), is a term regularly used in talk of interiors, especially at this time of the year. It’s something I’ve touched on in these pages in previous years, and it’s become part of the regular conversation around seasonal and Scandinavian home influences.
The term itself can’t be directly translated into English but it’s often loosely referred to as ‘cosiness’. I think however the concept is larger than that and seems to refer also to a sense of contentedness and wellbeing. Part of this is affected by your environment, but state of mind plays a big role too, bringing these positively together is what really contributes to hygge.
So, looking at what makes us feel contented in any moment, is often a good place to start. At this time of year, and in Scotland, as well as Scandinavian countries – cosiness is a really big factor. Think of your ideal night in, for many (myself included) it would involve good company or welcome solitude, crackling fire in the grate, tidy home, and comfy clothes.
This is what hygge is all about, it’s holistic in terms of accounting for all elements that make you feel that snuggly safe contentedness. Think about that feeling you get when you come in from the cold after a long hard day and ease into a piping hot bubble bath, or when you feel chilled to the bone and change into jammies fresh from the radiator and sit down with a sip of hot chocolate. That is the sense that hygge is all about and, finding ways to spend as much time in that state as possible becomes more and more appealing (but often trickier) for many of us every year.
So – it’s not all simply about an interior decoration formula, it’s not something that can be forced or faked, but it can however be identified for you, and facilitated as much as possible. Our environment contributes greatly to the ‘atmosphere’ of our lives and therefore we can actively create more opportunities in our home to feel cosy and contented.
Some key factors feature in bringing this feel to our homes.
Firstly – removal of clutter is key. I am part of a notoriously messy family with ridiculously busy lives so this is a big obstacle for me, however I occasionally know how lovely it feels to have everything around you in order and I often clear out at this time of year when I’m forced to address the journey to the back of the cupboard for the Christmas decorations. So try and find ways to declutter your lives and create savvy storage solutions so that, where there are piles of toys, or cobwebs of electric cables – they may still exist but at least you can’t see them.
Make sure you’re warm and comfy – invest in good loungewear, you can’t beat soft woolly socks and comfy slippers or layers of luxurious wool, flannel or fleece. This is true both in your clothing and the textures around you. Think carefully about the material of your rugs and sofa, invest in quality cushions and pillows that you melt into and fabrics that feel great against your skin, not just the cheap foamy squares to fill a space.
Balance these textures alongside influences of nature. Go for plenty of natural wood, rustic simplicity in flooring and furniture that values practicality and ease of living. Add the occasional touch of fresh green of a low-maintenance indoor plant. Use natural sticks and pebbles to create features and talking points.
Stick to colours that make you feel calm, and clear your head. This will be different for everyone but often leans towards warm whites, soft blues or dusty roses.
Then think carefully about every item on show in your home. William Morris said, ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.’ Simple and easier said than done, but this is a good aspiration and closely aligned to the principles of hygge. Choose accessories based on things that make you feel happy and connect with positive thoughts or memories, whether that be a shell collected on a childhood holiday, or a little vase you have always liked – keep the happy things on display and get rid of the rest.
Hygge also naturally connects deeply with restful activities and favourite pastimes, so play your favourite music, turn off the tv and put the radio on, bake a banana cake, get the guitar out the cupboard to be part of life again, and display it visibly when it’s not in use. The piles of old records or scruffy books that make you smile – get them out of hiding and find a fun place for them to live – on a shelf or a ladder or simply piled up at the edge of the stairs. You’re more likely to pick them up when they’re out too, connecting yourself at all times to positive things that make you relax and feel warm inside.
There’s a deeply wholesome value to a hygge-inspired home because it’s more than just a ‘look’, it centres on knowing and loving yourself and your family first, and creating a space that nurtures and respects you to make you feel the best you can feel.