Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness (2016)
How to Bring Hygge into Your Home
– I find hygge inside when nature is raging outside
Twenty-nine-year-old Jakob Nyholm Jessen bought a ramshackle hovel with rats in the attic and mould under the floorboards. But the hovel lay on a scenic site, right next to a forest, a running stream and fields with sheep, so he tore it down and built his own home for his family.
“Seeking warmth and comfort inside when it’s cold and dark outside epitomizes hygge for me. I love to be outside, but that’s only because I know I can find shelter again when I go inside and shut the door behind me. Hygge lies in the contrast, and for me the contrast between outside and inside is greatest when I am close to nature; when darkness is blackest, and there is an absence of street lamps, when the wind is heard sharpest as it shakes the treetops of the forest. The most hyggelig, for me, is when I hear the elements raging outside, but I can shut them out and light the fire for heat and light for me and my family.
Therefore, it was a dream come true for me to build my family’s home and to build it on a site close to nature. A home where Signe and our children can seek shelter and feel safe and which can be a good backdrop for our lives for many years. Where Niels can learn to crawl, and Agnes read her first words. And where Signe and I can enjoy a glass of red wine in front of the wood-burning stove with our legs up on the sofa.
My thoughts about a home are very much inspired by The Hobbit, which was read aloud to me as a child. Their homes were described as secure bases, with soft armchairs, round windows and large storehouses filled with gifts from good friends. Not at all grand.
Signe and I have talked about having a map of the forest up in the living room, so we can draw our favourite forest trails on it. Just like Bilbo did in The Hobbit. We also want to mark on the map where we find edible mushrooms in the autumn, so we can remember the good spots for next year. I look forward to the cold winter setting in. Then we put a piece of firewood in the wood-burning stove before we go for a walk in the snowy woods, and when we get home the living room is nice and cosy, and the kids can warm their little hands and noses.”
When Signe and I talked about how the rooms in the house were to be distributed, it was important for us to create a kitchen-cum-living-room with the wood-burning stove as the focal point. And it works very well. Signe and I can start the dinner in the kitchen while the kids play on the living-room floor. Although we are all doing our own things, we are still together. Life is lived around the stove.
A hyggelig home
A hyggelig home embraces you and comforts you. It meets you with an uplifting atmosphere and a feeling of belonging. Danes spend quite some time indoors, due to the unpredictable weather, and therefore we put both time and energy into creating a hyggelig home.
“Hygge has the wonderful nature of varying from home to home, and often I am surprised how many different places and styles I consider as hyggelig.
Hygge is strongly related to feeling safe. The hygge comes when you can feel that the person behind the surroundings is completely comfortable with his or her choices, but at the same time isn’t afraid of decorating intuitively and trying out new things and ideas.
A home decorated in ‘the right way’ with things, furniture and aesthetic style chosen exclusively from some kind of formula or specific scheme that is thought to be ‘correct’, is seldom very hyggelig.
In fact, hygge grows out of a sincerity in the things you surround yourself with – the settings and framework of your home should reflect the choices you have made regarding your life and your everyday. If you love cooking, guests and food, probably your hygge will seep through your kitchen and around the table. In the same way, an art lover’s enthusiasm and delight will give the home a different kind of mood and atmosphere according to their chosen aesthetic on display.
The hygge of your home will undoubtedly also reflect the time and energy you dedicate to the place. When you put thoughtfulness into how and why you have chosen to surround yourself with particular furniture, objects, art, flowers, knick-knacks, curtains – whatever – then you relax and your guests will see and know you for who you are.”
Christina B. Kjeldsen,
editor and author of several books
on Nordic interior design and lifestyle
“Aesthetics is what tickles the senses and pleases the eye. We thrive in a home we find beautiful, and the aesthetics of it make us take good care of our things. Aesthetics is the pleasure, the sensuality and what makes our surroundings feel special.”
Christina B. Kjeldsen
Denmark has a long history of design. With traits of simplicity and functionality, Danish designers such as Arne Jacobsen, Finn Juhl and Poul Henningsen (PH) have made Danish design well-known worldwide. Danish design strives for aesthetics and beauty, but it always has a twist of functionality. The objects are designed to be used, they are not exhibition pieces that no one is allowed to touch. If something is only beautiful, too luxurious and extravagant, it detracts from the relaxed and down-to-earth quality that is a key value in hygge.
“The PH lamp has an interesting and contemporary cutting-edge design, but as everyone knows, it is built for giving better light. Its appearance is not just superficial design-nonsense to make it unnecessarily beautiful. Oh no, its design directly supports its function: to provide good light. It is an honest lamp; its outer is inseparable from its interior. And when Danish consumers know that, they can live with its beauty.”
Jeppe Trolle Linnet, professor of hygge
A Round Trip Through the Rooms of the House
“The hallway is a room you walk through, a room in between and easy to forget. Nevertheless, it is the very first place that greets you when you come home. Find out what gives you joy to catch sight of when you step inside – a painting from your favourite artist, the colour green or your slippers standing in the hallway, waiting for you to slip into and get comfortable right away. At the same time have an eye on your practical needs. It is neither handy nor hyggelig to step directly into a mountain of shoes and coats that blocks your view and restricts your movement. Find functional storage solutions that create space and don’t steal too much attention.”
Christina B. Kjeldsen
“From a Scandinavian point of view, hygge is also connected to something edible, which naturally sends the kitchen to the top of the hygge-barometer.
The kitchen is supposed to be a workshop where you can cook, but if it isn’t something you are passionate about, it will probably not be a room you will prioritize. The hygge follows the pleasure and interest. Try to transfer what speaks to you especially. If you love baking, then make it easy and inviting for yourself. Have the right tools, baking gear and things that inspire you. If greens, sprouting and plant food make you happy, then make room to immerse yourself in this kind of kitchen life. Have basil, mint and coriander on the windowsill, garlic, chilli and onions in a bowl. Mess is seldom hyggelig, unless it is light and pleasant. Clinical surfaces and excessive cleanliness scares you away rather than inviting you in. Kitchens often come as a package deal. Give yours some character and hang up your favourite pots and pans, exhibit tea, tools and decorate the walls with your favourite pictures.
Beware of putting a brand-new kitchen in an old half-timbered house. Respect the architecture and the thoughts behind it, and navigate from there when choosing materials, colours and style. If possible have a small table in the corner with room for people to converse, hang out and keep the chef company. Having a cup of tea or a glass of wine in the off-stage kitchen area can be wonderfully informal and a natural shortcut to a moment of hygge.”
Christina B. Kjeldsen
“The living room is often the star turn of the home. From a Scandinavian perspective, materials play a big part when it comes to hygge. Wood, folded lampshades of paper, ceramics and stoneware are a part of the Scandinavian style-DNA. We love to surround ourselves with light, Nordic types of wood, just as we have a long tradition of classical furniture design in teak that many of us carry with us as memories from our childhood homes. This brings about the element of recognition that can help define and create the framework for hygge. It feels good – it is hyggelig – when we recognize pieces of furniture as old friends from the home of our childhood. Many Scandinavians carry this kind of furniture heritage with them due to our history of design, and for a lot of people this helps to create a hyggelig and nourishing atmosphere in our homes. If you have a closer look at your own history there will definitely be similar elements you can transfer to your own rooms. What is the unifying point for you – is it the big, big sofa that you grew up with, a special kind of tapestry on the walls or your beloved dresser?”
Christina B. Kjeldsen
“Invite nature into your bathroom with a bathroom table or shelves for storage made of wood, a wicker basket for laundry or a couple of green plants that thrive in the humid climate. And give yourself a little bit of everyday luxury by having an abundance of warm, clean towels in a stack. Make sure the lighting is soft and warm and, yes, a candle is suitable in the bathroom as well as in every other room of the house. Bathrooms allow dwelling. A moment by oneself.”
Christina B. Kjeldsen
“This is indeed the most intimate room, the heart of the home. This is where we retreat to, recharge and undress – figuratively and literally speaking. The bedroom should be a room that respects this, so it has to be comforting – really comforting. How you create the atmosphere and the hygge here is definitely a question of who you are. If, for example, the colour blue calms you down, then this could be a good colour to dress your bed linen and textiles in. Painting a single wall in the colour you like can also give your bedroom character and depth. Do you have special pieces of art, photos or prints that send you towards sweet dreams? These are what suit your walls. Remember to make space for your special routines – a place for your book, your glass of water, your jewellery, a mirror. If you prefer having things in order, a good organized storage might play a central part for your wellbeing, while a beautiful chair to throw your clothes on would be the optimal solution for others. Hygge comes with authenticity, when you decorate your home following your heart – especially in this room, where you are your innermost self.”
Christina B. Kjeldsen
10 Tips for Inspiration
“More is more and less is less. This is a good way of thinking when it comes to plants. Many plants together work better than a house plant here and a house plant there. Dedicate one area to being green; perhaps a special table to put your plants on and next to, and to hang more from the ceiling above. In this way you create a vigorous, green area in your home, where plants rule.”
Christina B. Kjeldsen
A beautiful bouquet picked in a field or flowery branches from the apple tree in your garden can make a corner bloom. Or why not go with a cotton branch with soft buds that can last for years.
When you decorate your home, make room for charging stations – not only for your phone or computer, but for yourself and your family. Corners give us a feeling of being safe and can be a great place to recharge. Place an armchair in a corner with a couple of soft cushions and a blanket. Have a lamp and a small table next to you, so you can lose yourself in a good book with a cup of tea and a snack on the side.
Presents and heirlooms
Sometimes we hardly take notice of the things we surround ourselves with, but when we take a closer look some of them tell stories about us and contain memories from special times spent with dear ones. Being aware of these stories adds meaning and hygge to our surroundings.
Treasuring our presents and heirlooms is valuing their story.
In the northern hemisphere we try to get as much daylight into our homes as possible, but due to the climate, we depend on artificial light during the daytime for six to eight months of the year. Therefore, what light and lamps we surround ourselves with at home and at work is no trivial matter. Light is vital for our well-being, says the Danish light architect Asger Bay Christensen, who shares his best tricks for creating hygge-light.
“Choose an incandescent bulb or a warm LED diode for your light source. For those of us who live in a cold country, hygge light is warm light. The colour temperature of light is measured in degrees Kelvin, and a Kelvin degree of 2,700 gives off a yellow/orange tinge, what I call a warm light, and that is hygge for me and, I believe, for most Danes.
Make small pools of light: have a minimum of two lamps in each room – even in small rooms. Turn off the overhead light and create small light pools instead. Have a well-shielded hanging lamp over your table so that the light does not shine directly into your eyes, but is focused down on the table, thereby lighting only the table. Do the same over the coffee table and above your books on the shelf. Having a dimmer switch is also a way to adjust the light according to your needs and mood.”
“I am certain of one thing: If there is something Danes don’t want to run short of, it is toilet paper and candles. Luckily you can get both in even the smallest shop.”
Roger Beale, Brit living in Denmark, in Politiken
Within the EU, Denmark uses the most kilograms of stearin per capita – 5.79 kilos of candles are used by each Dane, every year.
“I light a candle as the first thing I do when I come home after a day’s work. It sends me the message that it is time to dwell and relax. I also always bring candles with me when I travel; then I am always sure that I can make myself a hyggelig time, no matter where I go or what hotel I stay in.”
Tilde Vengsgaard, Randers
These naturally contain stories and sometimes their cover, material, where they came from and the places they have been also tell a story of their own. The books we have tell a story of who we are. Old books from your parents or grandparents, books found on vacation, favourite books, books from your childhood bedtime stories or the one you read the first time you were madly in love.
Re-using pallets, jars, boxes and pipes adds patina to our surroundings. Clean a used jar and turn it into a drinking glass or a vase for flowers you picked from the hedgerow on your way home. Use apple boxes for storing books or as a table and old pipes as a clothes rack.
“The musical take on hygge is often misunderstood as people believe that you have to go back to a brown, kitschy 70’s kind of sound and avoid too much musical content. That is not how it is.
Hygge is the soft, warm feeling of peace of mind. A nest of togetherness and undisturbed presence. Something very fine that can be served in a thousand different ways, but always has togetherness and presence at its core.
Here are ten tracks that all contain warm togetherness, content and something essential. Ten tracks that automatically and in a subtle way put you in a hyggelig mood, where you want to spend time with other people; sit close, right now and for a long while.”
- Morten Lindberg, a.k.a. Master Fatman, Danish DJ and legendary radio host
The Hygge Playlist – by Master Fatman
I’m Still in Love With You / Marcia Aitken
As She Walked Away / Brother Jack McDuff
Lua, Lua, Lua, Lua / Gal Costa
What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life? / Bill Evans
Besoka On Salsa / Manu Dibango
Samba Saravah / Pierre Barouh
The Sewing Machine / The Sea and Cake
O Rio Para Trás / Celso Fonseca
I Wish You Love / Blossom Dearie
Ain’t No Sunshine / Sivuca
Bringing souvenirs home with us from travels leaves traces of where we have been. You can go for more functional souvenirs – a pasta machine from your trip to Sicily, wooden kitchen utensils from an ironmonger in southern France or a soap dispenser made of Icelandic volcanic stone. Don’t be afraid of the cliché of souvenirs; if a mini version of the Eiffel Tower reminds you of an unforgettable trip to Paris, bring it back with you and enjoy how the memories follow suit.
Mix and Match
Mixing old and new is a way of balancing a home. Mix the old antique dresser you inherited with a brand-new lamp you find beautiful, a chair from the flea market and a picture your friend painted for you.
We spend a lot of time at work, so why not make it a bit hyggelig? Having a hyggelig atmosphere is not only restricted to your home area – you can easily bring the ideas mentioned in this chapter with you to work. Design a workplace that allows you to do your best in the most enjoyable way.
Personality – Set up a mood board as inspiration with photos from wonderful holidays, a beautiful picture from Hammershøi or Monet, a drawing from your niece or a newspaper cartoon that makes you giggle.
Tidy – Get some elbow room by getting rid of papers that you don’t need any more and find good storage solutions for the rest. Have boxes in bright colours and patterns and recycle an old porcelain vase for your pens and pencils.
Flow – Having good lighting and life on our desk is inspiring to our work flow. Make sure you have proper lighting that hits the desk and your papers directly, without spreading out. Have candles and fresh flowers or plants around you. And don’t forget to have your favourite mug by your side, reminding you to take an enjoyable break with your colleagues.
Hygge and Honesty in the Michelin League
With tools such as light, materials and colours, the Danish interior architects Signe Bindslev Hansen and Peter Bundgaard Rützou create atmospheres of hygge in some of Denmark’s most acclaimed restaurants. On the basis of their work in world-famous Nordic food restaurant Noma, they give an insight into how they help hygge evolve:
“Hygge has a complex nature and succeeding in creating a ‘hyggelig atmosphere’ is about succeeding in passing on a feeling of belonging, feeling embraced and to some extent recognized.
When we started the project with Noma, the chef of the restaurant, René Redzepi, gave us only one brief. He wanted no artificial, conceptual filter between the guest and the actual food experience. He wanted honest, one-to-one – no gimmicks, no pop. And it became our aim to try to get as seamless an integration between aesthetics and function as possible.”
“All our projects start from the definition of the material palette and we have always had a deep passion for organic materials, such as variations of woods, stones, wools, linens, leathers and metals. This was our initial approach to the Noma project too, which felt perfectly in line with the organic and philosophical approach of René Redzepi and the Noma Kitchen. The great thing about organic materials is that, if you treat them right, they have the ability to age well. How they carry the story of being used over time is the best example of bringing soul, authenticity, attachment and a sense of belonging – qualities like these are closely attached to the phenomenon of hygge, we believe.”
“First of all, we wanted to allow the outside light to blend into the space – when useful. Therefore, we put in both sheers and more solid curtains to give the staff the scope to adjust them. We generally wished for an intense, soft, low-lit lighting and atmosphere and we chose a soft overall simple ceiling light fixture with the option to dim to almost nothing. That secured us a great homely feel – the feeling of not being exposed.
Lastly, we love the element of candles and oil lamps, which we have also used in Noma in various ways.”
“The colours originate more or less from the colours of the materials. We like that the colour of an organic material most often originates from its history – it tells you about the process it has been through, about the way it has been treated and where it comes from. At the same time the colour of a natural material is strengthened by its basic characteristics of texture, pattern and depth. We also think it is important to remember that when we have finished our part of the job, the space still needs to be able to welcome a lot of other elements before it’s fully completed – the beauty of all the colourful food, which should be central to the experience, and all the people inhabiting the room – therefore we generally like to keep the colours in soft, chalky and dusted nuances.”
“The open kitchen brings everybody closer, creating intimacy and a sense of home. And not only can the guest see the chefs and the beautiful scenery of the food and kitchen, it is just as important to allow the chefs to feel fuelled by the energy in the restaurant and the guests’ reactions to the food.”
She Creates Atmospheres for a Living
As a set designer, Mia Stensgaard creates spaces for specific atmospheres: atmospheres of coldness, of reconciliation and of pure hygge. She is behind the production design for the Danish award-winning television series Arvingerne (The Legacy) and the absurd film comedy Mænd og Høns (Men and Chicken). Based on photos from these two productions, Mia Stensgaard shares with us how she evokes an atmosphere of hygge.
Photo from The Legacy by Per Arnesen
“A dressing gown is an intimate garment often worn only in domestic situations and in situations where you feel safe. In a dressing gown you are vulnerable and not prepared to face the outside world yet. Only those people to whom you are closest see you in your dressing gown.
The pink dressing gown here recurs in most seasons of The Legacy. It belonged to the main characters’ mother, and the adult children take turns to wear it during the first and second seasons. This signifies that despite intrigue, cruelty and hostility, they are connected.
The family’s youngest daughter, Signe, has not been a part of the family for many years, as she was given up for adoption when she was little. In this photo, from a scene in the second season, she is wearing the dressing gown, and for me it’s the most hyggelig way to show that she has been initiated as a full member of the family.”
Photo from Men and Chicken by Rolf Konow
“I work on the assumption that hygge thrives best in spaces that invite you in without making you feel that you need to behave in a certain way when there. When you enter a room where you are immediately nervous about leaving fingerprints on a newly polished glass table, hygge is restricted.
But if there’s a red wine stain on the wall or cracks in the floors, it signals that here life is lived with all the little accidents it can bring. Here you can just be, relax, hygge yourself – and if you break something, then we can just fix it again.
I worked to create such spaces for the comedy Men and Chicken.”
Photo from The Legacy by Martin Lehmann
“For me hygge equals community. When I create a space where hygge can occur, I often include visible reminders of a community in the room.
The driftwood with wings on the wall is supposed to be a gift that the TV show’s main characters made as children for their mother. Gifts like this are found throughout the entire house and tell us that the house was once the setting for a family with room for both children and art.
In fact the driftwood has its own little personal history. It is actually my own father and son who are behind this creation.
I was raised by a pair of art teacher parents in the 1970s – and the concept of ‘finding forms’ was a large part of their teaching. The driftwood with wings is a good example of this concept: when you are finding forms, you can find various components in nature, for example, which are each their own thing, but which, when they are put together, become something new.”
Photo from The Legacy by Mia Stensgaard
“The mother’s house is an artist’s house, and I wanted the scenes at home to ooze a feeling of Santa’s workshop. Here, the design of a piece of art has taken place right in the middle of the living room, surrounded by everyday pursuits. It tells a story that this is a home where desire, ideas, chores and activities merge.
The right atmosphere and the community are prioritized over aesthetics, order and standards.
In my own life I also find that when I dare to relinquish control and relax standards and order, I find the most hygge.
In Denmark, we have a culture of inviting people home, and when I invite good friends to a party at home, it is pure hygge, for me, when I am able to relinquish control and let the guests come before the actual event to help with the preparations; in the same way, I often find that the after-party ends up being more hyggelig than the planned party itself. During the event both guests and hosts have a habit of keeping to standards and adhering to unspoken expectations. But gold is found at the edges. It is at the pre-party that we sit together round the kitchen table, twenty people, where there is effectively only seating for eight. And, likewise, it is at the after-party that we laugh because one person has ended up with a black eye, while another has fallen head-over-heels in love, and none of it was planned, but it happened, and now here we are.”