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If you’ve come across the Danish word “hygge” recently, online or in any number of tiny, beautiful books, you’ve probably seen it espoused as everything from the ultimate interior design aesthetic to the recipe for a happier life.
But what is hygge all about, and how do you pronounce it? We spoke to some authorities on the subject, and discovered some fascinating things – not least of which is that hygge rhymes with cougar, and that it’s better felt than explained.
ALANA DANG’S HYGGE TIPS
- Have lots of smaller, warmer lighting throughout the house, instead of one large light, to mimic the effect of fairy lights. Try candles or small table lamps; lighting that is a bit closer to the ground.
LOOK AFTER YOURSELF
- Be kind to yourself and indulge yourself – and take time out to appreciate what you have and the people around you.
CREATE A SPECIAL SPOT
- Make a special spot to snuggle up, perhaps in the corner of a room, with a nice couch, a nice book and a blanket or throw to keep you cosy and comfortable.
- Try to pare yourself back from technology a bit; surround yourself with good company and low lighting. And, of course, a glass or two of wine helps.
Denmark’s ambassador to Australia, Tom Norring, says the concept of hygge was born from – and as a response to – the bleak winters of his country.
“In Denmark it’s all about gathering at home, and creating a really warm atmosphere for your friends and family,” he says.
“The Danish home, Danish interior design, is so important to us because we come from a colder and darker climate, so you tend to organise yourself at home, with your [loved ones].”
Tom says the lit candle is the symbol of hygge, its warm, natural light evoking familiar feelings of comfort. One of his staff teases him for his habit of lighting candles with breakfast, but it’s a reminder of his childhood that he still enjoys.
“In Denmark, it’s cold and dark until 9am, so it’s nice to sit there with your family and talk about what the day is going to bring, and candles bring about an atmosphere. That’s what attracts others now, this creation of an atmosphere without being artificial.”
To Anton Assaad, the founder and director of Melbourne’s Great Dane Furniture, hygge is an essential part of Scandinavian design, and a big part of Australian home pride – the idea of “trying to create a place of warmth and harmony where everything feels right”.
“It’s an acknowledgement of the human element, and the idea that you’re creating a space for someone to be comfortable in,” he says.
“It’s not only about pride in your home, it’s about pride in the spaces within your home and how you choose to fill them and who you choose to fill them with.”
That sentiment, Anton says, helps explain hygge’s burgeoning popularity among non-Scandinavians. From a design perspective, he says the appeal is an extension beyond Scandinavian modernism – “the idea that, as much as it’s clean and simple, there are layers to it. It’s also got to be organic, where people want to touch and feel it”.
How do you ensure your home is cosy enough to pass muster? Alana Dang, product design engineer at ISM Objects, has some tips.
“Company is a big part of it,” she says, “But, in terms of aesthetic, it could be things like low lighting – warm lighting is very important, too. You can also create a feeling of comfort around you with things like blanket throws and knitted socks, as well as a fireplace.”
Alana, who studied hygge as part of her honours project that looked into how people interact with light, also recommends taking a step back from the hustle and bustle of modern life and focusing on community.
“Light a candle with dinner and turn off all the main lights,” she says. “Turn off the TV, snuggle up on the couch with some friends and a glass of wine – and appreciate that moment in time.”
While hygge is associated with colder weather, Tom says the feeling of connectedness is one that can be appreciated and elicited all year round.
“I think the feel-good, well-being atmosphere is what captures people around the world,” he says. “It’s become a way of life.”
What about specifically Australian examples of hygge? “People make fun of it, but I think it could be sitting on the boot of your car with your kid and eating fish and chips,” says Anton, laughing.
“I also think Melbourne has a good sense of hygge, with laneways and how we live in small spaces, in cafes and in restaurants. There’s a cosiness there.”
As for Tom, he sees hygge in the “very strong Australian atmosphere of immediate openness”, launching into a tale of how it took all of two minutes after his jet-lagged wife unfurled a map before a friendly stranger offered help and directions. This contrasts, he says, with the “exclusive inclusiveness” that characterises hygge among those to whom you’re closest.
But there’s one other Aussie tradition that he associates with hygge, and it’s one he can’t wait to experience.
“I’m looking forward to going to the barbecues that everyone talks about – that’s the symbol of the Australian hygge,” he says. “That’s where you feel good and comfortable and create well-being – that’s how you socialise and create happiness as Australians.”