Scandinavia is at the forefront of the design world these days, setting trends and dreaming up fantastic innovations in interiors and architecture. While they are certainly helping to shape the future of design, one of its most important concepts when it comes to creating the ultimate home is actually centuries-old. We sought out Anna Cappelen and Chloe Pollack-Robbins of Curious Yellow Design, a firm based in New York City and Cappelen's native Oslo, Norway to learn all about "hygge" and how to bring it into our homes to create a cozier, more inviting, and more rejuvenating dwelling.
What Is Hygge?
Hygge, pronounced "hyoo-gah," is an Old Norwegian term predating the modern language that means "well-being." Since the terms inception in the 18th century, Scandinavians have turned hygge into a lifestyle concept that keeps their mental health strong throughout the cold and dark Scandinavian winters, but it is also an important term for their everyday lives—and the way they approach design.
"Hygge is so much more than a word in Scandinavia," says Capellen. "No one works like we do here in the States. People want to come home from work at three or four in the afternoon and have their hygge. That means no one works late and everyone has family dinners." What a novel concept!
"Most Americans really only know how to utilize hygge on vacation," Pollack-Robbins laughs.
Since most Norweigans are avid skiiers, Cappelen says part of experiencing hygge is getting that time in nature up in the mountains with loved ones—and skiing is the perfect activity for enjoying the cold climate—followed by a cozy fire, a warm meal, and lots of sheepskin to keep everyone warm!
How to Hygge
"The easiest way is to start with candles, blankets and cozy socks," Pollack-Robbins says. "If you have a cocktail, some food, a blanket, fireplace, and a friend, you've got it."
The pandemic has caused many Americans to start "winterizing" their outdoor living spaces, something Scandinavians have always been experts in. Part of achieving this holistic wellbeing includes being outdoors, and with the harsh elements Northern Europe faces, many homes are equipped with all the right gear to brave winter: fire pits and outdoor heaters, plenty of blankets to be found, and we know the Finnish are famous for their backyard saunas! Find out more tips for successful outdoor entertaining through the winter, here.
"Everyone in my country simply puts on wool pants before their real pants before they go outside in the morning, and it's just normal for us," Cappelen says. "When I got here, I was going to buy some for my daughter and there wasn't anywhere to find all these wool layers I'm used to. People need to invest in these now as we are trying to enjoy outdoor dining and entertaining here in New York. Hygge is also about learning to dress properly so you can stay cozy and best enjoy where you are."
How to Bring Hygge Home
Pollack-Robbins says they have had a lot of clients reach out this summer that had moved from their Manhattan apartments to the Hamptons and realized their vacation home was not all that comfortable or inviting. The Curious Yellow team says making your home more layered and creating more functional, welcoming outdoor spaces are key components. Also, make sure to employ plenty of mood lighting!
Another key way hygge has a heavy design influence is in the kitchen. Capellen says Scandinavian kitchens are often home to cozy seating areas because part of embracing hygge at home means seeking togetherness and comfort, with everyone in the kitchen cooking and doing homework together at the end of the day instead of all being in separate rooms and in their own worlds until a meal is on the table.
If your kitchen isn't as open or spacious enough to create a cozy breakfast nook, Cappelen advises extending your countertops into a work area for your kids to do their homework while you cook or a place for your partner to join you for a glass of wine as you finish up crafting a favorite recipe. Additionally, swapping hard counter stools for more comfortable options will help ensure your kitchen truly becomes the heart of the home.
The pair says hygge is a major factor when designing hospitality properties, especially boutique hotel design. They believe it's important to stray away from the typical hotel experience where you check in, go to your room, and then check out with little to no interaction with other guests through the duration of your stay. Creating inviting social spaces, from pools to firepits to open dining rooms and rooftop bars, are important for making you feel at home and comfortable enough to seek out your favorite spot outside your room to sip a cup of coffee or a cocktail, curl up with a good book—their latest venture, The Rockaway, is full of them!—and maybe make a new friend along the way. Creating those cozy, inviting spaces is just as important to have at home.
"Part of hygge is not rushing to leave somewhere and move to the next thing," Cappelen says. "It should never be, oh, here's the check, let's leave. It's about never wanting to leave!"
But What About the Maximalists?
There's a stereotype in America that hygge is strictly a design concept and only allows for a soothing neutral palette. Cappelen says hygge is more so a way of life, and while the traditional Scandinavian aesthetic is heavy on the beige and monochromatic color schemes, does not mean your own personal hygge has go against your style.
"Look at your style and peel away slightly—start by trying to replace a few crazy pillows with some more natural ones," Pollack-Robbins says. "There's a method to stripping away without losing your personality and it's about finding that balance. As long as you have comfort, togetherness, and ambiance, you can have hygge."
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