Decorating Tips

10 Ways To Create Hygge At Home

December 22, 2014

My friends at Skagen invited me to share some views on Danish life and culture since they consider decor8 a great source for Scandinavian design. I decided to write about a Danish word that has meaning that is very close to my heart. Let me give you some background as to why I choose to a single word as my topi and how it applies to the home in particular.

10 Ways To Create Hygge At Home

When I began traveling to Germany over 15 years ago (I met a guy, fell in love, and have been with him ever since), I picked up on German words that quickly became a special part of my vocabulary based purely on phonetics – most how funny they sounded. I laughed a lot back then because the language is tricky and to a foreigner, words can feel like massive tongue-twisters especially when coupled with a deliciously thick German accent — well, it all seems almost comical. In American English, our goals over the past 20 years have been to abbreviate everything. Americans generally call me “Hol” instead of “Holly”. Americans are the king of short cuts, and not just when it comes to language. We like everything fast, we eat fast, work fast, live fast and relax fast. Germans are so much different – some things here can take forever and the very complicated language is no different, there are no short cuts. Germans work incredibly hard to protect their language and when they do dream up new words, the goal is make them longer and more difficult, not to shorten them because they pride themselves on their ability to be the most clever in the room when it comes to word games – the longer the better.

Since moving to northern Germany in 2009 (I’m a few hours south of the Danish border), I’ve built quite a vocabulary which I’m so proud of… So when I’m interviewed by German journalists, many ask what my favorite word is. I always say Gemütlichkeit which is from the word Gemütlich and means, “a space or situation that is warm and cosy, that induces a cheerful mood and peace of mind, without a need to hurry or worry, and with a connotation of belonging and social acceptance”. Journalists usually laugh or tell me how cute that is, that this word is so old-fashioned and sweet, etc. Even though it’s a wonderful word with an even more beautiful meaning, younger Germans don’t seem to embrace it like the old-timers do. Everything is “sweet” nowadays, not “Gemütlich” and honestly, I think that’s a pity because this is one word that just embodies everything I love about strong families, friendships and even communities. Plus, there is no English equivalent which makes it even more special to me. Some say it means cozy but Gemütlich or Gemütlichkeit is far from cozy because you can get cozy beneath a warm blanket. It’s a state of mind. It’s being at home around friends and family sharing a meal and unconditional love just flows in that space, a feeling of warmth, a sense of belonging, come one, come all.

Germans may not embrace Gemütlichkeit as much as I think they could in modern times, but the Danes certainly do. The Danish have a word that means the same but to them, it’s embedded in their culture, in their DNA, and goes much deeper than in the German culture because to the Danes, Hygge has a much broader social component.

The word is Hygge.

Hygge is a comrade, an affectionate teamwork. For a country that has long, cold winters with little light after 3pm, I guess this comrade works well. Hygge is a cozy pulling together but also a state of mind where Danes just know the weather is horrible but they still make the best of it. So why not fill the home with friends and family, light some candles, bake cookies and sit around the fireplace?

I thought that, in the spirit of winter, I’d create my top 10 ways of how to create Hygge at home. My neighbors and close friends downstairs are Danish, I have lots of good friends from Denmark and my husband’s sister is partnered with a Dane… Oh and my aunt was an art teacher for a Danish school outside of Copenhagen, so I do have some insight into life and culture up north. Not to mention, I work with a lot of Danish firms and my home is filled with interiors objects from Denmark. I also have worked in Denmark styling homes so I’ve experienced a lot of Hygge from the homeowners first hand.

10 Ways To Create Hygge At Home

10 Ways To Create Hygge At Home

1. Make interior design important to you and your family. This means considering what you have, edit when needed (try to avoid being a pack rat!), and decorate with intention and style. Not all Danish homes look like those you see in their magazines BUT they definitely are very aware of design and many families put a lot of care and attention into their home. It’s a source of pride. It’s a statement of who you are, at any income level.

2. Don’t wing it or buy something just because it’s on sale. Danes aren’t known to be wasteful. In fact, they tend to save up for that favorite design piece vs. running out and buying a knock-off or something they don’t really like just because it’s cheap.

3. Instill a sense of respect in your children for the home and the things in it. While kids will always trash their rooms, contain their mess to their space. I noticed in Danish homes, kids don’t run the household. Parents still had stylish interiors and the kids are still kids. It’s all about letting them know early on that a home needs to be shown some respect. This carries well into their adult years, too.

4. Always ask your guests, upon entering, if they want food or drink. To me, this is SO Danish. I can’t enter a Danish home without the second question after, “Hello How Are You?” being, “What can I get you to drink or eat, we have….” It’s a great way to show manners but is also caring and warm. This means to always keep a few bottles of wine or a favorite beverage in stock and something to munch on – so no empty refrigerators! I’m thinking to have a shelf in our closet that is reserved for guests – munchies, drinks, etc.

5. Linger. This is HARD for most Americans. We often clean up the plates the second guests finish! Danes linger. Dinners in Germany are the same, they go on for hours and hours, especially at someone’s home (but even in a restaurant). Lingering affords time to relax and unwind, have deeper conversations and enjoy the moment. I think that is why “mindfulness” is such a huge trend in thinking currently in the states. Most of us aren’t so important that we can’t take time out to eat and enjoy being with those whom we love. It’s hard to slow down at first, but if you practice mindful eating, you will learn to linger, and lingering is very “Hygge”.

6. Enjoy what you have. The grass is always greener. A Hygge home is the greenest to the owner. Sure, they may love to have the latest kitchen or a newest sofa, but you better believe what they do have is cared for and they’re still entertaining family and friends whether the sofa is perfect or not. A sense of contentment is important.

7. Perfect is boring.
 Don’t invite friends over only when you’ve created an elaborate spread. A simple wooden bread board topped with cheeses, some olives, fresh bread, butter, a glass of wine… Or maybe a cake you’ve made that may not look amazing but it tastes great and took you only a few moments to make. Those kinds of gatherings are beautiful too.

8. Sharing is caring. Don’t just invite over your friends and let them sit there while you slave in the kitchen. A true Hygge home says YES when guests offer to help. Let them help with the salad prep. The cookie decorating. Setting the table. Community and sharing is something I always see when I hang out with my Danish friends.

9. Light candles and cozy up! Often the most inexpensive things can create a cozy space – like candles. Candles are always aglow in Danish homes the moment the sun goes down, especially in the winter. Even at cafes, you’ll see people sitting outside in late Fall all the way until March with candles on their tables, lap blankets and a cup of something warm. Candles on the balcony, the patio, on the windowsills, in the fireplace, on the table, they instantly create a mood. Natural daylight and candlelight are two of my favorite ways to light a home and both require little to no money which is even better.

10. Embrace who you are. This is hard to do when you are constantly running back and forth and even at home, constantly tidying up or running after the kids and never really pausing. Embrace that you are only human and deserve to take time out each day just to have some tea, do yoga, read a chapter or two of a book, whatever works. This is very Hygge, and very Danish, to pause and sit inside of yourself for a moment, to let your soul catch up to your body as I’ve heard some say.

10 Ways To Create Hygge At Home

I could add so much more to this list. Would you like to add some thoughts? Please do so below, I’d love to hear your take on this.

Note: This post is in partnership with Skagen. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting those who help me to maintain this blog that I love so much.

(photos: holly becker)

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38 Comments

  • Reply Lise Jørgensen December 22, 2014 at 11:47 pm

    I love this post – I am danish, lives in Brazil with my American boyfriend. He knows Denmark very well but lingering is not his strong side :) I love it and I love hygge and the word you found to describe Gemütlich!
    Merry christmas from a cozy danish/american home in Brazil:)

  • Reply dawn December 23, 2014 at 12:12 am

    beautifully written miss holly … and i connected so much with what you wrote … i also had to smile at the comment about offering food and drink … living in minnesota where there are a lot of scandinavians, it is so customary to offer and be offered something shortly upon arrival … i will keep the word hygge in my mind … just a beautiful way of thinking

  • Reply ANN NORDQUIST December 23, 2014 at 12:14 am

    Holly, I love how you’ve beautifully expressed what “Hygge” is.
    I’m sitting by my woodstove at this moment, sipping on a mug of tea, loving the beauty of the day with it’s many shades of grey. We have candles lite with a lovely glow surrounding the room.
    Tomorrow, my home will smell like cardamom as we shall be baking our braided swedish cardamom bread. We also use the cardamom dough to make cinnamon rolls, which we eat for Christmas breakfast. We shall do the same on Christmas eve morning, that batch shall be our family in Seattle.
    I’m going to head down to the bay shortly, I love being by the sea water, breathing in the fresh salty air. Blessings to all…

  • Reply Megan December 23, 2014 at 1:30 am

    This was great, Holly. I have trouble with Seasonal Affective Disorder (I have a light box, which does help). This post was good timing, with beautiful pictures. Incidentally, I live the next town over from Groton, MA, so just 25 min south of Hollis. :). I remember reading that you lived there for a time.

    • Reply decor8 December 23, 2014 at 10:25 am

      @Megan – Yes I lived in Hollis for 6 years, it was so great there!

  • Reply Lucia December 23, 2014 at 2:59 am

    It probable sounds amazing, but 4 and 5 are so, so Spanish than for a moment I thought you were talking about us :) In fact de hace a word for 5: “sobremesa”

  • Reply Lucia December 23, 2014 at 3:00 am

    It probable sounds amazing, but 4 and 5 are so, so Spanish that for a moment I thought you were talking about us :) In fact de have a word for 5: “sobremesa”

  • Reply Catherine December 23, 2014 at 5:44 am

    How is it pronounced?

  • Reply Catherine December 23, 2014 at 5:46 am

    Oops, hit enter too fast! I meant to say that I love, love, love this post. It captured what I have been wanting to create more of in my life. My grandparent’s were Danish so maybe I just have to channel my inner Dane!

  • Reply Patty Mamone December 23, 2014 at 6:49 am

    This article really gives a lovely peek into Danish culture, home life, and hospitality. Thank you for this sweet little Christmas trip to Denmark!

  • Reply Anne December 23, 2014 at 7:10 am

    That has to be one of the best foreign insights to our Danish HYGGE that I have ever seen – I have often been asked by foreign business associates to describe the word but hard to do it and guessing it’s because it’s imbedded so deep in us, that it is hard to describe.

    Happy Holidays!!

  • Reply Inge December 23, 2014 at 9:35 am

    It seems like we, in Belgium, also practice gemütlichkeit or Hygge, like you mentioned in your post. We call it “gezelligheid”, the cozy mood among friends when having deep conversations with lots of candles, a glass of wine or a piece of cake and a cup of tea… Whatever it may be, I also feel the same feeling when these cozy evenings happen. It is so important to have evenings/moment like that! And I truly loved reading your post, Holly, because it is so true and important to linger and to enjoy the company of friends and family, accompanied by warmth, coziness and light.
    Hope your holidays are filled with Hygge/Gemütlichkeit or gezelligheid… :-)
    Love, Inge x

    • Reply decor8 December 23, 2014 at 10:27 am

      @Inge, Yes when I was researching for this article I came across that word “gezelligheid” and it means the same as Hygge and Gemütlichkeit- you’re right!

  • Reply Cate Lawrence December 23, 2014 at 9:52 am

    What a lovely post! I have not heard of Gemütlichkeit before but I adore it and the sentiment of hygge. I’m enjoying my first winter Christmas in Deutschland and it’s wonderfully cosy and homely!

    • Reply decor8 December 23, 2014 at 10:27 am

      @cate – That is great, welcome to Germany!

  • Reply jessica December 23, 2014 at 10:24 am

    This post really spoke to me. Thank you!
    I have never commented before but I am going to save this post to come back to in the future, it perfectly describes how I would like my home to feel.

    • Reply decor8 December 23, 2014 at 10:26 am

      @Jessica – wow thank you so much!

  • Reply Nova @ 18chelseamews December 23, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    This is such a lovely post Holly! Thanks for contributing a new word to my vocabulary! Many of these things come so naturally to me yet I had no idea there was a word that encapsulates it all.

    I’m really big on the offering of food and drink, and even bigger on the lingering. Lingering was always a prominent thing in my home growing up, it was when we had the best conversations. I’m working on the ‘Perfect is Boring’ point though… I’ve always struggled a bit with that.

    Happy Holidays! xo

  • Reply Megan December 23, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    Nice post. Fitting for this time of year. On another note did I miss the post stating the winners of the giveaways? Congratulations to those that won. Thanks for bringing my attention to some of those lovely businesses.

  • Reply Tammy December 23, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is one of the most enjoying posts I read in a long long time. I think you managed not only to explain the meaning of Hygge, but also to bring it into this post and create that feeling for everyone who reads it. So thank you, Holly, it’s such a pleasure!

  • Reply karen December 23, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    Hi Holly – thanks so much for reminding me of Gemütlichkeit…I learned this word many years ago from some friends who had spent their childhood years in Germany. The way it was described to me was as the feeling one got from lingering at the table with friends after a long and satisfying meal – basking in the warmth of food and friendship – full, happy and unhurried.

    Thanks for the reminder!!

    Karen

  • Reply bethania December 23, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    Adorable post, Holly. Thank you for that. I wish you and your family a most Hygge and Gemütlichkeit Christmas and festives days ahead!

  • Reply Johanne December 24, 2014 at 11:22 am

    I loved this post. Being danish and just living HYGGE (which is one of the few words in our language that is both noun and verb) I have always found it difficult to understand foreigners fascination with HYGGE, since I though the translation COZY summed it up.
    But these 10 things are so spot on. Thanks for sharing.
    I cannot understand why you are not always offered a drink upon arriving at someones home, I mean are you not thirsty from driving or whatever.
    Ps marry chirstmas to you and your family. I love following your blog.

  • Reply The Daydreamer December 24, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    Dear Holly,

    This is by far one of my favorite posts on Decor8. Probably – selfishly? – because I can relate to it. So.Much.

    You see, I spent a good amount of years in The Netherlands and have quite a few Danish friends who are dearest to me AND… this is IT: you portrayed their homes, way of being/living as I have known it for years. The candles, the warmth, the welcoming and laid back attitude – you have nailed it all. Inspired by the tradition at some of our Danish friends’ place, we now have decided to have a Friday night “aperitif” at our place too. One example among many others of this “Hygge” bliss and the way it translates in everyday life. Fun fact: in The Netherlands, they seem to have a similar term (also untranslatable in English): gezellig. They say the closest to it could be “cozy”. The loop is looped. And once more, my warmest wishes to you and all those you care for around you :-)

  • Reply lucia December 24, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    Love your post Holly, I will adopt that word and try to make it work at home, that is exactly how I would like to live and feel at home.
    I have experimented the German Gemütlichkeit but sometimes the cozy part was there but not the warm … I could not fill the full meaning of that word living there.
    Being from south america some of the points are natural to us, but others are only for those who cares about some details. I also have to say that many are not in a situation to even think about those things, they need to survive everyday, pitifully these points are not even in their dreams.
    But for everybody, having more or less on the table, most of the points are applicable and could make our lives better.
    Feliz Navidad for you and your family Holly!!

  • Reply Katie December 24, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    This is such a beautiful post Holly! I think so many blogs this time of year are centered around creating the most perfectly decorated home and buying the latest gifts. Reading this was a breath of fresh air :) Thank you!

  • Reply Rach Bryant December 25, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    I love these words. In spanish home is ‘hogar’ which also means fireplace. Isn’t it interesting how our sense of home established around this sense of light and warmth. A beautiful list to create a home with heart Holly. To me lighting is the key as it creates so much atmosphere in a space. Restaurants are a perfect example of this. Notice how the restaurants that are really bright or too dingy never get many people.

  • Reply Inger December 25, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Hygge is traditional in Norway as well and we often tell each other that “This is very hyggelig.” In my family, when we get together, a meal can last for hours and we all chat and enjoy ourselves. Coffeebreaks are something I do every day, either by myself or with someone else. That is also very hyggelig.

  • Reply Inger December 25, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    Inger,

    Wishing you a very Merry Christmas – loved reading this post today, thank you so much:))

  • Reply Tania December 27, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    I love this post… “Hygge” is one of the best things in life, if you ask me! :-)

    It’s quite amazing that only Danes are known for having a specific word for it. Many more nations know how to create this atmosphere, I think!

  • Reply Amy @apidaecandles.de December 28, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    Ha Holly. I’ve been living in Germany for 18 years now. When asked for my favorite German word, I also reply with Gemütlichkeit. And you summed it up beautifully as to why. When asked for my first German word, it is Bremsflüssigkeit. That is another story though. Happy New Year. Amy

  • Reply Corina January 1, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    For me it’s gemütlich when there is a special scent in the room coming from cooking, baking or even palo santo wood sticks after letting in fresh air. Music is important too, so turn off the tv and enjoy a wonderful telling or interesting conversation. But I feel the most gemütlich coming into a warm and nice room after a snowfall walk and enjoying a cup of tea or coffee and having a piece of cake with my lovely and the cat on the lap. :-)

  • Reply Cher January 10, 2015 at 1:24 am

    Lovely article, thank you!

  • Reply Vicky January 13, 2015 at 4:16 am

    Holly,
    I grew up just outside Hamburg, Germany, and you have perfectly captured what I love about my early home. This “Gemutlichkeit” or “hygge” (in Danish) is exactly what I remember about our home and those of our loved ones. Guests were always welcomed with a drink and snack. I’ve tried to carry on some of these traditions now that I live in the western US. We recently bought a home in the mountains and I can’t wait to incorporate some of the Scandinavian decorating traditions into the interior design. Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s brought back some great memories for me!

  • Reply Amy October 7, 2015 at 7:17 am

    I stumbled upon this post you did, and have been obsessing over the word hygge. I have always loved the concept, but didn’t have a word for it. I called it the Norman Rockwell life, because that was the best way I could think to describe it. I am hoping you don’t mind if I quote you on my blog? It isn’t anything, and you probably wont get much traffic to your blog from it (no one reads me, and that is fine because I blog for my children, so they will have memories that I forget when they are grown), but I will of course leave the link, and make sure that you are cited for your beautiful words. Thank you so much for describing what I have been seeking after for years! I guess my desire to live a hyggeligt life probably stems from my Danish and Swedish ancestry! :)

  • Reply Susan December 2, 2015 at 8:07 pm

    I didn’t realize that “gemutlichkeit” wasn’t a Yiddish word! LOL!

  • Reply Lynne Stevenson December 7, 2015 at 6:22 am

    Loved reading your article and we just need a tiny tweaking at this end, the food and drink supply at hand, so neither of us is running out at the last minute! I am going to make a special piece of art with the word Hygge in it. Hygge embodies all that I long for and consciously ‘work’ at creating here in our little home here in Canada. Thank you so much for sharing. Merry Hygge!!

  • Reply Cheryl Anderson February 6, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    Thanks so much for your ideas. We are promoting a health and wellness challenge at work and I have adopted a Hygge page. The idea of linger and embracing one’s self are some thoughts I shall share. Would love more tips!

    Cheryl

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