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.
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
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.
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)