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Hygge: The Art of Making Your Home a Cozy Space

An arranged living space scene featuring lit candles and blankets against a window on a dreary day.

The short days and long, dark nights. The frigid temps. The sheets of ice and piles of snow. No wonder most Americans really don’t like winter: A CBS poll found that only 1 in 10 Americans says winter is their favorite season.

But residents of the Scandinavian countries have long understood that winters can be the best season of them all. And that’s not because they have no other choice. It’s because they have hygge.

What is hygge?

First, it’s pronounced “WHO-guh,” and when said out loud, sounds like a cross between an early Model T car horn and a U.S. military battle cry. But while it may sound a bit guttural to the ear, the concept of hygge is possibly the most comforting thing you’ll ever come across. 

The word itself is old Norwegian, where it means “well-being.” The Danes started using the term in the 18th century, where as a Danish word it’s since come to mean  “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” (Is it a coincidence that their hygge looks like our “hug”?)

It should be noted that  hygge isn’t Denmark’s version of a Marie Kondo-esque lifestyle fad; it’s a way of approaching life. In fact, hygge is regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture, something they certainly embrace in the winter months but also practice year-round. 

Though we don’t have an exact equivalent in English, it’s loosely translated as “living a life of coziness and contentment.” And it makes Danes particularly happy people.

Denmark is reportedly one of the top happiest countries in the world, second only to another Scandinavian country, Finland. The founder of Happiness Research Institute (yes, that’s a real thing, and it’s in Copenhagen, Denmark, of course) believes hygge is the big reason for Denmark’s ranking.

If you’d like to find a happier version of yourself, you’d do well to consider adopting a hygge lifestyle. 

How to practice hygge 

There are oodles of magazine articles and books about hygge. But if you want to read  what may arguably be called the definitive book of hygge, pick up “The Little Book of Hygge.” It’s written by Meik Wiking, the same person who founded the Happiness Research Institute.

In his book, Wiking writes that hygge has been called everything from ‘the art of creating intimacy,’ ‘cosiness of the soul,’ and ‘the absence of annoyance’ to ‘taking pleasure in the presence of soothing things.'” He’s also quick to say that while hygge may conjure images of drinking a cup of tea by candlelight or a mug of steaming hot chocolate under a cozy blanket, it’s much more than that.

It’s the art of creating an environment around you — and within you — to enjoy life’s simple pleasures and celebrate the small joys. Hot chocolate, warm blankets and cups of tea certainly qualify, but it’s also about your mindset.

Adopting hygge living doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. You don’t need to buy trendy furniture and accent pieces, or a $200 Nordic sweater. It’s about appreciating the simple things, being comfortable in your skin and in your surroundings, and spending quality time with the people you care most about. It’s about being happy in the present.

If you’d like to create a hygge setting through interior design, start with the design of your living room. It’s one of the first rooms guests see when they enter your house, and you want it to evoke two feelings: In your guests, you want them to be instantly at ease and welcome; and in yourself, you want to feel peace, serenity and a “I love spending my time in here” vibe.

So think in terms of light, color and texture, along with simplicity. 

  1. Start with your lighting. Scandinavian countries don’t get a lot of daylight in the winter months. So residents there use lighting to make spaces more comfortable and set a mood. Use lightbulbs that give off a bright, warm glow — look for bulbs below 3000k, considered the “warm white” of the color spectrum.
  2. Spark a flame. According to the National Association of Home Builders, fireplaces fall in the middle of what homebuyers are looking for, mainly because of affordability concerns. But the Danes would disagree, citing fireplaces as an essential part of hygge living. Denmark’s winter temps probably have a lot to do with that, but even if you don’t have a fireplace, you can get the feeling with candles. Place candles around your space with smells you find comforting, such as vanilla, cinnamon or cranberry.
  3. Think form and function. The Danish modern design is clean, functional and timeless. Danish furniture usually features smooth rounded edges in natural hues and is both innovative and functional. And Danish decorating is minimalist, with use of mixed textures. Blend all these things together by using what you have and love, and removing what you don’t like. 

If you have rough metal chairs, drape a cozy blanket over them, or add colorful throw pillows. If you have wood floors, add a plush rug with larger pillows on the floors, and stack pillows in corners. 

If you have lots of overstuffed furniture, consider moving some pieces into storage to free up a bit of space for a small coffee table or side table. 

  1. Go neutral. Whites, grays and blacks are interwoven to create a calm and clean look. And painting is one of the easiest ways to change the feeling of a room. Paint your walls white or a shade of gray, or paint three walls white and one wall black. Save the pops of color for your art and accent pieces, which you’ll use to draw attention.
  2. Less is more. Make sure spaces are well used, and remove unnecessary clutter. Again, if you don’t want to get rid of anything entirely, consider storing things like art or furniture in a safe and climate-controlled space. Use cabinets, shelving, coffee tables and end tables to store things like books, blankets, pillows and board games.
  3. Decorate simply. Choose accents that are simple in style, such as black and white photo frames, black or white ceramic flower vases and flower pots, black or gray lamps — you get the idea. You can use one large piece of colorful art as the dominant eye-catching piece; other accents should simply add texture to your space.

Make yours a hygge house.

You don’t have to eliminate things from your home to create a hygge environment. If you want to create a less cluttered, more organized, perfectly relaxing home, it can start with storage. Start by choosing the items you want to keep, and which aren’t working in your spaces right now. No matter how big or small your belongings, we’ve got a storage space that’s the right size for you. 

Find a Self Storage Plus location close to you in the Greater Washington, D.C., and Baltimore area, and start your journey toward a hygge home!

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