Winter happiness is a word called 'hygge'19/12/17
After bacon and beer, Denmark's most famous export of recent years has probably been the term 'hygge'. It's a word that encapsulates a mindset rather than a design theory, but it's a way of thinking that is enhanced by attention to the interior world in which we spend so much of our winter lives.
Above all, hygge is about sharing, caring and communicating. A home creates hygge when it entices people in and makes them want to linger. It's a home that makes people feel welcome and never bored, offering talking points but never clutter. It's a home that reflects the owners and respects its visitors.
Some believe hygge is the reason that Danes continuously top the rankings as the happiest people on Earth. So what do we need to do to achieve this state of mind?
Set the right temperature
Before you even think about buying the latest Scandinavian furniture or plumping the cushions on your sofa, stop and think about the temperature in your home. Too cold, and you'll never create hygge because no one else will want to be there. Too warm, and people will fall asleep rather than chat until the early hours.
Your thermostats should be set to make your home inviting. Temperature plays a key role in creating the desire to enter a room and then ensuring your guests stay.
Lights should glow not shine
Light is an important part of any home that wants to create hygge. As a rule, it's a good idea to switch off any bright, white, direct lighting once the winter sun starts to set, replacing it with the warm glow of candles and lamps that throw indirect light. Think sconces and table lamps.
Do not, however, go too dark. When trying to create a hygge-friendly home, always think about the effect your choices will have on the visitor. Can they see easily enough to recognise the person they're talking too?!
At the other end of the spectrum, make sure rooms are not over-lit. Nobody wants to be fearful that their every imperfection is being highlighted for all to see!
Minimal not maximal!
As a concept born in Scandinavia, it won't come as too much of a surprise to learn that homes designed to encourage a sense of hygge are also hoard-free zones.
It's important to make your home comfortable - think cushions, nesting tables and blankets or throws - but don't overdo it. If your guests have to move things to find a comfortable place to sit, then hygge is not on the menu.
Don't be scared of your past
At its heart, hygge is about friendship and relating to people, but it's also about you. A home that creates hygge does so because it captures the essence of the people who live there.
The public areas of your home should include objects and memories of your life; perhaps few well-placed photos, or the LP covers of your favourite albums - even if you were born after the record player had its day!
Similarly, books are an important feature of the hygge-friendly home. Without overdoing it, a few poignant titles can go a long way to helping the conversation flow.
Banish the electronics
You cannot be hygge whilst staring into your smartphone. Likewise televisions, even when turned off, bring a jarring externality into the room. Ideally the TV will be hidden within a cabinet, whilst the clutter of games consoles will be banished to another, more private room.
Let the outdoors in
It may be winter and you may be sheltering from the wild weather, but that doesn't mean you leave the outside at the doorstep. Nature plays an important role in creating a hygge-friendly space.
Try a few well-placed plants, and natural finishes rather than shiny, bold colours or glossy lacquers. Think wood, stone, ceramic or plaster - materials that give the sense of the outdoors coming in. Creating a continuum with the outside world will induce a sense of freedom rather than imprisonment, helping you and your guests relax into each others' company.
Prepare the fridge
Your guests can't stop for long if there are no refreshments to help sustain them through an afternoon or evening in your home.
The availability of food and drink are key to the Danish sense of hospitality. After enquiring how you are, the second question a host will ask their guest is always "Would you like something to eat or drink?".
The hygge home always has light food or snacks available. Cold meats and cheeses in the fridge, a soup warming on the stove. A choice of teas and coffees or cold juices and cordials.
Of course, homemade is better, but don't despair if that's not possible. As long as you have quality food on offer, you can be sure that your guests will stay to enjoy your company for hours. And that's what hygge is all about.