Autumn 2016 saw newly-published books about the Danish concept of Hygge popping up like mushrooms in a pine forest. I thought I would investigate further and try to find out why Hygge is such a massive trend for Autumn/Winter 2016.
What is Hygge?
The Visit Denmark website is a useful source of information on all things Hygge. It says:
“Hygge is as Danish as pork roast and cold beer and it goes far in illuminating the Danish soul. In essence, hygge means creating a nice, warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people around you. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family – that’s hygge too. And let’s not forget the eating and drinking – preferably sitting around the table for hours on end discussing the big and small things in life. Perhaps the Danish idea of hygge explains why Danes are often considered the happiest people in the world?”
The Visit Denmark website goes on to explain that peak Hygge season is Christmas:
“Danes lead a secular lifestyle but when it comes to religious holidays, they pull out the stops. Danish winters are known to be long and dark, and so the Danes fight the darkness with their best weapon: hygge, and the millions of candles that go with it. If you have ever been to Tivoli Gardens or walked the streets of Copenhagen during the festive season, you have an idea of what Danes can do with lighting, mulled wine (known as gløgg for the locals), blankets and oversize scarves. If you haven’t, maybe it’s time you try.”
Hygge didn’t actually originate in the Danish language at all – but in Norwegian, where it meant something like “well-being.” It first appeared in Danish writing around the end of the 18th Century and the Danes have embraced it ever since. Irrespective of where it heralds from, the concept taps into a truth that speaks to anyone living in a cold, northern hemisphere country: in the darkest, bleakest days of winter we need to seek out light and cosyness to improve our mood and give us hope that warm spring days will be with us eventually.
Why has hygge become so on-trend?
So we’ve bought a book on hygge and have lit a few candles to make the house look cosy. We’re snuggled up under our fake fur throws with a mug of mulled wine or hot chocolate. Hopefully we are now enjoying an unprecedented sense of wellbeing, regardless of what the weather is doing outside. What I would like to understand is why is hygge such a huge trend right now? And how does it differ from what we’ve been doing every winter since we were children?
It would not be overstating things to say that Britain has had a very unsettling year politically, culturally and economically. The year began with David Bowie’s death on 10 January. This discombobulated many people who believed he was immortal….then the deaths just kept coming. Lemmy, Terry Wogan, Victoria Wood, Prince, Alan Rickman: there didn’t seem to be an end to the Grim Reaper’s work. For people of a certain age, 2016 felt like the end of an era, when all the people who meant something to you as you were growing up were passing away, leaving behind them huge vacuums in the worlds of music, TV and cinema.
Then, in the summer, we had the EU referendum that ultimately resulted in a vote for Brexit. Regardless of your view on the sense (or otherwise) of the result, Britain opted for change: massive, unsettling, unknown and unknowable change. Almost six months after the referendum result, it remains unclear how the nation will disentangle itself from the EU. Change and uncertainty at a national level is always reflected at an individual level, too. People see food and holiday prices rising, opportunities for them and their children altering and, as a result, look to the comfort and reassurance of their own homes more than ever. With the resulting economic uncertainty, the housing market has slowed down (certainly in parts of London) with people staying put and ‘making the best of things’. On top of this, November saw the election of the most unpopular (and arguably the most unqualified) US President ever to stand. The implications of Trump’s victory are yet to be fully understood as I write, but the inflammatory speeches he made in the run-up to the election have set the American nation against itself. Intolerance has become acceptable in parts of the US, in the same way as race hate crimes increased in the UK as a direct result of the Brexit vote. Trump’s stated desire of tearing up treaties with other nations, that have ensured co-operation over many years, means that the world is in a more unsettled place than it was prior to his victory.
Small wonder, then, that people want to spend time with the ones they love, drawing on the comforts of familiarity and fellowship.
And maybe – just maybe – we have all learned something valuable this year. Life is transitory and can be taken from us earlier than we would wish for: so enjoy what we have now. Life can be filled with uncertainties as well as being deeply unsettling at times: so grasp hold of the people and things that we can rely on and who help us to feel settled and safe. And happiness can’t always be found in material goods: sometimes the warmth of a blanket, the flicker of firelight or the smile of a good friend will bring us real joy, even in the darkest night.
As to what differentiates hygge from age-old British winter traditions of wrapping up in winter woolies when it gets cold, enjoying Crumpets dripping with butter at tea-time and enjoying a few pints of strong winter ale in front of a fire in the local pub, I think it’s down to two things. First, hygge (as I understand it) is a state of mind or being. It’s a conscious decision to fight the winter blues with light, warmth, cosyness and enjoyment. In the UK, our winter coping strategies seem to be just that: measures taken to cope with the winter, get through it and make the best of it. Second, I think that a lot of is down to clever marketing. Once the hygge trend had built up a head of steam, it became clear that it is a gift to the retail trade that keeps on giving. All at once, everything is labeled as “Hygge” – in other words, this product is essential if you wish to embrace the concept of hygge (and who doesn’t?!) Everything becomes a hygge ‘essential’: candles, blankets, cushions, mugs, pyjamas, slippers, dinner services, etc. Even the Peter Jones Christmas windows this year are a visualization of hygge. Scandi trees and snow in the background set off a plethora of products edited to ensure that Christmas 2016 is your most ‘hygge’ ever. The fluffiest teddy, the most tactile digital radio – all form part of the Christmas hygge tableau.
For retailers, any new trend that catches on quickly is a good trend. Hygge spans all ages and all product areas and so is being ruthlessly exploited for Christmas 2016. But what can we draw from it in our interiors? And what will stand the test of time as opposed to looking out of step after a few months?
The hygge interior
The most important point to make here is a rather obvious one. We don’t live in Denmark (or in any part of Scandinavia). True, our winters are dark and grey and they can be cold – although for those of us in the South of England, even that doesn’t seem to be a given any more. Any attempt at designing a hygge interior is therefore going to look rather out of place in most parts of the UK, so we have two options. Either we kitsch it up as much as possible, hoping to goodness it snows this winter, and we ready to pack it all away at the first sign of Spring, or we borrow a few elements from the hygge design manual, ensure that they are the sort of thing we want to keep in future and will stand the test of time, and – in effect – go for “hygge-light”.
Every high street store with an interiors section – Next, M&S, Primark, Sainsbury’s, Wilco, Dunelm – has hygge-friendly ranges this season. Fake fur scatter cushions and throws, fluffy rugs, bark-effect candle holders, strings of lights, giant artisanal mugs designed for hot chocolate loaded with marshmallows: all will give your home a hygge-friendly feel. Venture into your nearest Tiger for genuine Danish hygge fare, or into Ikea for candles, candle-holders, yet more cushions and a large pan so you can heat up some Glogg on the stove.
My recommendations for ‘hygge-light’ include the lovely White Company fake fur range of cushions and throws, as well as their lanterns, filled with candles or strings of tiny lights. I love some of Habitat’s stoneware dinner services (many of which are handmade in Portugal) which are wonderfully uneven and tactile. I love the room candle by Skandinavist called Skog (forest) which gives off the scent of a pine forest and I would cover the walls in one of the fantastic wallpapers by Sandberg, especially from the Skog book, with designs based on (yes, you guessed it) the forest. At the dining table I would position some Murciana goat hair chairs from Oka: the soft goat hair seat pad hugs you as you dine.
I hope this post gives you a bit of insight into hygge, including why it’s such a big trend and how we can enjoy it in our own homes.
22 November 2016