Search the term online and nearly 10 million results roll in. It’s being touted by this winter’s shelter magazines, decor retailers and lifestyle mavens.
What’s so huge? It’s hygge.
Often mispronounced “higgy,” it’s actually more like “hewgah.” To understand the term’s meaning, just burrow into a big comfy pile of phrases synonymous with “well-being.” Coziness, ease, conviviality and, above all, a warm glow.
According to author Meik Wiking in The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well (Penguin 2016), hygge originated from a Norwegian word. The Danes appropriated the term to some extent, but it’s common throughout Scandinavia, as well as a good bit of the United Kingdom.
In the truest expression of hygge, the warm glow should come from a candle.
“No recipe for hygge is complete without candles. When Danes are asked what they most associate with hygge, an overwhelming 85 percent mention candles,” says Wiking, who also heads Copenhagen’s Happiness Research Institute, a think tank studying societal satisfaction. And forget scented candles, he says.
If you don’t have a candle, go with a low-wattage lamp, Wiking suggests. Harsh, bright lighting is anathema to the hygge vibe.
There are a few other decor elements that bring hygge home.
“A warm, neutral color palette is best,” says Kayleigh Tanner, a writer in Brighton, England, who hosts a blog called Hello Hygge.
Think beige, “greige,” terracotta, tan, warm white, orange and copper.
Textures are important for hygge, too, she says, “so I like to go for very tactile fabrics like velvet, chunky knits, silk and faux fur. These can be mixed and matched to help create a cozy nest in the home.
“For fragrances, I think familiar, homey scents work well. Comforting, food-based aromas like spices, vanilla or cocoa.”
In warmer months, even outdoor spaces can be hygge-worthy, says Tanner, who has fond memories of childhood evenings watching the sunset with friends.
“Lighting can completely transform a garden, so think about solar lights and outdoor lanterns,” she says. “These can be placed down paths for a magical journey through the garden, or clustered in areas in which you’ll be entertaining, to maintain an inviting cozy glow.”
She suggests gathering simple flower bouquets and displaying collections of pebbles or shells. Hygge’s appeal is firmly tied to the natural world.
“In my mind, hygge is about ambience, intimacy and the right setting,” says Kirsten Maclean, a Dane now living in a hygge-rich rural seaside town in western Nova Scotia. She finds that a day spent reading with a cup of tea and a cat is as hygge-inducing as a friendly get-together. Sometimes there are candles, sometimes not.
Birte Lilholt Aret, who lives in Sydney, Australia, grew up just outside Copenhagen.
“As a child, I remember visiting my grandparents, who lived in a thatched roof house. We’d be woken up during lightning storms because of the fire danger, and we’d sit in the kitchen in our pajamas, with coffee and candles, while the storm lasted. Making the situation ‘hyggelig’ by being together,” she says.
In a conflict-torn world, the idea of a welcoming refuge seems especially appealing.
In his book, Wiking recalls the end of a hiking day with friends.
“We were all tired. half asleep, sitting around the fireplace in the cabin, wearing big (sweaters) and socks. The only sounds were the stew boiling, the sparks from the fireplace. Then one of my friends broke the silence. ‘Could this be any more hygge?’” he asked.
“‘Yes,’ said one of the girls after a moment. ‘If there was a storm raging outside.’ We all nodded.”