A hint of hygge will get you through winter

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

If there’s an expert at creating coziness in the dead of winter, it makes sense that Denmark would be it.

Danes endure as many as 18 hours a day of darkness during their long, cold winters. No wonder the art of coziness, called hygge, is such a part of their lives and homes. Pronounced hoo-guh, hygge is as much a verb as it is an adjective.

“Hygge is about creating a sanctuary of warmth and coziness that acts as a refuge for you and everyone you love,” write authors Gunnar Karl Gislason and Jody Eddy, whose book “The Hygge Life” (Ten Speed Press) was published last November.

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Troy interior designer Terry Ellis visited Denmark six years ago – her sister Donna Weber used to live there – and says hygge “is a real thing.” For her, coziness is about being encapsulated in layers of soft, warm, textural fabrics.

“A chunky-knit throw, soft flannel blanket and definitely an excess of pillows are essential,” said Ellis, of Room Service Interior Design.

Weber, Ellis’s sister, still has fond memories of her time in Denmark and how hygge was incorporated into everyday life with a beautiful simplicity.

“I was always amazed at the simplicity of furnishings yet (there’d be) a beautiful throw on a sofa or sheepskin pelt thrown on a chair to sit on,” writes Weber in an email. “Always tea-lites in windows in the evening and no window coverings so you could peak inside and see family life.”

Hygge was about being surrounded by only what you love to look at with “clean design, no clutter,” remembers Weber.

“A beautiful tea pot and Royal Copenhagen cups, a water pitcher with charcoal sticks to purify water, interesting artwork, an orchid on the counter or lots of tulips in a clear vase,” writes Weber. “Beautiful pastries or a dish of fresh strawberries. I guess it’s more of a feeling you create for your life when you live it fully.”

Finding well-being

According to VisitDenmark.com, hygge actually comes from a Norwegian word meaning “well-being.” It first appeared in Danish writing in the 18th century.

Other cultures have their own version of hygge. Germans have Gemütlichkeit, which also stands for coziness. And the Dutch have Gezelligheid.

One of Danes’ favorite times to break out the hygge is during Christmas. Candles abound during the dark days of winter in Denmark.

When it comes to infusing hygge into our own homes, it’s about how we use our spaces to interact with the people we love – a candlelit table, being wrapped in a warm blanket and simple, slow-cooked meals.

“Hygge is about making time to pause and be grateful, taking a deep breath, turning off your gadgets and listening to what nature has to tell you,” write Gislason and Eddy.

To create coziness in her clients’ homes, Ellis likes to use sectionals rather than separate sofas “because two sofas don’t have that cuddle-corner to connect them,” she says.

Mixing patterns, tables with distressed finishes, hand-scraped wood floors, meanwhile, also create the mood of casual and cozy, Ellis says.

“I love to add touches of vintage to a room for the interesting character and mood they bring to the mix,” she says. “For example, a vintage typewriter or old cameras tucked into bookshelves are warm and relatable, somehow familiar, evoking childhood memories. Cozy.”

One way to hygge up your own home is with textures, greenery and warmth. Faux fur throws and pillows are a great way to warm up a space. Restoration Hardware even makes a bean bag wrapped in faux fur (regularly priced at $249).

And be aware of lighting. Gislason and Eddy are adamant in their book that “fluorescent lights are never hygge.” The emphasis is on “never.”

Birmingham interior designer Amy Weinstein of AMW Design suggests using a variety of lighting to create a sense coziness in any room.

Have “some at ceiling height, some at lamp height, and often some wall mounted fixture, all of which must be dimmable and paired with the proper warm color bulb,” she says. “A room with a singular center fixture snuffs out any chance for ‘cozy.’”

Macrame – yes, macrame – wall hangings are another way to give a space both texture and warmth at the same time.

Take a soak

One of the most natural places to up the hygge level in your own home may be with a long, soak in the bath.

Soaker tubs are a growing trend these days, though not as hot as larger showers, according to Houzz.com’s 2017 Bathroom Trends Study. According to the survey of 1,238 homeowners across the country who were renovating bathrooms, showers were a top splurge item.

In fact, of those making master shower bedroom updates, 81 percent increased the shower’s size. Many homeowners also planned to remove their master bathtub (27 percent) to make room for a larger shower (91 percent).

Gislason and Eddy suggest one way to escape the craziness of our daily lives and infuse some hygge into your life is with the creation of what they call “a cozy nook.”

Find a space for you to unwind, preferably before a fire, get a blanket and a cup of tea or hot coffee, they write. And most importantly, unplug.

“Line a comfortable chair – preferably next to a natural light source and a blooming houseplant or fresh flowers – with sheepskin or an enveloping blanket, position a footstool in front of it, pull on your softest slippers, brew a cup of tea, light a candle, and open to your favorite book and surrender to the swish of its turning pages,” they write.

Now that’s the way to spend a cold, winter day. Spring will be here before we know it. Let’s hope anyway.


(313) 223-4686

Twitter: @mfeighan

Best cities for hygge

Sperling’s Best Places analyzed cities across the nation to assess their hygge factor. The country’s Top 50 Metro areas were scored based on four main categories: cozy weather, hygge pastimes, hygge venues and homes with fireplaces.

Seattle was named the No. 1 hygge city. It had top scores in reading books, knitting/needlework, and cafes/coffee chops/tea house. It also had a high percentage of homes with a fireplace. The least hygge city, meanwhile, was Los Angeles, which got low marks for its warm weather and a lack of hygge pastimes and venues, especially brew pubs, card games and cooking.

Where did Detroit rank on the list? No. 15. Below are the top 10:

1. Seattle

2. Portland

3. Minneapolis

4. Salt Lake City

5. Denver

6. Rochester

7. Hartford

8. Boston

9. Cleveland

10. Milwaukee