How to hygge your home

Signe Johansen is a Norwegian cook and author of How to Hygge. Here she tells us how to get that Scandinavian cool cosiness in our own homes.  

Signe Johansen is a Norwegian cook and author of How to Hygge. Hygge is central to the Nordic sense of well-being. Roughly translated as 'cosiness', it implies warmth, conviviality and community. Signe shows us how we can achieve Scandi-cool in your own home, without breaking the bank.

Hygge, a Norwegian-Danish word, roughly translates as a feeling of cosiness but to me, it also conveys a sense of warmth, kinship and conviviality. Much has been made of its quintessential Danishness; in fact, hygge is originally Norwegian and we practice is as much as the Danes, although we have been somewhat reticent in sharing it with the wider world.

As the nights start to draw in and there’s a distinct chill in the air, Nordics really embrace all that autumn and winter have to offer. Given the length of the cooler seasons in the frozen, dark north, we don’t see much point in dreading winter and instead have developed strategies to cope with the extended period of hibernation every year. Yes, that might mean a trip to a sunnier climate come midwinter, but it’s also about being an unashamed homebody and creating a home that you want to spend lots of time in. We believe that beauty starts in the home, and if you live somewhere that makes you feel anxious, depressed or disaffected with life then there are a few easy ways to remedy that.

Across the Nordic region you’ll find scenes of dramatic natural beauty and although we feel our most alive when we’re active outdoors, we also take inspiration from nature into our homes.

If you had to condense the philosophy underpinning hygge in the home it would essentially be: keep it simple. Nordic homes are minimalist yet warm – historically we shy away from cold, hard and sharp designs and instead seek out natural materials such as wood, glass, stone, fur and soft woollens which all add a timeless feel to our interiors.

Cosy modern living room in whites and greys

Being a deeply pragmatic people with a long history of spirited self-reliance we tend to value good craftsmanship, materials that will last and invest in a few good pieces that pass the test of time. For some, that means making a small item of furniture and displaying it in pride of place. That being said, a few accessories from Ikea mixed with a mid-century item of wooden furniture from G-plan is acceptable, after all, mixing old and new keeps your living space fresh, without making it sterile and devoid of personality.

So these are my top tips for how to add a little hygge to your home this winter:

  • Critically assess your living space. If it’s really cluttered with piles of random stuff everywhere it really does pay to be ruthless and periodically cull things you don’t need, or feel any great affection for. Keep a few objects that have meaning for you, but try to avoid hoarding everything for sentimental reasons. As the old saying goes, a tidy space means a tidy mind . . . 
  • Hygge is often sociable, therefore if you’re looking to spruce up your home, why not make the process a social occasion? Gather your friends and/or family around and discuss what the space should look like, and maybe they’ll even help with clearing out, doing some painting or just advising on where a painting looks good in a given room. A different perspective can really help you in making decisions about how you want your home to look and feel. Reciprocate by offering to help them if they decide to do the same. bake something delicious, say the sticky ginger cake on p.84 in How to Hygge and serve coffee, tea (or something stronger!) as a thank you for their help. It’s old-fashioned courtesies like these that help keep us connected with people, and small acts of kindness and gratitude are always appreciated. 
Sticky ginger cake
Sticky ginger cake from How to Hygge.
  • The optics of hygge are frequently reduced to flickering candles, cosy woollen socks in front of a fireplace and – yes – that slice of cake! Although hygge is more deeply rooted in culture than this reductive image suggests, it’s definitely worth stocking up on a variety of candles. We light them at all times of the year, with neither ceremony nor occasion. Sometimes I’ll have a votive lit when I’m sitting and working at my desk, or indeed while I’m having breakfast. A gentle glow of candles can soothe even the most ailing of souls, and Finnish design brand Iittala make some of the best votives in the business. 
  •  While we’re on the subject of sources of light, it’s worth seeking out a variety of small light sources instead of having one, sharp light dominating a room. Att Pynta has a terrific range of vintage bulbs and chic lampshades to add that sense of warmth to a room, at good prices. 
  • Bring nature indoors: Danish architect Arne Jacobsen (most famous in the UK for the egg chair on Big Brother!) was a keen gardener and often incorporated plants into his designs. Architectural plants and green succulents not only look elegant in a room but according to NASA they also help keep the air of our homes clean. I’d rather spend a little money on beautiful plants that make a statement in a room than on the latest must-have fashion accessory. You can also add an extra pop of colour in a room with a stylish vase in an unusual colour such as pink, or in a sexy metallic shade like copper. 
Succulents in round grey plant pots on a wooden table
  • Accessories in the home – be they soft furnishings, throws, sheepskins or a lovely rug – can really lift a room to something more than the sum of its parts. Again, mixing and matching something like a simple, stylish Ikea side table with say, a cool, grey vase from Cos x Hay,  and a graphic print from Marimekko makes for a fun, lively home. You don’t have to go down the route of painting everything white either, so don’t be afraid to introduce a little flash of eccentricity in your home in the use of an unusual colour or an unexpected art print that draws the eye . . .  
  •  The key really is to make your home feel as welcoming as possible, after all, word on the street this season is we’re now all about jomo – the joy of missing out – so embrace the Nordic philosophy of living and relish the opportunity to be a homebody! 

How to Hygge

by Signe Johansen

Nordic countries are consistently rated as the best places to live for quality of life, happiness and education, literacy and gender equality. But what's their secret? In How To Hygge, renowned Scandinavian cook and writer Signe Johansen explores the culture of hygge, shares the secrets of Nordic living and shows you how to adopt these elements into your everyday life, wherever you are in the world.