Fall is the time when we begin bundling up in chunky sweaters and hunkering down to enjoy the cozy comforts of home. It’s all about hygge (pronounced hue-guh)—the Danish buzzword for the sense of coziness gained via soul-enriching activities and quality time spent at home with friends and family. (The Dutch have a similar term called gezelligheid, or gezellig.)
Scandinavian design celebrates this sense of comfort above all else through furniture and accessories that are understated, warm and practical. Here, Manhattan-based interior designer Wendy Saex, principal of Hygge Design Ideas, and entrepreneur Alexandra Gove, founder of HyggeLife.com, share their expert advice on mastering the art of cozy living.
Make Exteriors Sing
The facades of Scandinavian and Dutch townhouses, typically painted in a rainbow of bold colors, all but beckon strangers inside with their quaintness and character. In the U.S., however, neighbors might not take too kindly to a canary-yellow home, but the judicious use of color can still create a certain curb appeal. “I once painted the front door of a home in a natural grass-green to set it apart from others on the block,” Saex says. She also recommends using native stone, plantings and organic construction materials to make properties feel part of the natural landscape.
Keep Interiors Neutral
Once you go inside a Scandinavian or Dutch home, things get more subdued. Although hygge interiors tend to feature neutrals like cream, taupe, and terra cotta, as well as wood tones, they’re not inherently sterile. “When you walk into a hygge home,” says Saex, “you’ll know exactly who lives there because the space is softened with personal effects that give the homeowner joy, like an heirloom vase of fresh-cut flowers or a well-loved cast-iron Dutch oven.”
Generate Warm Ambiance
Both Gove and Saex agree that making a home comfortable, calming and restorative is more about ambiance than possessions—although tactile throw pillows, substantial blankets at the ready and fuzzy sheepskin rugs do help. Saex recommends diffusing essential oils, simmering natural potpourri on the stovetop, and burning naturally scented candles to foster instant warmth and make spaces even more inviting.
Play with Light
Speaking of candles, Sweden in particular is famous for its truncated daylight hours, which begin in fall and extend throughout the long winter. Having traveled extensively in Scandinavia, Gove became enamored of its reliance on candlelight. Lighting a candle before your morning tea, burning candles throughout the day, placing votives on your windowsill and setting hurricanes outside your door is essential in creating the coziest home this side of the Klarälven.
“Candles have a lovely quality of marking a moment,” Gove says. The ability to dim overhead and accent lighting will help create that quintessentially hygge atmosphere.
Encourage Meaningful Dialogue
“Scandinavians are really good at slowing down and making everyday moments more special,” Gove says. “Creating intentional spaces within the home is key in creating a sense of security and contentment that extends to every other area, too.” Any room in your home can be set up to encourage meaningful conversation: Gove owns a large farmhouse dining table where her guests love to gather. She also suggests creating an intimate furniture floor plan around the fireplace. Likewise, she limits the use of electronic devices during dinners to improve conversation and avoids making the TV the main focus in her living area.
Shop with Intention
Scandinavians are adept at editing their belongings. “Everything they own is beautiful, has personal meaning, or is designed with a specific function,” Gove says. Achieving hygge in your own home is about removing what doesn’t give you joy and shopping with purpose.
Gove suggests sourcing quality, handmade, natural products (and eschewing plastic throwaway items), as well as shopping for vintage and well-worn items with backstories. This goes right along with the Scandinavian penchant for conscientious living—and knowing about the sources of your belongings. “The hygge concept isn’t about accumulating things,” Saex says, “it’s actually about having fewer things with many purposes.”
The art of cozy living is about how beautifully and joyfully you inhabit your home—from its façade to the front door and within. You need only follow the principles of Scandinavian design to curate that perfectly hygge house: Welcome guests in with open arms, surround yourself only with the items you love and create relaxing areas for mindful downtime—and meaningful interactions.
Photos from HyggeLife.com