Winter Rituals: Hygge & The Home

October 3, 2016

hygge neroli-eucalyptus-soy-candles

Image: Design Soda

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As the cold starts to draw in and the days get shorter, first mists and frosts begin to stir and nature starts to have a stillness and solemnity to it, you probably find this period the one where small indulgences become an utmost necessity.  Blankets, cushions, candles and hot drinks become a staple at this time of year, as does a yearning for gentle pick-me-ups. I have to be honest it’s a time of year I’ve always loved, I love it’s stillness and repose, stark trees will forever represent something magical about the deep slumber before renewal to me. We all have coping strategies for the challenges winter presents, the bleakness and darkness, and rituals for the time of year. You may have come across the term Hygee (pronounced hoo-gah or hue-gah) recently, bloggers have been all over it on Instagram and I’ve seen it a fair few times in the national press. This is largely thanks to a slew of new books that have just been published explaining something that yet again our Scandinavian brothers and sisters have got right, this time pursuit of happiness.

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It all seemed to start with Sarah Lunds jumper in The Killing, then there was a new focus on progressive Scandinavian society, their school system and happiness, alongside the dominance of the Scandi home look, then there was a small food movement, now it’s the turn of hygge which boils down to a philiosphy of cosiness and conviviality. I read a scathing critique of one of the new books in The Times by Francesca Hornak at the start of August which likened Hygee to happiness-for-the-unimaginative, or happiness paint by numbers. Now I don’t know if this is a fair critique, I haven’t read enough yet to even know if this is just all cultural appropriation. I’m sure neither hygge, or its predecessor slow-living, are on a philosophical level with Jean Paul Sartre’s Being & Nothingness, but then, unless you are a philosophy scholar, ideas condensed down into manageable and relatable chunks is the way of modern busy life, see the succeess of Alain de Botton for confirmation.  What I really like about this flurry of books is the focus they put on the rituals mentioned above, it has made me pause to think about simple pleasures more. So whether it’s a placebo for idiots or the true path to winter happiness I’m unconcerned, I’m quite happy to take it as my jump point for thinking about how the change of seasons are going to be celebrated in my home. As it’s just starting to become a mainstream idea over here I thought I would share my favourite elements of hygge alongside some of my personal favourite winter rituals that are fairly intuitive and press my re-set buttons when I’m tired or stressed.

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Opening up your home to friends & family:

Hygge interior decor, styling candles

Image: Design Soda

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One of the central parts of Hygge is about celebrating time with kith and kin, this may seem a no-brainer for a cheerful life but in the winter the Danes believe you should make an extra effort to invite people in for both pleasure and sanity. Make your home warm and inviting, but also make socialising rustic, some fresh breads and olives with good booze produce a far more enjoyable evening than a stressed out hostess with a picture perfect oeuvre. Life doesn’t always look or feel Instagram perfect but neither should it, appreciation comes from contrast and if you are relaxed in your space your home will always be welcoming to others. Although I’m a rustic cook, my house is usually pretty sparkling when people come round so I am going to try relaxing into this a bit and see how it feels. Central to all of this for me is really being in the moment, lingering, especially with family that you may take for granted, I want to take stock of time I’m spending with precious people more.

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 Tealights everywhere:

hygge candles H&M home wood and slate tealights

Image: Design Soda

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One of the things I love most about this time of year is the quiet stillness in nature, I definitely want to mirror some of this calmness indoors too, but as someone who looks forward to Christmas twinkles with a small child’s enthusiasm I’m going to really enjoy this next touchstone of hygge winter – tealights. The Danes have a great tradition at sundown of lighting tealights just about everywhere from the balconies and windows of houses to tables in cafes, this apparently makes towns come alive with incredible twinkling light in winter which sounds pretty magical to me. This has actually been something of  a personal revelation, I’ve always considered the cliched bathtime candlelit indulgence with a faint smirk of derision (and whilst liking the Hemsley sisters mantra of body brush everyday for health a lovely idea I’m too lazy to bother with – do I have something against relaxing in the bathroom – maybe) the idea of small candles all over the home is utterly charming.  Tea lights have a massive impact on your feeling of cosiness and they cost hardly a bean so I am definitely going to be lighting a lot of candles this winter!

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Creating Cosy textures in the home:

Hygge interiors, cosy home, our scandinavian style bedfroom

Image: Design Soda

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Natural textures in a room are pretty much a style necessity these days, my preference is wood and wool over leather or fur, wood adds visual warmth and wool adds both texture and physical warmth. In order to have a hygge home you need some elements of these in all rooms, I have blankets to cosy into and knitted cushions in most rooms but super cosy slippers or piles of pine-cones also add to the feeling of a warm welcoming winter space. Make sure each room has a cosy element that you enjoy and you can’t go far wrong. 

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 Enjoying Nature:

scarborough beach landscape

 Image: Design Soda

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Now this isn’t necessarily a hygge concept but I think nature is good for the soul all year round so I don’t see why it shouldn’t be! Nature is fantastically important to me, I’ve always found walks an immeasurable detox for the mind (a couple of hours outdoors always, always clears the cobwebs for me) but just looking at nature is also something which really inspires me, look at this beach (above) in Scarborough, I love how varied our seascapes are on this tiny island. We’ve got a lot of natural history in the home and just recently I’ve developed a penchant for amassing nature books which are truly fascinating. One thing I want to have in abundance this winter is lots of greenery indoors, from leaves and foliage of plants (montesera & eucalyptus are pretty de rigeur at the moment) to pine tree branches. I want crisp green silhouettes pretty much everywhere, I see a fair amount of this in stark Nordic interiors of late so I’m adopting it as hygge! One final thought is if you can’t find time for a walk in your day, go outside for a quiet moment, have a cup of tea in the garden first thing and take in what you can see and hear, it will set you up for the day, I promise.

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Indulgence & Simple Pleasures:

hygee-pampering-lifestyle

 Image: Design Soda

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The Danish have a wonderful respect for small luxuries according to what I’ve read. Winter can be hard, so take time to pause and enjoy small things as much as possible. Moments to be quiet with yourself, maybe a book, maybe a make-up ritual, sitting in candlelight, a cake, a glass of your favourite, whatever you fancy. My sister mentioned something she’d read in a biography to me recently which really struck a chord about a person with cancer who never used up her bottle of Chanel bath ointment as she was always waiting for the perfect time to use it. I have decided I am going to consciously enjoy the treats I own this season. Until we had our baby I was always an indoor smoker so beautiful scented candles never seemed to be lit. I owned them but the room I was in usually had a window open (even fractionally during winter) so it always seemed entirely wasteful to have a scent going straight outside. My best friend bought me a Diptique candle in a scent I really love some years back, I am now lighting it in the evenings and really enjoying it. 

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Time & Space to Read:

hygge

Image: Design Soda

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One final note, reading, winter is made for reading and nothing says winter cosy more to me than a good reading nook.  I’m really bad at this recently, I wish I had more time (or mental agility) to tackle the great tomes on my reading list but a beautifully composed short story or a gorgeous magazine works too. Two books I am recommending this year for people who want to slow down or think about life are the majestic new biography from Diana Athill and The School of Life guide How to Connect with Nature. Diana is from a generation of bohemian women I greatly admire, this is her take looking back on life in her nineties in an old peoples home, its an inspirational, honest insight into what matters, what to hold on to and which fragments of life truly last for you (revolution in Tobago was one of my favourites and the personal tragedy half way through made me cry). The School of Life book is a great guide explaining the landscape around us, teaching you to appreciate and understand the natural world in ways that were revelatory to me. 

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victorian Pink house green foliage

Image: Design Soda

I leave you with a picture I took on my way to a walk on Wimbledon common last week, plants on pink being a thing I snapped it, but isn’t it just glorious? I’d happily live here.  Im looking forwards to the colder season now, how about you?

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