I’m a big believer in hygge, which was something that I thought only I knew about, hah, until it went viral in 2016.
Since I am a winter snuggler, hygge is key to helping me get through the dark days that are now upon us, both literally and figuratively.
There’s no real translation for hygge – it’s kind of welcoming and happy, a feeling of wellbeing. A thing that produces that feeling is hyggeligt, while a cosy nook where you can curl up and feel hyggeligt is a hyggekrog. It can be the long, light evenings of summer, or the dark, interior days of winter.
Hygge also means something different to everyone: it can be modern, kitschy, family-oriented, colourful, loud or quiet – whatever makes you feel good. My hygge is quiet, a bit shabby, solitary, countrified and – importantly – light.
Light is crucial to my wellbeing because I suffer from SAD. But I also live in a medieval stone house as dark as a cave. I tried embracing that with rich colours and heavy woods but it only made me miserable. So over the past couple of years I’ve worked hard to make the house brighter and whiter. We now have white walls, white ceilings, white beams, cream and off-white throws, cream leatherette furniture, cream nubbly cotton curtains, cream rope tiebacks, huge canvasses with beach scenes (mostly white) on the walls, large mirrors, driftwood frames and white vinyl flooring with a driftwood effect. Everyone who enters the house remarks on the brightness, which is unusual in a house with tiny windows, deep sills and heavy beams.
All that white could seem stark, but it isn’t. International modern isn’t my thing and there’s plenty of texture – fake-fur throws, sheepskin rugs, embroidery, chenille, velvet, crewelwork and Japanese paper. Some of the walls are rough-plastered, while others are painted stone, giving different textures and plays of light. I also have hearts everywhere (to remind me to be nice). Hearts made of wicker, hearts made of dried flowers, of wood, of slate, of hand-made ceramic, with my favourite image of a dragonfly embossed on it and a grey ribbon to hang it up.
There are many, many lights (mainly with LED bulbs now) – a pastel tole chandelier; huge paper cylinder floor-standing lights, which are placed up high in order to bounce light off the ceiling; spotlights; lamps; fairy lights, which remain up all year; a SAD lightbox in a window recess, pretending to be sunlight; and daylight-spectrum fluorescents. Right now, in the Christmas season, there is, of course, also a tree, decorated with silver, gold and white baubles and winter-white fairy lights.
Candles too are important for hygge. I buy cheap textured ones from a shop called ‘Action’, which cost about a euro – I think they are sand-cast, and the wax is like nubbled rock, so they remind me of the coast. There are also scented candles: lavender, white cotton, apple-cinnamon and – my ultra favourite, Tea for Two by Artisan Parfumeur, which is an annual treat. This winter, the DH also bought me fake candles and nightlights, which are pretty cool things – the freestanding ones are actually cast in wax, while the others give a very realistic flickering flame effect, hidden in cream glass nightlight holders. Each morning, I take care to light a scented candle with my morning coffee and chocolate-chip biscuits, to help ease me gently into the day. The curtains remain shut until it gets light, or 10.00am, whichever comes sooner – it won’t get light today, nor for the next three days, so it’s much brighter inside the house than outside.
The day also starts with rekindling the wood burner, usually from embers as it keeps in overnight. The DH does this and makes the coffee, while I walk the dog down the lane and get a barrowload of wood from the barn, which we both unload before sitting down to breakfast. There is something deeply atavistically satisfying about coming in from the cold and frost, wrapped up like Dr Zhivago, and finding the leaping flames of the fire and the smell of coffee. The huge metal trunk filled with logs for the day also gives me a sense of wellbeing, knowing I’ll be warm all day.