What is Hygge?: Tips on How to Hygge Your Apartment for the Winter

Claire Nicholas

By Claire Nicholas

Jan 17, 2024

Hygge is a Danish word that entered the American lexicon in 2016 when it made the Oxford Dictionaries’ “word of the year” shortlist. Around the same time, it also started popping up on bookstore shelves, with six notable Hygge books published that year and even more the next. The Danish idea of coziness and sanctuary had us intrigued.

Hygge actually has no direct translation to an English word. According to Alexandra Gove, owner of the Hygge Life shop and cafe in Vail, CO, each person is likely to have their own unique translation for “hygge.” Loosely, she defines hygge (pronounced “hoo-guh”) as “feelings and moments that make you feel warm and comfortable.” It’s about more than just aesthetics — although the look can support your apartment’s overall hygge.

That lack of a definitive boundary captures hygge’s most essential essence. “It's not seeking perfection or going after some sort of design trend,” Gove says (In fact, she suggests that referring to hygge as a home decor trend has even been known to ruffle Danish feathers).

Hygge is, then, many things: a way of life, a cozy atmosphere, the way you interact and connect with your space, and a comfort that meets the soul. And although it’s employable year-round, hygge can be especially comforting during the winter months.

That’s So Hygge

Although hygge is rooted in feelings and experiences, optimizing the aesthetics in your apartment can help facilitate it. “The idea is not that you need to fill your apartment with Scandinavian design or any specific style,” says Gove, “but just making sure that when you walk into your apartment or your space, you take a deep breath, and it immediately makes you relax.” While this will ultimately look different for everyone, Gove has some simple DIY recommendations that renters can consider to create an ambiance that combats the cold weather.

Focus on natural materials. Gove recommends steering clear of plastics and synthetic materials. Instead, she says, reach for natural materials like wood, wool, sheepskin, linen, stone, and cotton to furnish your space. Not only can these materials be more sustainable, but they’re also softer and create a warm atmosphere in a space, she says.

The more candles, the better. “Danes use more candles per capita than I think any other country in the world,” says Gove. Use candles to add pleasant aromas to your space or create a warm glow, which you can also achieve with dim twinkle lights or a fire (if you have a gas fireplace or permission from your landlord to use your wood-burning fireplace). 

Facilitate hygge experiences. Gove says it’s important to implement designs that allow for hygge moments in your day-to-day life. If music helps you feel relaxed and cozy when you return home from work, invest in a record player or a quality speaker. If your coziest moments happen when you’re hosting a dinner party, spend time picking the perfect dining table that can fit all your loved ones. Snuggle up with a blanket, a good book, and a warm drink on days that feel overwhelming.

Love it or leave it. One of the key tenants of the hygge lifestyle, Gove says, is being intentional and, often, patient. That intentionality is something she observed and adopted when she lived in Amsterdam. “[Europeans] really care about what's in their space,” she says. “They're not just putting up a poster that has a cool design just because there's an empty wall.” Wait to cross paths with the exact right elements for your decor and declutter by removing items that don't make you feel your most comfortable.

What Hygge Can Do for Us

Gove says that, specifically for Americans, there’s a lot we can benefit from by adopting hygge in our apartments. First, it can help us to refocus on what matters, embrace simple living, and find a refreshing change of pace that’s better for our well-being. “As Americans, we’re very productive people,” she says. “We move so quickly, and [hygge] is just an excuse to slow down, be cozy, and enjoy.” 

Plus, for those who struggle to enjoy this time of year, winter hygge can be a simple way tot beat the seasonal blues. Instead of trying to make winter something it’s not by fighting against the slowness and loathing the short days, Gove says that hygge can help you embrace winter and appreciate it for exactly what it is. She recommends a change of mindset: “The days are shorter, and maybe I’m not as productive, and I’m not doing as much, and that’s okay,” she says. “Maybe the winter is more of a time to slow down, to read, to light candles, to sit by the fire.” 

Committing to hygge can also help you connect with your apartment more — even though your lease is temporary. Developing a cozy and relaxing routine and cultivating an aesthetic you love can make your apartment feel like the right place for you to be regardless of how long you’ll be living there. “Fill [your apartment] with what's important to you, and then really make it come alive by making moments in that space,” says Gove. 

For Gove, hygge means cooking with her husband in the kitchen, listening to genres like jazz or artists like Jose Gonzales and Hermanos Gutiérrez. It’s hosting friends and sharing tender moments. When it comes to hygge, she explains, you’ll know it when you feel it.

Besides, now, you have a word for it. 

“When you have hygge in your language and your vocabulary, it makes you more conscious of when those moments are happening,” she says. “It helps you to recognize them, but also pursue them and make them happen more often.”

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