How to find Hygge in southwestern Connecticut
Updated 12:59 pm, Wednesday, December 6, 2017
Hygge – pronounced "hue-gah" – may be hard to say, but it's not a difficult concept to grasp. Considering the height of political turmoil the last two years have brought us, or the fast and inescapable encroachment of tech in our lives, this may very well be the best time for the people of the United States to wholly embrace hygge.
Hygge puts a word to the Danish penchant for creating comfort and coziness. The idea has manifested itself in American books and magazines as pillows and linens, soft blankets and scented candles. But there's more to hygge than enjoying a warm cup of hot chocolate near the fireplace, burrowed in fleece as rain pelts the window.
For Rhonda Eleish, hygge captures a sensibility she grew up with. She is part of the duo behind Eleish van Breems, a Westport-based company specializing in Scandinavian antiques, furniture and custom interior design. She and her business partner, Edie van Breems "both come from this perspective of enjoying life and the comforts of home."
Eleish has family in Stockholm – in fact, her great uncle K.W. Gullers was a famous post-war photographer in Sweden; her great aunt Ingvor was a textile specialist who served as an advisor for the queen's dollhouse collection. Van Breems is a quarter Swedish. Hygge is in their DNA.
To Eleish and van Breems, hygge in the home means a space that is supportive of your life.
"It needs to be well designed. It's beautiful and supports your life in form and function," Eleish said.
Both women give credence to the idea that today's fast-paced world of unknowns may have inspired Americans to turn to hygge and the Danish lifestyle it represents, one that's often cited as the happiest in the world.
"People just want to come back and re-center," said van Breems. "Hygge is leaving the rat race to find that spot – your center – to get inspired to create something better."
Creating that center ¬– your sanctuary – means understanding what brings you comfort and establishes balance in your life. "It's specific to you," van Breems said.
It could be memories of eating Grandma's famous homemade lemon cake, or your favorite pair of pajamas, or even hosting friends and family to foster a sense of community.
Once you settle on your idea of cozy contentment, it's time to bring it home and create an environment that supports your life, embracing your sense of hygge.
Eleish and van Breems offer another concept to hone in on your journey to finding hygge – its Swedish counterpart, lagom.
Lagom, Swedish for "just the right amount," means "creating a life that is good, but not in excess," Eleish said.
It's a way of life for Swedes to appreciate what they have – less is more. This plays into creating a space that supports your life and comforts. Take a look at what you have in your home, Eleish suggested. What are your essentials and what can you live without? Having too much stuff can hinder finding your sense of hygge.
Ben Soreff sees this struggle in people's homes all the time. As a professional organizer for House to Home Organizing, a company that services Fairfield and Westchester counties and beyond, he often acts as the first step for folks wanting to create a more peaceful living space.
"We need to create that space" for hygge, he said. "When there's clutter, the home stops being about happiness and comfort, and it becomes about stress."
Soreff came to learn about hygge after a bout with KonMari Method, lifestyle guru Marie Kondo's popular plan for de-cluttering. In his experience, KonMari-ing (evaluating everything you own to see if it brings you joy and discarding items that don't) was difficult for clients to stick to. Hygge, on the other hand, gives them a mission ¬– to create a sanctuary within the home that's their own. That's an idea a person can carry out.
There's a reason it's a way of life for people in Denmark, Soreff said. "It's really common sense."
If it wasn't easy, people wouldn't do it, he added. Soreff believes in creating habits to keep an organized home, and embracing hygge is a good habit to have.
"Ultimately, we want relationships with people – not objects, not stuff," he said. So you need to make the decisions about stuff that you might not have made in 30 years.
That's not to say you can't keep items that do contribute to your sense of hygge, like family heirlooms and other sentimental pieces that can add personality to your home.
In terms of décor, hygge is a "transition back to comfort and simplicity," van Breems said. It's a response to the "wonderful – but sometimes cold – modernism" in home design that's been popular over the last decade or so.
The pendulum is swinging from super modern to transitional, but it's not going completely back traditional, Eleish explained.
"We don't want to go back to traditional – it's too heavy and too dated."
What you want, she said, is both contemporary and classic – a clear and elegant interior, punctuated with traditional designs.
Eleish pointed to European interiors as inspiration. "They're so cool and chic." Why? Europeans have the confidence to mix modern and antique.
"There isn't so much of a disposable mindset" in Europe as there is in the U.S., she said (there's that lagom concept again). Great grandma's 18th century armoire can hold its own with an Eames-style chair or a Lucite coffee table. There's no need to go out and replace something old if it's something that makes you happy.
On the other hand, if you've inherited furniture you despise, lose it.
"If it's bugging you every day, it's not going to bring you harmony," Eleish said.
Furniture made with natural materials in designs that will last can help bring nature into the home, which can "nurture the soul," van Breems said.
Whatever hygge means to you – candles and coffee, wooden furniture, hosting family at the holidays – it just needs to support the life you want to live.
"There's no right or wrong with hygge," van Breems said. "It's you."