24 March 2020

COVID-19 and the value of hygge

This is how we will remember it – a terrible and unexpected time which, without going into it too deeply, can (and should) be seen as a great opportunity. This virus is making us live our everyday lives differently, sometimes “more normally” – forcing us to slow down, to re-acquaint ourselves with forgotten domestic routines, allowing us to realise the importance of all too often-neglected human and family relationships, the value of silence and reflection and especially of hugs, handshakes and “physical” contact, real ones (the ones we’re currently not allowed to give, receive or have). All this takes place within the walls of the home, places of social cohesion, microcosms of potential happiness, protected spaces that feel safe, comfortable and inviting.

So, forced to live a metre and a half apart from the rest of the world, why not rediscover the value of hygge, the Danish word that’s hard to translate but which basically means the ability to be comfortable in one’s own company and that of others within one’s own home?

While on one hand, hygge is iconified by convivial and/or sentimental images – sipping mulled wine in front of a roaring fire, reading a book on a comfy sofa next to an oriel window looking out over a garden, enjoying afternoon tea served on a fine china teaset – on the other more and more often it is used to indicate a contemporary aesthetic living trend, very much a feature of furniture and interior design. One might say that this word represents a “certain” way of inhabiting our homes, planned and designed to underscore the ease and the wellbeing that we want to achieve, as well as a furnishing style that favours authenticity, and therefore we surround ourselves with objects/affections. All those things that along with activities and routines enable any house to become “our” space.

So, while we feel constrained to stay at home right now because of a health crisis, we are increasingly seeing domesticity not as an isolationist pursuit but as an informed choice, geared to quality of life and personal happiness. Nowadays we can do everything from home, from shopping to dining experiences and entertainment, relaxation and socialising with the added value of maximum ease and intimacy - which cannot be achieved in any public place, designed with a ‘one size fits all’ mentality – and maximum personalisation. These are values that impact profoundly on our choices as both individuals and consumers.

Design and planning are riding the same wave, turning kitchens – places dedicated to the pleasure associated with food – into hubs of domestic and relational life, and bathrooms – settings for intimate and personal indulgence, body care and psychophysical wellbeing – into spas, with comfortable, inviting and cosy furnishing, channelling curved, enveloping lines while being amusing and light-hearted, becoming symbols of wellness rather than just products, reminding us of feelings and objects from our childhood.

However, we may well ask ourselves, given that our homes are already organised, how we can make them more (or really) hygge. By living in the moment, turning off our smartphones and televisions, regulating the lighting, creating a space where we can pause and listen to music or read, making our sofas and armchairs as comfy as possible, spending time in the kitchen, trying out all our appliances and preparing food that really is comfort food, putting rugs and cushions out for curling up on the terrace at warmer times of the day, doing the gardening and getting vases ready for flowers about to bloom, spending time looking after our bodies, and setting up temporary adventure playgrounds in children’s’ bedrooms for them to climb, jump, crawl and explore. Basically, creating a space in which life can go on, children can grow, and dogs can run free (to misquote Tyler Brûlé)