City Lifestyle

Want to start a publication?

Learn More

Featured Article

Home, Hearth, Hygge

Getting cozy and creating a feeling

Living as we do in a region with incomparable recreation, our focus is often outward: what peak to climb, which trail to ski, what river to fish. The lure is always there, and if we’re lucky there is a familiar kitchen and hearth to return to when our mission is accomplished. Home is the place where comfort lives, and comfort is there because this is where we collect love and memory.   

To say that a home is a shelter does not begin to capture it. As children, we built forts and treehouses, which helped us encircle a piece of territory, like lords and ladies with our own demesne. Home, though, isn’t a palisade of hefty sticks or a cobble of found lumber. Humans started seeking shelter about 800,000 years ago, and since then, the notion has come to mean many things. We all want to come in from the cold and to experience the sensations of being within, to be warm rather than chilled by the wider world.

The hearth is the oldest and most powerful symbol of safety, sustenance, and comfort. Old fireplaces were massive, with an iron bar known as a chimney crane for holding cooking pots.  The fireside was a focal point for family life in cold weather climates. This is where reading, story-telling, sewing, and food preparation happened. What do all these activities have in common? They are creative undertakings.

Creativity is why everything good seems to flame up from that central place, and why our associations of safety and coziness are both simple and powerful. The activities of running a home take place in the in-between moments. Big events are important, surely, as are time-honored rituals of birth, marriage, and bereavement. Yet it is the quiet daytime and evening work we do that forms the spun yarn of connection and meaning.

The Danes and the Norwegians have a lovely word that captures the spirit of a warm and healthy home, and that word is hygge (pronounced hyoo-guh). It focuses on comfort, simplicity, and even soul, with of course a lot of creativity stirred into the mix. I learned this word twenty years ago on a trip to Norway. It was once—at least in American culture—a pretty rarefied term, but it has risen on the tide of popular consciousness and there are now numerous books on the subject.

If anything, hygge is diverse. At the same time it is never self-conscious or staged. The notion of hygge treads a path close to that of belief and spirituality. After all, what is more sacred than one’s home and creating a setting that feels personal and enriching? A few mementos, special books, a good broom, an organized kitchen…abundance and richness mean different things to each of us. I had an aunt who used to unfurl brilliant lengths of Marimekko (fabric from Finland) from her second floor bannister. This was one of her many touches of hygge.

There is irony in the fact that hygge, something most of us crave and long for, is most likely to flourish when we are not consciously striving for it. Minding the house and garden is often the simplest path. It is in losing ourselves in the daily essentials that we allow creativity to come, and that means peace and comfort.