Is adopting the hygge aesthetic the key to happiness? Image Credit: Shutterstock

When we think of hygge, we imagine a cold icy night, huddled up inside with a cup of piping hot chocolate, wearing fluffy socks and tightly tucked into a soft knitted blanket. The sound of a crackling fireplace in the background and the warm mellow hue of the fire lights up the room with the warmth transferring to your face while you’re playing monopoly with your loved ones, that’s hygge.

Pronounced ‘hoo ga’, hygge is not a thing or an item, it’s a feeling. Hygge is a concept from Danish culture. Hygge is supposed to elicit content, charm, happiness, comfort, safety, and most importantly cosiness. Hygge is a type of aesthetic philosophy, it is a Scandinavian way of life created to complement the cold harsh winters of the Nordic.

But how does that resonate with the UAE? It almost sounds impossible to replicate that same feeling and aura here, but hygge is ubiquitous. Hygge is about how things feel. Whether you’re savouring a chocolate chip cookie or listening to the birds' chirp in the morning, it's moments like these that are universal and are already present in our everyday lives.

Hygge homes have a certain interior and style. Textured carpets and blankets, neutral colours, candles and throw pillows adorn hygge homes. These items bring a great sense of comfort and joy. The main feature of hygge design is to embrace Nature and have ample natural light. The hygge interior is inspired by the cabins of the snow-capped mountains of the Nordic. A rich array of textures - a plush rug contrasting against a rustic wooden coffee table will create that inviting feel central to Danish style and culture.

The past few years, we hunkered down in our homes, and it made us realise the value of our home space more than ever. Here’s how to achieve this popular Scandinavian style according to Hygge aficionados: Linda Dekkers and Kathryn Hawkes - interior stylists and founders of Dubai-based Fronteriors and Cynthia Salloum, an international home styling content creator.

Transport the calm and collected Hygge interiors to the UAE

Hygge had its shine in 2016 and 2017. People around the world wanted to know the secret behind why Danes are the happiest people on Earth. In 2016 and 2019, Denmark landed in the top 10 happiest countries in the world, according to the World Happiness Report. The reason behind this, hygge.

The misconception that hygge is exclusive only to Danes is false. For Dekkers, hygge can be found anywhere. She said: “Most people think they need a chunky knitted blanket and sheepskins on their sofa to have a hygge home. Keep in mind that a hygge home is more about finding comfort and happiness in simple things. It is a feeling of cosiness that can be established by having friends for dinner and serving them something homemade at a nicely set table. That can be anywhere in the world, no matter if you live in the desert or the snow.”

Soothe your eyes with bright colours

Stick to a neutral colour scheme. Flashy colours such as neon pink and nylon should be avoided. A neutral colour palette with light greys, creams, light auburn and pastel colours create a peaceful and calm environment.

Experiment with black and white. Adding a hint of black to small details can go a long way. “This (black and white) is a feature of Scandi design; you can add small touches of black if you don’t want your home to be too dark. For example, only the legs of the chairs/tables could be black steel, and the rest of your furniture could be lighter, or you can incorporate some black décor pieces within your home,” advises Salloum.

Hawkes also approves muted colour tones. She said: “A muted colour palette will often create a harmonic and serene atmosphere. Besides that, it makes it easier to combine elements. We love working with warm tones.”

Marie Kondo your life

This Nordic trend abides by the less is more philosophy and only limiting yourself to items that spark joy. This philosophy is reminiscent of the Kon Mari method, created by Japanese organising consultant and TV host, Marie Kondo. Despite being thousands of miles away, these two cultures embrace two common factors; minimalism and simplicity.

You can’t have hygge in your home if you’re overwhelmed with clutter. Cleaning your house and decluttering is the first step towards achieving hygge. But it can also be a tedious task but it's important to look at cleaning as a therapeutic experience. Use clever storage techniques and purge the things you don’t need. If this item does not spark joy in you, then it’s time to detach yourself from it.

Salloum says that clean lines and uncluttered space are a characteristic of Nordic design. She said: “This is a key element of Scandi aesthetics; remove all items that are not necessary and that don’t ‘spark joy’, also space elements out to avoid that feeling of clutter and get a result that is relaxed and simplified.”

This is a key element of Scandi aesthetics; remove all items that are not necessary and that don’t ‘spark joy’, also space elements out to avoid that feeling of clutter and get a result that is relaxed and simplified.

- Cynthia Salloum, a Dubai-based home styling content creator

Dekkers provided a more approachable system of organisation. She said: “Appliances that are needed for everyday living (but are mostly a bit of an eyesore) can easily be hidden behind closed doors. That goes for your (home) office as well as the living room, bedroom and kitchen. Storage units will not only allow you to hide away necessary items, but they also allow you to use their top as a display for treasures and personal items that make you happy.”

Think green

Greenery has soothing and air purifying properties. Hygge also incorporates an open-air living design. The sweltering temperatures in the UAE can be quite hard on plants, and people who are inexperienced with gardening give up on the idea of adding plants into their living space.

Danes also have similar problems, except the weather is the complete opposite. Danish winters can be quite harsh, long and dark. That is why they use hygge to combat seasonal depression. “Adding green plants/flower arrangements around the house is a great way to add a Nordic touch to your home,” said Salloum.

That’s why hygge is so keen on using houseplants because they freshen the air and provide a mini tropical escape. Hygge is all about bringing Nature inside and imitating that same sense of conviviality in your home. Houseplants like peace lily, spider plants, snakes and English ivy can thrive anywhere.

Instant serotonin boost with candles

The Danes are obsessed with candles and lighting. Danish don’t get much natural light in the winter and this can adversely affect someone's mood. Winter blues are very much real and lighting your room with a candle can instantly uplift your mood.

But no matter the climate everyone loves a little aromatherapy. When it comes to hygge-ing your house with candles, refrain from using artificial scents. Use natural fragrances and opt for a wooden wick. Most candles are made from paraffin wax that can potentially cause lung damage, a better alternative is soy-based candles.

Try swapping a paraffin wax candles for soy based candles to achieve an authentic hygge feel in your home. Image Credit: Pexels

It’s all about lighting

In the UAE we don’t have to worry about getting enough sunlight. But lighting is an art, and there are certain ways to emphasise it. Light and shadows are important elements in hygge, this creates a feeling of warmth and naturalness.

As stated above, candles have a warm flickering light that energises a room. You want to mimic natural light in your home as much as possible, and overhead lighting is a big no-no. Using floor and table lamps are the more appropriate choice for a hygge home. A string of lights or fairy lights are a delightful feature and are adaptable for any occasion.

To accentuate natural lighting Salloum suggests: “Highlighting large windows, having clear doors to the garden and skylights. Try to have minimal window dressing (think sheer curtains) to maximise the natural sunlight during the day would is the perfect hygge touch.”

She further added: “Investing in beautiful pendant lights, floor lamps, fireplace (yes, I mean a faux one for us in the UAE) and of course candles is a must to set a hygge ambience.”

Texture is everything

“Warm, cosy textures is one of the most important factors if you want to create a Scandi vibe with the cosiest hygge touch,” said Salloum.

Adding in a diverse range of textures can prevent your home space from becoming monotonous. Use warm and natural materials such as wood and wool for an interesting touch. Faux animal print and fur, wood and florals are a great way to introduce texture.

Hygge is an emotion, not a material possession

Hygge is not just about furniture. You don’t have to go to the nearest furniture and décor store and go on a shopping spree for blankets, rugs and candles. Hygge is already in your home waiting to be embraced. It’s about having items that bring joy and pleasure to you. Simply having your favourite books around you or having an item or a picture that evokes nostalgia. A display of family photos on a wall or souvenirs you collected from your travels is counted as hygge.

“The reason I got into interior design a long time ago was that I wanted to create a home which made me smile the moment I walked into it. That meant putting lots of love and attention into it by choosing the right furniture for my family combined with treasures that I had collected throughout my life,” said Hawkes

Note: This story was first published in October, 2022