We Have Reached Peak Hygge

Public Domain. Even the Danes didn't do Hygge; it's all a modern fake/ Vilhelm Hammershøi

OK, it was cute for a while, but I have reached Peak Hygge. Everyone is on about it, including our own Katherine, but lets have a closer look at this phenomenon. It has been around for a while, and was not even particularly Danish; I first heard the word in 2012 and thought it was actually Canadian, in a description of an entry in the Winnipeg warming hut competition:

Hygge House

© Plain Projects, Urbanink and Pike Projects

Hygge House is cozy. It is a simple wood framed structure; a reproduction of one of the most cherished symbols of Canadiana – the wilderness cottage.... Although the house is full of mounted antlers and fish, warm blankets, a working wood stove, old baseball hats, comic books, plaid shirts and old tine matches, Hygge House is only truly achieved when people come together. Hygge House becomes a place for warmth and togetherness.

Copenhagen design museum

Lloyd Alter/ Copenhagen Design Museum/CC BY 2.0

Meanwhile, I aspired to Danish design, all clean and modern and efficient. Arne Jacobsen furniture and Dansk kitchenware. Clean and modern. You can go through the entire Danish Design museum, (I have), the repository of their design culture, and not see anything remotely Hygge.

hammershoi interior

Vilhelm Hammershøi/Public Domain

If I thought about more traditional Danish design, it would be the vision of Vilhelm Hammershøi- spartan, rather cold and a bit depressing, like winter in most cold northern countries. You can go through the complete work of Hammershøi and never see anything remotely Hygge.


© Dadaviz

They say that Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world, but its citizens also take the second most antidepressants of any country in Europe. That’s because it is dark and cold for long hours all winter, so they do what everyone does to cheer up, like they do here in Canada if they can- get warm and cozy with friends and family.

living room at Christmas

© K Martinko -- I suppose this picture of my parents' living room at Christmas would be very #hygge.

I am not convinced that it is in fact particularly Danish. In her post, Katherine shows a photo of her parent’s home that out-hygge’s the Hygge experts in Denmark. They did not invent the idea of curling up in front of a fireplace with a book and a hot cider. They have just appropriated it and commodified it. As the architectural critic for the Financial Times, Edwin Heathcote, notes:

CC BY 2.0. Even our dog Jasper knows how to Hygge

Even our dog Jasper knows how to Hygge/CC BY 2.0

The irony is that at the heart of the idea is, of course, pure common sense. If it’s freezing outside, you stay in with a fire, a furry throw and a drink. And beyond that is the notion that this particular aspect of Nordic culture is effectively a riposte to incessant consumption — the idea that all you need to be happy is a nice room, furniture and a book.

He concludes with the essence of Hygge:

Hygge? Save yourself the money, here’s the summary. Wear socks. Bake. Light endless candles. Don’t go out. Unless it’s nice out. In which case, do go out. With socks (leave the candles). You’re welcome.
FT letter

FT letters section Dec 24/CC BY 2.0

FT readers disagreed with him, and might disagree with me too. And of course, the TreeHugger correct version would say a) do not burn wood fires because of the particulate pollution they cause and b) do not burn candles because of indoor air quality. But warm socks are OK.