Tired of Winter? Don't Think Hygge Thoughts, They Are Evil and Unhealthy

Wood-burning heating of the house. Cozy nook at home, lot of candles, heap of logs at fireside.

Oleg Breslavtsev / Getty Images

Fireplaces! Candles! Clutter! What are these people thinking?

In the New York Times, Ronda Kayson writes Tired of Winter? Here’s How to Make Your Home a Haven, all about how "it’s time to think Hygge thoughts and turn your home into a warm and cozy sanctuary."

a snow-covered cozy cabin in the middle of nowhere Canada
Writer Katherine Martinko's childhood home in rural Canada.

Treehugger / Katherine Martinko

Now I thought Hygge had seen its day back in 2016, when our resident expert Katherine Martinko pointed out that all these Hygge things are not fun, they're what you do to survive when you live in the woods. She wrote at the time:

The Hygge craze amuses me greatly because, as someone who grew up in the bush in rural Canada, I see it as a home décor project for urbanites....And, most unfortunately, once you delve into the reasons for the existence of these things, you realize they lose quite a bit of their romance.

I won't call it cultural appropriation or poverty chic, but really, this is what you do when you live in a really crappy house without proper heat or insulation. Our dog got this. This was confirmed in Kayson's article, where she interviews Laura Weir, author of Cosy: The British art of Comfort. That is a contradiction in terms; the British have perfected discomfort. They do not know the meaning of cozy. I have been in many cold climates but I have never been as uncomfortable as I was in Britain, where you never get warm, most houses are drafty and cold and, even now that they mostly have central heat, people act like they don't and keep the temperature barely above freezing.

a passive house designed with huge windows that keep house warm during winter
Passive House can have it all, including big windows that open.

Courtesy of Juraj Mikurcik

This is the reason why I am so excited at the growth of Passive House design in the UK. At last, they are building places where you can be warm no matter what the person controlling the thermostat does. Juraj Mikurcik's house looks cozy but it's not full of crap and clutter. But let's get back to Kayson's recommendations:

Embrace the clutter

incredibly cluttered living room in Pennsylvania decorated to the max

Ed Freeman / Getty Images

While minimalism may be the design trend du jour, coziness is the antidote. Call it the anti-Kondo method. Why recycle the newspapers when you can stack two weeks’ worth by the fireplace and read them until you use them as kindling?

Because you shouldn't be burning newspapers; it creates huge amounts of particulate emissions and the ink releases toxic chemicals. It's also dangerous:

Another problem is that paper burns rapidly, and flames could go up the chimney and ignite the creosote deposits in the chimney lining. Chimney fires are very dangerous. In addition, a section of paper could float up and out of the chimney, propelled by the hot air, and cause combustible materials to ignite, including possibly the roof.

In many cities, fireplaces are illegal because of the particulate emissions. But they also are incredibly inefficient, sucking air out of the room. Nobody should even have one in a city or town.


multiple hanging light fixtures with exposed bulbs and styles

mgstudyo / Getty Images

Lighting sets the mood, and to achieve a sultry one, you need dimension. Use a mix of sources — floor lamps, table lamps, sconces and overheads. Set fixtures to dimmers and choose bulbs with warm hues. Avoid fixtures with exposed bulbs, as those can be harsh to the eye.

I wonder how many of these are LEDs. You can get good ones now that have really good color rendition and warm tone; you can even get RGB bulbs where you dial up exactly what you want. But Kaysen is suggesting a LOT of lights. Bulbs like the Philips Hue bulbs are always connected to the internet, and always drawing a tiny bit of electricity.


Modern home with wood burning fireplace and tons of lighted candles

svetikd / Getty Image

Above all, don’t forget about the candles. Candles might as well be the mantra of the cozy aesthetic. Tapered ones on the dining table. Scented ones in the bedroom and bathrooms. Votives scattered on surfaces throughout. Set out the candelabra at dinner time, and you might be tempted to linger longer.

How about no? Candles, especially scented ones, should not be in a home. As Katherine has written,

The majority of candles are made from paraffin wax, which is the final byproduct in the petroleum refining chain. It is described as "basically the bottom of the barrel, even after asphalt is extracted." When burned, its soot contains toluene and benzene, both known carcinogens. These are the same chemicals found in diesel exhaust and "can cause damage to the brain, lung and central nervous system, as well as cause developmental difficulties"

There are also particulates, phthalates and volatile organic chemicals.

Consider the textures

interior view of stark modern bedroom with a wall of window glass through which greenery is seen
The Edith Farnsworth House, designed and constructed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Carol M. Highsmith / Getty Images

How about this modern home (pictured above) instead? Get rid of all that layered cosy stuff. The reason we got modernism and minimalism is that, after the First World War, people were concerned about bacteria. Paul Overy wrote:

Heavy drapes and curtains, thick carpets and old furniture with decorative features that harboured dust and microbes should be thrown out and replaced with simple, easily cleaned modern furniture and light, easily washed curtains.

Hygge sounds so warm and romantic, but it's actually evil, hiding deficiencies and burning stuff and calling it "cozy." It masks the fact that people are living in uncomfortable homes with so much stuff that you can't keep it clean, with lousy air quality inside while you poison your neighbors burning newspapers in your useless fireplace. Think instead of Le Corbusier, who wrote in 1924: "Teach your children that a house is only habitable when it is full of light and air, and when the floors and walls are clear." And never speak of Hygge again.