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How to Embrace the Danish Concept of Hygge in Your Home


Published December 10, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.

The Danish concept of hygge enfolds the ideas of coziness, charm and comfort. - COURTESY IMAGES
  • Courtesy Images
  • The Danish concept of hygge enfolds the ideas of coziness, charm and comfort.

In 1985, Swedish IKEA opened its first store on U.S. soil, in a suburb of Philadelphia. Since then, Americans have associated the business, and its motherland, with all things home. The superstore sells everything from flatware to wearable baby blankets to a line of variously flavored pickled herring.

Now, another Scandinavian country is changing our notions of what the inside of a house could, and should, be. In 2016, the Danish concept of hygge (pronounced hue-gah) hit the mainstream. What does it mean? The untranslatable notion enfolds the ideas of coziness, charm and comfort. In a way, a hygge home is kind of like the eponymous Danish pastry: a sturdy exterior wrapped around a delicious filling.

Part of the concept is that functional and decorative items needn't be pricey, but they should tell a story. Shopping local is the perfect starting point for getting your hygge on — purchases from friends and neighbors will hold a special spot for them in your home. When days are short and cold, coming home to a convivial, cheery space is crucial.

And note: Every one of your senses should be involved. Aromas, sounds, cozy pillows and afghans, steaming beverages — all combine to create the warmth and contentment we need right now.

So, as the seasonal holidays and dead of winter approach, we turn our attention to hygge — Vermont-style.

One Steep at a Time

Any time of day, a mug filled with a fragrant tea or an herbal tisane is a lovely offering to a guest. The aromatic steam will make the whole house smell lovely, and, after being out in the cold, cradling a warm mug in your hands is always a pleasure.

Hanging out solo? A cup makes an excellent companion to a book, bath or movie marathon.

Try the herbal selections from Free Verse Farm & Apothecary in Chelsea. Its shop offers straight-up tulsi and peppermint, as well as blends. Heat Tea consists of ginger, cinnamon, fennel and other warming herbs. For a lighter touch, get some Rosy Cheeks, which combines rose petals, rose hips and rose geranium.

Want a little pick-me-up in your cup? Stone Leaf Teahouse in Middlebury offers a curated selection of teas from China, Taiwan, Nepal and other far-off lands. The house-roasted maple oolong stands up to chilly days. Or take home a tin of black or green tea from Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea in Waterbury Center.

Lovin' the Oven

The benefit of a long winter? A long baking season. Eating well is the primary reason for turning on the oven, but it has the added benefit of warming up the house. The aroma of roasting meat, spiced cookies or toasty homemade granola is the proverbial icing on the cake.

In 2015, author Katie Webster released Maple: 100 Sweet and Savory Recipes Featuring Maple Syrup. As the title says, it's all about goodies made with Vermont's favorite sweetener. The book includes recipes for sap-baked beans, maple-bourbon pumpkin pie, and a potato-and-sausage breakfast skillet with greens. All are delicious ways to use up this year's syrup before the sap starts running again.

When you're short on time, go ahead and cheat a little with frozen cookie dough from Vermont Cookie Love in North Ferrisburgh. Flavors include holiday sugar and oatmeal with dried cranberries. You can go from zero to hero in less than 20 minutes, including baking time.

Baa Company

There's nothing like lying on a sheepskin rug in front of a roaring fire. The owners of Vermont Natural Sheepskins in Randolph refer to their biz as the "the only nontoxic sheep and goatskin tannery in the United States."

That means they tan their own hides, using practices learned from a master tanner, and avoid using chrome, formaldehyde and aluminum sulfate, which are typically present in goods made from animal pelts.

"The finished pieces, in an array of colors from cream to chocolate brown, are gorgeous — and pricey. The company uses hides from its own herd, and sources from area butchers and small New England farms.* Yet, the supply is finite."

Those who can't spring for an entire sheepskin can take advantage of local wool. Thanks to the number of critters grazing on Vermont pastures, it's plentiful and affordable.

The Mad River Woolery in Waitsfield offers everything you need to knit a scarf, crochet a hat or weave a blanket, including small looms and patterns. The wool is carded, dyed and spun in-house.

Light It Up

Warm lighting is a hygge must. When overhead lights are too harsh, a combination of charming lamps and a few well-placed candles can make any room glow. The Lamp Shop on Pine Street, in Burlington's South End Arts District, offers vintage and custom-made lamps to fit any style of décor, along with bulbs and fixtures that crafty types can use to make their own.

As for candles, avoid artificial scents — who needs all those chemicals? Instead, burn sweetly natural beeswax. The votives, tapers, tea lights and fancy carved candles from Bee Happy Vermont in Starksboro and Vermont HoneyLights in Bristol are reasonably priced and smell delicious.

Let the Music Move You

In a way, the sounds in a house are part of its décor. There are unintentional noises, such as creaking floors, dripping faucets, voices from another room, the crackling of logs in a fireplace. And then there's music. Whether in the background or foreground, the songs we choose to play can set the tone for our interactions with each other.

Our taste in all things is subjective, and that can be intensely true for music. For a relaxing evening in a hygge-fied home, though, you might want to choose soothing sounds, whether a piano sonata, sultry jazz, vintage soul or chill electronica. Or perhaps the 2014 synth-instrumental album Vermont, made by a German band also called Vermont, is just the thing to play while you take a hot bath, whip up something in the kitchen or settle in for an intimate convo with a friend.

*Correction, December 10, 2017: An earlier version of this story misstated the source of  Vermont Natural Sheepskins' hides. The business sources hides from its own herds, area butchers and small New England Farms. They also tan for other people.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Northern Comfort"