A rainy first week of June in Miami inspired me to write up an article on the Danish concept of "hygge," terribly appropriate given the gloomy, unkind weather conditions. (If you're not sure what I'm talking about or haven't read the first two-part of my Hygge series click here.) Although here in Florida we don't get much in terms of winter, we do get plenty of rain in the summer, enough rain, in fact, to justify canceling beach plans and staying home if we can help it. But thankfully, the home front is where hygge thrives.
In this series, I'm exploring the concept of hygge and how to create it through the senses, since hygge is as much as sensory experience as it is a social one. Last week, I discussed ways to create visual and auditory hygge. This week, we're diving into olfactory, gustatory and tactile hygge, in other words, lovely smells, comforting foods, and soft textures. You'll find that although I've broken these suggestions down by sensory type, many of these come together beautifully to transform ordinary points in our day into memorable warm moments of contentment.
1. Olfactory Hygge: Aromatherapy
One of the first things I did when I started my minimalist journey was trade in our wallflower plugins for essential oils. Not only are essential oils a healthier alternative to scented plugins but they are much more potent than artificial fragrances and less likely to induce olfactory fatigue (when your nose becomes immune to a certain smell due to overexposure). This is largely due to the fact that you can diffuse different oils at different times of day, keeping your sense of smell engaged and your sense of olfactory hygge satisfied all day long. There are many essential oils that work remarkably well for calming the nervous system through aromatherapy, thereby reducing anxiety and increasing your level of contentment. For the purposes of creating hygge, whenever I want our home to smell inviting and homely, I tend to gravitate towards warm choices like cinnamon and coffee as well as happy citruses like tangerine. Other fantastic choices include: vanilla (pairs well with cinnamon, coffee and certain citruses), peppermint, and lavender. I find that it makes my day all the more cheerful if I diffuse different lovely scents throughout the day.
2. Gustatory Hygge: Cook a Rustic Meal with Loved Ones
Preparing a home-cooked meal together as family or with friends, might be the most hyggelig thing on this list. Cooking with your favorite people makes mealtime all the more intimate. Instead of going out to dinner with your loved ones, invite them over to create a delicious stew, roast some colorful vegetables, and bake a no-knead loaf of bread (the kind that won't stress you out or leave a floury mess on the countertops). This isn't the time to learn to boil lobster together or pop champagne bottles. This is a time to make simple meals that are hearty and comforting: soul food.
If your pantry isn't properly stocked, you can ask each of your hyggelig friends to bring an ingredient or two. If cooking together with culinarily-challenged friends sounds like a recipe for burnt pans and takeout, remove the source of the stress, by having a potluck so that everyone can bring something scrumptious that is already made. It is best to keep the number of invites low so that your kitchen doesn't become overcrowded and, more importantly, so that the intimate atmosphere is sustained. Too many people over the house will put you in the pressured position of "host" and you won't be able to relax the way you would with a few of your closest pals.
3. Gustatory/Tactile Hygge: Have an Indoor Picnic
Although a beautifully set table adorned with candles and fresh flowers can establish a wonderful setting for hygge, the family room floor provides an even more intimate one for leaving all the dining hall formalities behind. Back when my husband and I were carefree, honeymooning newlyweds, Sunday night was our favorite time for hygge (although the term wouldn't be familiar to us until the Oxford shortlist of words for 2016 was published). We'd throw down a few throw pillows (is that why the call them "throw?"), lay out a soft comforter, and serve dinner on the storage ottoman we use as a coffee table (yup, the same one from my toy clutter post). At the time we owned an antique Tiffany lamp that we'd turn on for instant visual hygge. I fondly remember the subdued kaleidoscopic backdrop the stained glass provided while we chatted away over a fresh-baked za'atar maneesh and a bowl of labneh (our favorite Lebanese dishes) about how we were going to solve all of the world's problems... or simply take it over. Those were probably my favorite date nights of all time.
Indoor picnics are no doubt a great opportunity to get to know each other, or better yet, to rediscover each other while relishing the earthly pleasure that is good food. So the next time you have your favorite hyggelig friends over for a meal or want to turn a rainy date-night with your significant other into an unforgettably cozy experience, skip the dining room, slip into your favorite stretchy pajama pants, put on some fuzzy socks, and grab the softest comforters and pillows you can find. Take the time to appreciate the soft textures hugging your skin as you explore the minds of those you love through deep, evocative "table talk" about anything and everything. And don't even think about turning this into a "Netflix and Chill" kind of night. The point of this exclusive picnic is to be present, that is, having lovely, meaningful conversation, developing a deeper appreciation for your closest friendships, and savoring every bite of the food you enjoy together.
4. Gustatory Hygge: Breakfast for Dinner
Whoever said that we needed to follow social mealtime conventions? Hygge deliberately defies all the formal constraints imposed upon us in our daily lives for the sake of personal comfort. If we can serve a meal on the plush, pillowy floor of an indoor picnic setting, then we can certainly have hotcakes and hash for supper. I'm ending this list with what is, quite frankly, my favorite suggestion for the most memorable gustatory experience: breakfast for dinner. Whether you crave variety and spontaneity in your home-life or you're a simple breakfast-lover like me, having breakfast for dinner one night a week is sure to break the dull monotony of a typical meal-planning regimen, especially for venturesome foodie families that enjoy heterogeneity in their menus. Breakfast foods, particularly the American variety, are naturally comforting as they are meant to gently ease your transition from sleepy to wakeful, from bed to the table and out the door. The inherently comforting nature of breakfast foods makes them a perfect, albeit pleasantly unusual, dinner option for a night dedicated to hygge.
So there you have it! Four more ways to create hygge moments via the senses. Although I've sorted hygge by the senses through which it can be experienced, it is also important to consider that hygge is as much a philosophy as it is a sensory and emotional experience. It is a way of life that advocates indulging without excesses and luxuriating in the present moment. It is a quiet, unpretentious luxury that anyone can create for themselves, whether they adhere to minimalism, maximalism or fall somewhere in between. It is my hope that this series inspires you take time to generate more hygge in your home-life Thank you for your readership..
This past weekend saw the close of my latest interior design project: our office play nook. I never saw myself as the type of mom to give my kids a playroom, especially not in our modestly sized home. The advent of the whole playroom thing is a maximalist American trend that milks the excess of space in oversized suburban homes for what it's worth; playrooms aren't the norm in most other countries. Admittedly, most suburban homes in the U.S. are blessed with more square footage than an average sized family knows what to do with, hence, all the non-essential luxury spaces like: walk-in closets, guest rooms, offices, man caves, and, you guessed it, playrooms. Granted, I'm sure that there are plenty of smaller scale American homes that can afford to sacrifice certain spaces for the nonessential purposes of childhood recreation. Ours is an example of the latter, a home that covers our family's needs beyond measure without being incongruously huge; we are a family of four after all, and our open-concept 1400 square foot townhome is comfortable enough to grant us the luxury of personal space while keeping us close together all the same. We don't need more than that and could honestly live with less.
Our home is a standard 3 bed/2.5 bath, and because our children are still quite young, they will be room-sharing until their personal needs for privacy increase, freeing up one room in the house which, up until recently, was used exclusively as an office/workspace. Now, if you read my kid clutter post, you know that one of my secrets to controlling kid clutter is by creating play nooks throughout the more frequently inhabited areas of the home, play nooks that are easy to tidy and aesthetically harmonious with the home's design. In our case, the two areas in which we spend most of our day are the living room (downstairs) and the office (upstairs).
That said, we didn't have such a play corner upstairs which often led to file boxes being opened, office supplies being displaced, and electronics being mishandled at the curious hands of our two year old. My husband and I spend a fair amount of time in our office space. For him it's a place to pore over legal documents, communicate with clients, and advance his secondary career as a writer. For me, it's where I grade papers, plan lessons, write blog posts, and pump (usually while doing all of the above). We never leave our children downstairs without supervision (or anywhere for that matter), so we take them with us to the office when we need to work. Given the time that we spend up there, it's important that we share this space peacefully with our children.
The play corner strategy has proven to be an effective one for adulting in harmony with toddling toddlers; the play table in our living room keeps our two year old from exploring our very interesting kitchen cabinets and scaling our oh-so-climbable bookcases. Very rarely do I find myself redirecting in this area of our home so in order to achieve this same effect in the office, we'd need to create a play nook there too. I decided that the play nook would need to be entertaining enough to keep her from venturing into our workspace. It would also need to be gender neutral for baby brother to grow into, take up relatively little real-estate in the way of square footage, and run on lots of imagination fuel, maximizing the pretend-play possibilities well beyond their toddler years. And, because I'm a self-proclaimed design snob, it would have to look whimsical enough for children without being too cringy for adults.
After much brainstorming, pinning, visualizing and ultimately putting it all together, here are the results...
Throughout most of my home I've stayed within a muted color palette of soft grays, whites, and varying shades of taupe with selective pops of divergent color. However, I decided that for the sake of making this play nook the happiest little place in the house, I myself would play outside of the comfort zone of my usual color choices. I'm quite satisfied with the synergy of the colors and patterns that I chose. I love the interaction between the cool, soothing mint and warm, cheery coral; these soft pastels add color without being loud and overstimulating. The pattern play between the tribal print on the teepee and the rugby stripes on the area rug keeps things visually interesting without getting too busy. The result is that perfectly balanced sweet spot between playtime and downtime.
I chose as the centerpiece of the play nook, a trendy mint teepee with a subtle southwestern pattern. The selection of a teepee over another play table or a mini playhouse was intentional. The teepee, much like the play table downstairs, is a natural gathering point, which means most of the active play time and toy clutter will gravitate towards the teepee and not all over the office floor. In addition, it has that "grow with me" quality that I look for in larger ticket children's items; I can see the teepee evolving with my children as they go from playing "house," to having sleepovers, to using it as a cozy reading/study nook. Heck! Even I love hanging out in this teepee and I'm well into my twenties.
I dressed up the teepee with a few throw pillows, one on each side to hold open the flaps of the entryway. These pillows make the teepee an even cozier place to snuggle up with a good book or have an afternoon tea party with a few stuffed animal friends. I particularly love the way the messages on these pillows align so perfectly with the notion of exploration and happiness through imagination. Within the teepee, I've placed a "hot air balloon"canvas bin that holds their "upstairs toys" and a couple of cuddly blankets. When not in use, the toy bin is tucked away discretely in the corner of the teepee.
On the main wall we hung 18 inch white wooden letters that spell out the very function of the nook, defining the space and setting it apart from the office function of the room. They were a pain to hang, as the holes on the backs of the letters were poorly planned but my tenacious and clever husband overcame the impractical design. And I'm glad he did, as I really like the way that the letters add dimension to the wall without outshining the pieces in the forefront.
I added a sense a whimsy to my children's personalized reading chairs by accenting them with these fun cloud and sun pillows. The chairs are the regular-sized Pottery Barn Kids Anywhere Chairs, which I happened to catch on sale. I wouldn't recommend purchasing without a generous coupon, as they are overpriced. These chairs come in three different sizes. I chose to go with the medium size because the smallest looked like it wouldn't last past the toddler years and the largest was not significantly larger than the regular chair. I've personally sat in my kids' Anywhere Chairs and I find them to be supportive enough for my adult height and weight, comfy even, so I expect that these will be "grow with me" type items that can be used for years to come.
At the far left corner of the nook, I've styled the narrow vertical wall space with a playful unicorn head, a vibrant "Happy Place" sign, and a whimsical cloud-shaped bookshelf. The shelf is quite stable but I wouldn't load it up with much more than a small selection of books as it isn't designed to hold a lot of weight. I rotate the books from the nursery library weekly so that the selection on the cloud shelf is always fresh for teepee time.
By far, my favorite design choice for styling the teepee has got to be these LED fairy string lights. They were fairly inexpensive and do not need to be plugged into any outlets. I simply wrapped them around the poles and let them hang down the sides of the teepee fabric. My daughter loves turning them on at night before bed; it makes story time so much more magical and "hyggelig."
Perhaps having a play nook like ours does not align with minimalism in the strictest sense but it does align with a few of the principles of domestic minimalism: the intentionality of surrounding yourself only with things that bring you joy and setting strict limits on clutter. We've been mindful to avoid filling this space with an excess of toys by limiting toy storage to one modest toy bin (if the toys don't fit, it's time to declutter). Unlike most playrooms, the idea behind our nook is not to house an abundance of toys; toys are not the main attraction. It's the teepee and reading chairs that are the true stars of the play nook, acting as the launch pad for the most minimalist plaything children have: imagination.
I hope this tour of our play nook has inspired you to take on some new creative design projects in your home, for yourself or for your children. Thank you as always for your readership.
Lately, there's been a word trending on social media that has caught my attention as a language teacher and has captured my heart as a minimalist. It is neither English, Spanish, nor Portuguese (the languages in which I am proficient) and doesn't seem to have an equivalent term in any of these languages. You may have noticed the #hygge hashtag popping up on Instagram. "Hygge," pronounced "hoo-guh," is a Danish word that encapsulates a feeling of contentment and well-being that is homely and charming yet luxurious in a uniquely understated way. The danes are some of the happiest people in the world, despite their long, dark winters, and many attribute their satisfaction in life to making a little time for "hygge."
Hygee is low-key luxury. It is not loud or proud. It isn't about treating oneself to retail therapy when stressed or taking expensive get-away vacations when tired. It's about creating a warm and inviting atmosphere at home, alone or with friends, an atmosphere that feeds one's passion for the here, the now, and the everyday. It is about being present, acknowledging the little things and emphasizing them with rituals that make them all the more delightful. Rushing through your first break of the day while chugging down insipid powdered coffee in a styrofoam cup that's been reheated for the third time this morning (any fellow teachers out there feelin' me?) is clearly not hygge. Making time on a quiet evening to sip your favorite hot beverage in a pretty vintage tea cup while wrapped in a warm fuzzy blanket and engulfed by the plush cushions of a large chaise as you admire the orange sunset outside a nearby window... now that is hygge.
You may think that your life is too noisy and fast-paced for such quiet, slow pleasures, but truthfully, hygge is the best medicine for an overtired person who is half-heartedly shuffling through the motions. Hygge can be made to fit into anyone's routine no matter what their work schedule or personal life is like. It's all about identifying opportunities to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.
So now that you know what hygge is, let's talk about some ways to bring it into your home. Today I'll be discussing 4 ways you can achieve a "hyggelig" atmosphere through vision and sound, visual hygge and auditory hygge respectively. (Be sure to look out for Part 2 of my Two-Part series on hygge where I'll be discussing the social, gustatory, tactile, and olfactory dimensions of hygge and sharing 4 ways to create them at home.)
1. Visual Hygge: Use Warm Accent Lighting
Minimalist blogger, Jenny Mustard, said it best when she stated in her hygge themed video, "Overhead ceiling light is where hygge goes to die." There is nothing more harsh and unforgiving than overhead ceiling light. It does nothing to flatter our features and nothing to enhance our mood. If you want your space to feel inviting and intimate, especially in the evenings, when there is little natural light pouring into your home, strategically placed table lamps and floor lamps are the way to go.
Back when I was a student attending university and living in the dorms, I inherited a vintage emerald green floor lamp from my roommate, a gift that I couldn't have appreciated more given the cold cell-like nature of most dorm rooms; if standard household ceiling light is where hygge goes to be killed then overhead dormitory light is where hygge goes to be massacred. The happy light the vintage lamp cast on our bland, sad walls transformed our dorm from a prison cell to a charming studio apartment. It truly was the perfect complement to our quiet evenings in, when we would engage in all sorts of philosophical discussions, trying to sort out all the mysteries of the universe over a pot of rosemary tea. We never dared touch the light switches. That kind of lighting was far too severe and "un-hygge" for our cozy evening tea.
Although table lamps and floor lamps are very effective ways to warm up a living space, they are not the only pathways to creating visual hygge through accent lighting. String lights, fairy lights, and lanterns are also enchanting ways to bring a tender glow to your home. Feel free to hang a few lanterns and dress the headboard of your bed with string lights or, better still, drape them over the frame of your favorite window. If you're looking for something even more atmospheric than what incandescent accent lighting can provide, keep reading. The most fool-proof source of visual hygge is next.
Note how I've strategically arranged table the lamps in our living room to hug the area where we spend time together as a family or with guests. This intimate area of kinship and togetherness is made all the more intimate while enveloped by the warm glow emitted from the lamps. The choice of lamps also helps establish a sense of hygge. For instance, the rustic aesthetic of the large lamp that sits at the corner of the sofa table appeals to the rural aesthetic of hygge, as it is unsophisticated and casual yet luxurious all the same.
2. Visual Hygge: Light Candles
Lighting a candle is no doubt the fastest and simplest way to achieve visual hygge in the home. On dark and stormy Miami days, I personally love to light a lavender scented candle on my sofa table and cuddle with my children on the couch. If my children are napping at the same time (almost never happens!), I relish that rare silence by candlelight. Lighting a candle brings a sense of mysticism to even the most mundane setting. There's a reason candles are used in so many different rites of passage, from birthdays to Christmas. The soft, flickering glow of candlelight draws the focus away from any detractors that may rob sacred moments of their sanctity and highlights what is most important: the here and now.
There are many ways to incorporate the comforting warmth of candlelight into everyday activities. You can bathe by candlelight in the evenings, make a lit candle the centerpiece of your dining table at mealtimes, or light a candle on your nightstand while you lose yourself in a chapter of your favorite book before bed. Perhaps a realistic flameless candle is the way to go if you fear that your rambunctious toddler will knock your lit candle right off the table, an unfortunate event that, apart from being hazardous to your family, is hazardous to your hygge: instant hygge killer. Whatever you decide, just be sure to keep your home environment free of neurotoxins by choosing naturally scented soy candles or purifying beeswax candles over the mainstream artificial kind which are some of the biggest players in the problem of domestic air pollution.
3. Auditory Hygge: Make Time for Silence
No one appreciates the value of silence as much as a teacher. As a teacher myself, some of the most revitalizing moments in my day are those short breaks where my students are out for specials and the classroom, a place constantly booming with the sounds of book bags rolling in and the echoing thunder of students' voices as they collaborate on learning tasks, is overcome by an unusual silence. After a storm of active learning, surging with the brilliant and satisfying sparks of "ah-ha!" moments, comes a much needed calm.
Our lives are filled with so much noise, whether we are teachers, students, office workers, or stay-at-home parents. Whatever it is that we do for work, whatever our livelihood, noise is bound to infiltrate our work space and living space. Sometimes it's a jarring physical noise, like the honking sound of car horns at a traffic halt as you make your commute. Sometimes it's the mental static that keeps you up at night, robbing you of sleep as you yourself ponder how you are going to rob Peter to pay Paul. Sometimes these noises are wonderful, such as the sound of students engaged in learning. Sometimes it's an intellectual wave of thoughts and ideas that inspire us to take on new creative projects. Whatever the source, it is important to make time for silence in our space.
Turn off the television, power off the phone and all other electronics, turn down the lights, and just be still and "enjoy the silence" (yes, like the Depeche Mode song). You can take this time to meditate for mental clarity or perhaps start on that book you've been meaning to read for a while. If you are a Christian like me, this is an opportune moment to put yourself in the Lord's presence, as it is often in the sanctity of silence that we can hear Him answering our prayers, those same prayers our hearts whisper throughout our noisy days.
4. Auditory Hygge: Play Sentimental Music
Although there's a certain sacred quality to silence that makes it a special way to bring auditory hygge into our lives, there is also a soul-kindling quality to playing soothing, mood-setting music that is just as transformative. I have fond memories as a child of my mother preparing dinner with the lights turned down and Dulce Pontes's "Lagrimas" album playing in the background. The delicious smells filling the kitchen and mingling with the ethereal yet rustic sound of Pontes' rendition of "Povo que lavas no rio" is a nostalgic memory that has been forever imprinted on my heart. Whenever I need to break the monotony of daily tasks, such as setting the table and prepping dinner, I load up my favorite "fado" on Pandora and let myself become inspired.
If you don't know what "fado" is, it is another one of those words that has no true translation in English; perhaps the closest translation would be "fate" given it's similar linguistic layout. The Portuguese word "fado" refers to a genre of music that is unique to the Portuguese culture. Although much of fado is typically mournful and expresses "saudade" or longing, many fados are songs about everyday life in the rural countryside and by the sea that are contemplative but not necessarily tragic. It's this "rustic" quality that makes fado such a hyggelig experience for me, personally. Your choice of background music doesn't have to be fado but if you want to be swept away by the hauntingly beautiful sounds and voices of the mountainous Portuguese countryside, dotted with a charming array of fish markets, cow pastures, and ancient Roman abbeys, all from the comfort of your own home, I recommend running a Pandora search for Dulce Pontes, Amalia Rodrigues, or Maritza.
Ultimately, whatever your choice of soul-soothing music, whether Chopin, Barry White, or Fado itself, let it put the magic back into your cozy evening and transform an ordinary evening at home into a stirring, rustic experience. So pick your favorite sentimental track. And, to be clear, by sentimental I don't mean sad or angry, just something charming that makes you feel warm inside and makes your hairs stand on end because of it's overwhelming loveliness ("algo que te eriza la piel," as we say in Spanish). This is not the time to listen to break-up tracks nor is it the time to rock out to "melt your face metal," as my husband would say. So save that Slayer album for another time.
There you have it: 4 ways to make your home look and sound warmer, cozier, and hyggelig.
Stay tuned next week for Hygge Part 2: 4 More Ways to Have a Hyggelig Home, where I will be discussing ways to enhance the social, gustatory, tactile and olfactory dimensions of this wonderful philosophy.
What is your favorite way to create visual/auditory hygge? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time, stay cozy, friends!
Ever since becoming a mother of two under two, I find I have less time to cook than ever before. My diet has taken a big hit as a result, as I've been relying on takeout and delivery more than I'd care to admit. As someone who loves cooking, eating clean, and also wants to run a more minimal household, this upsets me. Ideally, we should be meal planning and cooking/eating every meal at home but this is a skill I'm still developing as I juggle my duties as a mother, which include (but are not limited to) frequently nursing my son and pumping for my toddler, and my duties as homemaker, keeping our home tidy, clean, and orderly. Come August, when my maternity leave is up, returning to my full-time teaching position will be added to that list.
Thankfully, my interest in Korean cooking led me to discover how quick, simple, and satisfying many Korean dishes are. What I love about many of these recipes is how they emphasize a variety of vegetables and whole grains over animal products. Although many recipes, including the one I will be sharing with you today, traditionally include some meat and eggs, it's very easy to convert these recipes into plant-dense vegan meals due to the heavier emphasis Eastern cuisine places on plant foods. Unlike a lot of Western cuisine, the meats in many of these dishes act as flavor agents but do not comprise of the substance of the meal. The fact that such recipes lend themselves to easy personalization means you can tailor them to your family's specific tastes by changing measurements or swapping out one ingredient for another. It's almost impossible to "mess up" one of these meals so you don't have to worry about winding up with something completely inedible for dinner if you don't have the same exact vegetables on hand or use precisely the same measurements.
"Bibim guksu" was the first Korean meal I learned to prepare. It is a simple dish of noodles and spicy red pepper sauce. Although it is usually served with thin wheat noodles called "somyeon," I've prepared this with whatever noodles we have on hand, from spaghetti to ramen, so if you don't have thin wheat noodles just use what you have in your pantry. There are a few ingredients on the list that you will need to secure beforehand in order to achieve the vinegary, salty-sweet spiciness that makes the flavor of bibim guksu so distinct: gochugaru, which is a spicy red pepper powder (not the same as American red pepper flakes!), and gochujang, a spicy red pepper paste. Without these ingredients, you won't be able to make the sauce. These are the only two ingredients you will not be able to swap out because there are no comparable alternatives that I know of in Western markets. You may, however, be able to find these two items at your local oriental market. If you don't have access to an oriental market, follow the links in the recipe for information on where you can buy these.
La Maestra's Bibim guksu Recipe
About la maestra:
Bienvenidos! Bem-vindos! I'm Ali, a World Language maestra from Miami who went from hard-core maximalist to soft-core minimalist upon becoming a mother. The flexible form of minimalism that I practice, domestic minimalism, allows me to run my household efficiently and foster a home free of clutter and full of joy for my whole family. This is where I record my experiences as a wife, working mother of two, and homemaker. Thanks for stopping by.