February 08, 2022 9 min read

What does ‘hygge’ mean?

‘Hygge’ (pronounced ‘hoo-gah’) is a Danish and Norwegian word, signifying a state of cosiness and comfort. It is an integral part of life for many Scandinavian communities, helping to promote a sense of balance and creating temporary and long-term safe-spaces and sanctuaries for those who need to ‘switch off’ from the stresses and pressures of everyday life. 

The term started cropping up in Western lifestyle circles several years ago. For years, people have marvelled at how Danes have consistently been ranked as some of the happiest people in the world, with Denmark taking the top spot in the World Happiness Report for decades. 

When Danish author and founder of the Institute of Happiness, Meik Wiking, released his bestselling book on the principle -- The Little Book of Hygge -- in 2016, the concept started to make a more outstated appearance in the West. 

In the UK, searches for “hygge home” spiked in the same year. Scandinavian design principles became incredibly popular within luxury and domestic interior circles. These centred around combining Minimalism with the cosiness and comfort so closely associated with a hygge way of life. Danish-inspired interiors were designed to be sanctuary-like spots for those living in them, emphasising the importance of appealing to every sense and creating a sense of calm. 

Though many believed hygge to have seen its day in recent years, data reveals that the trend has peaked again since the first UK lockdown hit back in March 2020. With many people hunkering down in their homes to wait out the period of uncertainty, it would seem that the importance of creating an environment that engendered the hygge ideals of relaxation and inner peace became priorities once again. 

eco hygge home

@thehairpinlegco - Instagram

According to our research, in the UK alone searches for “hygge home” increased by 98% between April and June 2020. These volumes rivalled even those in 2016, when the term was first popularised in Britain. What’s more, the term looks to be on an upwards trend as we move further into 2021.  

‘Eco-hygge’

The Coronavirus has changed the way that many people have looked at and approached the world around them. After being forced to reassess so many parts of our lives, from how much money we spend on going out, to what the concept of ‘essential’ travel actually means, it’s fair to say that not only the world but the people in it have been changed permanently by the pandemic. 

As part of this, many people have shifted their perspectives to be less introspective, and more about the world around them. Interest in media and literature about social justice, international politics, animal welfare and the climate crisis have all spiked since the first lockdown hit last Spring, and this does not look to be slowing. 

What this means in terms of home improvement and interior design trends is two-fold. Firstly, that more and more people are prioritising living spaces that focus on aiding quality time -- be that with ourselves or our loved one. This has been born out of an increased appreciation for the value of our lives, which has come from an understanding of the bigger picture and struggles which are happening in other places around the world as well as closer to home. 

Secondly, the increased appreciation for environmental causes -- like animal rights and welfare, and the climate -- has also meant a major surge in public interest for products and techniques that are both cruelty-free and eco friendly. 

According to our research, Google searches for ‘ethical homeware’, ‘eco-friendly furniture’ and ‘eco friendly homeware’ have all spiked since the beginning of 2020, as well as searches for ‘ethical home DIY ideas’. 

This is where ‘eco-hygge’ comes in. This concept beautifully combines people’s desire to create a cosy, sanctuary-like space in their homes with their desire to improve their homes using ethical products and means. As well as this, the term perfectly marries the Danish principle of inner-reflection and contentment with the ability to positively influence the world around us. 

Based on these insights, we’ve put together these useful 7 tips, geared towards the ethical hygge-inspired home designer/improver/DIY-er. If you’re looking to redecorate your space to be more hygge (or rather, more hyggeligt) but you want to make sure you’re doing this eco-consciously, this is a great place to start. 

 1. Introduce (ethical) fire-light

Candle-light is a hugely important theme when it comes to hygge interiors. Danish traditions centre on sitting around fires, or using candles to create a similar effect. 

Fire-light, according to these traditions, creates not only a sense of warmth and feelings of relaxation, but it also brings us closer to our communities and puts us more squarely in the moment. The act of either sitting around an open, outdoor fire and talking with a group of people, turning off all electrical distractions and reading a book by candlelight, or sitting alone by your open hearth with a glass of wine are all ‘hygge’ moments -- because all these scenarios allow us to temporarily ‘switch off’ from daily life and its pressures.

To incorporate candlelight into your home in an eco-friendly, ethical way, try opting for alternative candle waxes.

 hygge home ideas

@SixteenMilesOut - Unsplash

Paraffin wax (the wax used in most high-street candle brands) is created using petroleum-by-product. This requires the use of palm oil, which is unsustainable and requires the destruction of forests and habitats around the world to be processed. The Environment Protection Agency has detected seven major toxins in paraffin wax . When burnt and thrown away, these are released, which is harmful to individuals and the environment.  

For the ultimate ethically-hygge home, opt for beeswax or coconut wax if you can. Soy wax is also a more popular alternative to paraffin wax, and is more readily available and accessible. Though this is a more sustainable option than paraffin, there are still several concerns over how environmentally-friendly soy farming is. The majority of soy crops are sprayed with pesticides and are GMO, which raises some concerns in terms of efficacy. 

2. Use recycled materials

If you are looking to redecorate your home, using recycled materials is not only an eco-friendly but also a cost-effective option. 

Recycle old glass wine bottles or jam-jars to make old vases. Spray with glass paint, like a matte-finish gold paint, to give the glass a vintage-feel and then fill with flowers and place around your home. Alternatively, you can use these for food storage -- such as for small pasta shapes, pulses or grains -- or poke through a chain of fairy lights to create a light feature.  


recycled bottle hacks

@DiegoBotero - Unsplash

Another inexpensive recycling hack includes chopping up wood branches/old wide table legs and using them as coasters. Make sure these are sanded down using sandpaper to avoid splinters. You don’t need to add a varnish if you prefer the more rustic feel, but this will preserve them and help avoid lasting stains and scratches. If you prefer, you can also use wood-paint to match them to your living room’s colour scheme. 

Plastic is known to be especially harmful if not recycled or reused; when it is thrown away it never decomposes, and lots of it ends up in the sea, which poses a threat to sea-life. Used plastic bottles make excellent plant pots in gardens, conservatories or on balconies. Cut a large whole on one side of the bottle, lengthways. Fill it with soil and seeds/small ready-grown plants and hang or position to create a vertical garden. This is an ideal option for people decorating on a budget and those with small spaces and works particularly well for herb gardens. 


3. Upcycle furniture

If you’re into DIY, use broken or old furniture to create new pieces for your home. You could try using our hairpin legs by attaching them to old table-tops and desk-tops for example. This will not only help you reduce your waste and help save the planet, but it will also naturally give your living space a more hygge feel too; our hairpin legs are modelled using a Scandinavian design and draw upon Danish, minimalistic design influences. 

loftenwoodworks hairpin legs

@thehairpinlegco - by @loftenwoodworks - Instagram

Because they are so versatile, they also fit in with any scheme or design style. You can even sand down pieces of wood and attach the legs to these, to create a unique piece for your home. 

Hygge is all about finding something that works for you, which is why there is no one, set way to ‘be hygge’. Upcycling really allows you to hone into this, as you can work around your tastes, and create something that makes you personally feel comfortable and happy. 

4. Opt for Minimalism 

Scandinavian design has its roots in the minimalist design movement, which centres on clear, decluttered spaces. 

While you don’t need to necessarily go completely minimalist (hygge is about comfort, after all) you can try decluttering your space when coming to re-design it eco-consciously. 

Minimalism is an especially anti-wasteful design movement; it teaches that all items should have a function and purpose in an interior space. When it comes to implementing this, you could work through your current interior and look at all the items you currently have in it -- be that furniture, ornaments or functional items. Then, with each item in your hand, ask yourself two key questions; 

  1. “What is this item’s purpose?” 
  2. “Does this item bring me happiness?” 

If you’re unable to find a real, genuine function in an item in your home, and it doesn’t (to quote the famous minimalist designer Marie Condo) “spark joy” then Minimalism teaches you to get rid of it. 

If clearing out your home, be sure to recycle, upcycle or donate any items you decide to get rid of, rather than throwing them away.

millhouserenovation hairpin legs

@thehairpinlegco - by @millhouserenovation - Instagram

5. Earth-friendly cosiness 

Hygge is all about comfort, and hygge design should support this. 

Meik Weiking’s The Little Book of Hyggedescribes a common Danish practice as sitting up by a fire, eating your favourite foods, listening to your favourite music and cosying up with a warm, fluffy blanket for the night. 

To create a cosy and comforting interior, think about including different textures in your textiles. Introduce soft throws, cushions and rugs that you can cuddle up with in the evening. 

When selecting the materials you want to include in your home, try to opt for organic cotton over non-organic cotton. While cotton is natural and biodegradable, it is one of the most environmentally demanding crops to farm. Conventional cotton farms often use very high amounts of pesticides and toxic sprays during the farming process, which are harmful to the planet as they seep into the soil and water supplies. 

Alternatively, other Earth-friendly fabrics include bamboo, natural hemp, lempur, organic linen and recycled polyester. These are all more sustainable than textiles like polyester, which is made using plastic fibres. 

6. Breathe clearer

Houseplants have become even more popular over the past year, with more people investing their time and resources into cultivating indoor gardens and green spaces during national Stay at Home orders. 

Adding houseplants into your living space will do wonders when it comes to creating a more ‘hygge’ feel. Danish traditions teach that being at one with nature and the world around us can help us to reconnect with ourselves and practice being in the moment. This concept feeds into mindfulness and meditation practices, and is considered to help us be more balanced and content in our daily lives.

best hair purifying plants

@thehairpinlegco - by @pren_woodcraft -  Instagram

Introducing houseplants into interiors will help you to be more mindful about the natural world; even the time spent watering, pruning and tending to them can be seen as a mindful activity in itself. 

Further to this, plants also help to balance Co2 levels, which they absorb to emit oxygen. This makes them an ideal addition to townhouses and city-centre apartments if you want to purify your home’s air so that it’s more breathable, while also doing your bit to help balance out pollution levels in general. 

Some good examples of air purifying houseplants are Aloe Vera plants, Pothos plants, Ficus plants (commonly known as ‘weeping figs’), Areca palm trees, Bamboo plants, Spider plants and Snake plants. 

In general, look out for succulents when trying to find the best air purifying plants; they tend to be the best oxygen producers and they are very easy to care for as they feed off moisture in the air and tend to need minimal water and feeding as a result.

7. Go VOC-free

Hygge design doesn’t have any set colour palettes or schemes, as it’s more about creating a space that makes you personally feel happy, calm and comfortable. 

Generally speaking, opt for colours that will put you at ease, like cool blue and green tones, or neutral palettes. 

Many brands of paints use toxins that contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). These chemicals can leach out of the paint and into the air, causing health issues and disrupting the air purity of homes. 

When choosing your paint, opt for eco-friendly paint brands that are VOC free. These will often be marked with a ‘zero-VOC’ symbol or small-print on the back of the can or, if purchasing online, this should be clearly stated in the product description. 

Re-use old paint cans to store tools, brushes or other household items in, or upcycle them by painting them in a colour that fits in with your scheme, and using them as plant pots or jars for flowers.