Hygge, Lagom and Wabi Sabi
(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)
Have you ever believed in something, practiced something, or lived your life a certain way just because it felt right? I have, and I've even written about it in this column several times. What I mean by "felt right" is that you did these things merely out of instinct and preference. The other morning, while reading a newly-arrived trade magazine, I was surprised to learn that my beliefs, practices and instincts had names. In fact, three names: "hygge, lagom, and wabi sabi".
If you are familiar with Scandinavian or Japanese culture, you may recognize these words. Yours truly hadn't a clue. All I could surmise from the title of the article was that these were philosophies currently influencing the United States. This may be old news to you but if not, this is what I learned: Hygge is a Danish word. I can best pronounce it as "hue-guh" or "heurgha" and best describe it as a cozy feeling. It's a concept practiced throughout Denmark and may be the reason why Denmark is often ranked the happiest country in the world. It's a conscious appreciation, a certain slowness, and an ability to not just be present but to recognize and enjoy the present. It embraces charm, happiness, contentedness, security, familiarity, comfort, reassurance, and kinship. Maybe our word "hug" has Danish roots?
As far as home design, it invites simplicity, functionality and natural materials. To quote New York designer, Susan Serra, this includes "a regular supply of fresh flowers, candles, iconic Scandinavian furnishings and an appreciation of exposed old construction such as crooked beams, imperfect plaster or 100-year-old wood flooring. It is a home as a collection of treasured items that may not be perfectly coordinated, nor in perfect symmetry. The result of the spaces they live in reflects a perfect balance between too much stuff and an absence of life within the space.”
For those who are not living in these charming, century-old homes, there are still ways to enhance or remodel "hyggely". Built-in cabinetry in every room keeps spaces tidy and yields the spotlight to those furnishings and accessories that are truly comfortable, functional, and treasured. Enlarged or additional windows and strategic lighting fuel the mood. Hygge bathrooms would include warm floors, steam showers, hand-held showers sprays with different settings, piped-in music, and of course, luxurious towels. Serra tries to incorporate a loveseat in her clients' kitchens. She replaces the legs with taller ones and scoots it up to the dining table.
Lagom is a Swedish word that means "just the right amount". The Lexin Swedish-English dictionary defines it with a term that I'll keep in my back pocket: "perfect-simple". Lagom refers to things in moderation - not in terms of lacking, but in having the optimal quantity. Not too little to feel deprived and not too much to feel stuffed. Lagom encourages smart purchasing. This means good and long-lasting quality.
Like hygee, lagom is about a harmonious, clutter-free, balanced, and practical life-style. It's about functional and sentimental value. It asks us the tough question, "Why do we own what we own?"
Just when I thought "perfect-simple" was a motto to live by, wabi sabi offers another: "wisdom in natural simplicity". This Japanese philosophy, like hygee, also embraces the imperfect. This sets wabi sabi apart from our notion of strict and bare minimalism that can often feel too sterile in its perfection.
Where hygee and lagom lean toward white, cool, and crisp color palettes, wabi sabi leans toward muted earth tones. My guess is that these schemes are heavily influenced by their climate and natural environment. Luckily for us in the Napa Valley, any and all colors work. In fact, any and all parts of these philosophies can bring health and harmony to our homes and our way of life. If we all give it a try, maybe one day, Napa will be voted the happiest place on earth.
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