CHOCOLATE CAKE. You are reading correctly. Hygge experts insist that chocolate cake is vital to your hyggekrog. My favorite is the chocolate ganache cake from Peninsula Bakery. I must eat the entire cake. You can bring your own. (6 inches, $50; 9 inches, $65) Peninsula Bakery, 611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 1, Palm Springs.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRIS FOWLER
In my mid-20s, I fell in love with a Dane. The bad news was that I was in graduate school in California and she lived in Copenhagen. Undaunted, I convinced an adviser I needed some fellowship money for study abroad. A couple weeks later, I was in Denmark.
I arrived in November. A freezing rain fell almost every day and the sun struggled to a low point on the horizon before collapsing a little after 3 o’clock in the afternoon. For a Californian whose baggage contained flip flops and a faded Cal hoodie, it was an adjustment. Once I was properly equipped, Malene and I spent many hours walking around the city. I remember once strolling around the man-made lakes that once served as a defensive perimeter for the old city. It was early evening and dark, but all the windows in the old apartment buildings lining the lake glowed gold and yellow. Every apartment window radiated comfort and warmth.
“We call it hygge,” Malene said. She went on to explain how Danes use candles, pillows, music, coffee, chocolate, warm sweaters, friends, and dozens of other elements to create bliss and contentment. But, she added, it’s not about only material things. It’s about atmosphere, environment, and interaction. As far as I could make out, hygge’s equivalent in English was coziness. But it’s more than cozy because it strives to satisfy all the senses. It seems to be a big bowl of happiness stew. Malene often referred to our Sunday-morning ritual as hygge. She worked Saturday nights at a brasserie on Stroget, not far from our tiny apartment on Nansengade. Next door to us was a bakery. I’d walk her home from work and we’d stop at the back door of the bakery for fresh bread and pastries. In the morning, we’d set up a table next to our bed. In the center was a horizontal toaster. Around the toaster, we would arrange cheeses, leverpostej (paté), sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, herring in curry sauce, and chopped shrimp in mayonnaise. We’d make a carafe of coffee and a pot of tea. In the window was a vase of tulips we’d bought the day before at the green market in Israels Plads. We lit lots of candles. It was cold in the apartment, but we were warm under a down comforter. Between bites of smorrebrod and sips of coffee, I’d read and Malene would draw. We lit candles and played Mozart and Joni Mitchell and Chet Baker. It was uber hygge.
Several years ago, the concept of hygge became widely known, spurred on by reports that the Danes were among the happiest people on the planet. The rather dry reason behind this endemic happiness is that the cradle-to-grave socialism enjoyed by these 5.5 million people frees them from the kind of socio-economic anxiety and uncertainty (and terror) that bedevil most societies. Danes would not disagree with this assessment, but they would also qualify it with their steadfast dedication to hygge.
The global craze for hygge reached its zenith in 2017, when Meik Wiking, CEO of Copenhagen’s Happiness Research Institute, published The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living. Finally, a field guide to the art form for non-Scandinavians. According to Wiking, the word comes from a similar Norwegian verb that translates as “to hug.” But it’s not a literal hug; it’s the embrace of a multitude of good things.
It turns out we’ve been practicing hygge here in the desert for over a century. We just have different names for it. Like, Palm Springs.
Grilling outdoors with a cold beer in your hand while your friends sit around a table mixing cocktails and shelling shrimp is hygge. A swim party can be hygge as well as hiking the Lykken Trail or camping in Idyllwild. Sitting around a campfire in Joshua Tree with friends, sipping wine, and watching shooting stars is slam-dunk hyggelig.
If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, hygge might have gone back to being the special little domestic indulgence of 5.5 million people living on the Baltic Sea. True, one of the most important elements to creating a truly hygge atmosphere — family and friends — has been conspicuously and painfully absent the last 18 months, but they’re gradually trickling back and once again our human relationships and the simple joy of chatting with friends (even if they’re seated 6 feet away) is miraculously taking place. But in every other aspect, the pandemic has presented an opportunity to perfecting one’s own hygge. Initially, people reacted to the increased time spent inside their own living spaces as a sort of home confinement. Yet, we all know by now that the flip side of self-exile can be an opportunity to living well in a small ideal world that we create for ourselves and our families.
The evolving paradigm of our home-centered lifestyles lends itself beautifully to hygge. I’ve heard and read lately about how the three points that commonly defined our movements — home, workplace, and vacation place — have for many people shifted to only home and vacation place as their work becomes remote and virtual. Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, was recently on CNN talking about how it’s common for many of their bookings now to last a month or more; people no longer must confine themselves to a week’s vacation and then rush back to the office. They take the office with them on vacation.
I admit my evidence is anecdotal, but several real estate friends in the Coachella Valley say that many of their buyers are people who are finding a perfect little Palm Springs home or condo so that they have two homes in which to conduct their domestic lives, work, and vacation/play.
This new reality screams for a re-examination of our lives through a hygge lens. It’s not a huge stretch for those of us who love the desert. When I first came to the desert 25 years ago, it was as a guest at my friend Barbara’s 1930s Spanish revival house in old Las Palmas. Between the classic old pool, gas fire pit, hammock by the little fountain, roof garden, lights on the palm trees, Billy Haines furniture, succession of mammoth Weber grills, and revolving door of old friends and new acquaintances, it was a hygge paradise. There have been times when five or six of us gathered there for a week and didn’t leave the grounds except for a run to Jensen’s and a night out at El Mirasol.
It’s fitting that Danish design is omnipresent in many midcentury modern homes in the Coachella Valley. In a chapter on hyggekrog, the place or nook in your home that is especially hygge, Wiking points out that in addition to candles, a quantity of pillows, and maybe even a fireplace, wood is an intrinsic aesthetic element. And, in fact, Danish modern furniture (with the notable exception of Arne Jacobsen’s egg chair and Poul Henningsen’s lamps) is all about the warmth of wood. My Hans Wegner wood credenza (containing my stereo components) is second only to the fireplace in its hyggelig.
The holidays, of course, are hygge. Even with the ubiquitous kitsch and commercialism, you have to be a total grinch not to enjoy the little things that make the holidays hygge.
It doesn’t have to be all caviar and champagne. It can be simple. The first Christmas I spent in Denmark, I discovered that the Danes do not give big presents for Christmas. It’s all about small, special gifts. I remember the presents I received. Malene gave me a fisherman’s sweater with suede elbow and shoulder patches. Her father made me several Mozart cassette compilations and her mother gave me a small watercolor she’d painted. Her sister knitted me a pair of wool socks. In retrospect, I realize that all these gifts were very, very hygge.
OK, I’m not advocating everyone take up knitting wool socks for the holidays (although, now that I think about it, knitting itself is hygge), but I am suggesting that if you haven’t already done so, then it may be time to gift friends, family, and yourself with the elements that will not only make these holidays deliciously hygge, but all the days, months, and years to come.
The right music is hygge … except when it comes out of those hundred-dollar speakers you scored “on sale” at the now-bankrupt big box electronics store. Go for the JC Verdier La Platine Turntable (starting at $14,000), Shindo Cortese 300B Stereo Amplifier ($13,000), Auditorium 23 Hommage 755 Loudspeaker ($11,995 pair), and Shindo Monbrison Preamplifier ($12,900) at Matthew Rotunda’s Pitch Perfect Audio and prepare to enter audio heaven. 68703 Perez Road, Suite A16, Cathedral City.
My first Danish friend, Hugo, showed me how to make this classic hygge hot cocktail. First, soak a few handfuls of raisins in a half bottle of port. Add some cloves, cinnamon sticks, candied ginger, cardamon pods, a cup of brown sugar, and allspice. Cover tightly and let it marinate for a couple days. When you’re ready to party, strain the spiced port into a large pot and add two bottles of red wine, a half bottle of brandy, and (optionally) a half bottle of dark rum. Heat, but do not boil. Drink moderately or risk acting in a decidedly un-hygge manner.
Sure, your Barcelona chair in vintage leather is beautiful, but does your butt murmur, “mmm … hygge,” when you sit in it? Papa Bear chair and ottoman in Urban Hemp upholstery ($1,697); Quasar tall side table ($769); Carmen table lamp ($129). H3K Home + Design, 501 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs.
Hyggebukser. Literally, hygge pants, or the ratty, but comfy, sweats you wouldn’t be caught in even at the mailbox. Personally, my hygge is ignited by stylish loungewear like these satin robes ($145), available in four prints, at Superbloom, 1414 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs.
books and candles.
Sure, the collected works of Raymond Chandler are perfect for a cold, rainy night, but sometimes nothing feeds contentment like flipping through books with pretty pictures. (Clockwise from bottom), Pucci: Limited Edition, $250; Neutra: Complete Works, $70; Andy Warhol Polaroids 1958–1987, $60; Arthur Elrod: Desert Modern Design, $45; Slim Aarons–Style, $85. Just Fabulous, 515 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. Also, nothing is more hygge than candles. Candle holders ($75–$225) and candles ($15), Mojave Flea Trading Post, 383 N. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs .
Danes prefer a pair of heavy wool socks for foot hygge, but in Palm Springs, hygge is letting one’s toes breathe in style. Gingham terry mules by Larry Shoes ($230), Mojave Flea Trading Post, 383 N. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs.
According to Meik Wiking in The Little Book of Hygge, Danes have more fireplaces than any other European country. It’s not about warmth. It’s the altar around which they worship hygge. A brilliant substitute for our climate is the Terraflame Lloyd Fireplace ($599), Christopher Kennedy, 901 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 105, Palm Springs. The fireplace doesn’t require venting and the three gas cannisters inside emit a lovely, non-toxic aroma and even a bit of heat.
A guy I once rented a house from in the Coachella Valley had a storage shed for his overflow of pillows … and there were still so many left in the house, we were kicking them around like the first day of high school soccer tryouts. Better to have too many than not enough. Pillows from Between the Sheets (prices vary), 73425 El Paseo, Suite 113, Palm Desert; Moroccan rug, ($1,100), Mojave Flea Trading Post, 383 N. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs.
Danes are sensitive about lighting. For half the year they have too much, and the other half they have too little. Their aesthetic is on the money in this case. Balanced lighting can make all the difference. 300 Series Lumalight in corrugated paper by Rolands Simmons, 1976 ($345), Boomerang for Modern, 2500 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs.
I am a sucker for a cozy blanket. And, really, you need to invest in the largest you can find just in case the person next to you on the couch wants to snuggle. If things develop from there, well, I’m sure the Danes have a hygge name for that, too. Blankets (prices vary), Between the Sheets, 73425 El Paseo, Suite 113, Palm Desert.