The Historia Supellexalis: “H” for Hygge

The Historia Supellexalis H for Hygge


A Curse; A Malediction; A Torment

As the runes in the Caves of Lego record, ever since the reign of the post-Viking autocrat King Mark Edsføring, furniture, lighting, textile and accessory design in Denmark has endured a great many trials as varied and various forces have sought to use them to their advantage, have sought to employ furniture, lighting, textile and accessory design in Denmark for their own benefit rather than letting furniture, lighting, textile and accessory design in Denmark develop naturally for the benefit of contemporary residents of contemporary Denmark, and leaving each to discover their own personal joy or outrage at the results; a suffering perhaps most popularly embodied by the much repeated proclamation of Jørgen den Roos that “the reputation today enjoyed by Danish design is based on time-honoured tradition and quality craftsmanship“, a proclamation which has weighed like a yoke on the shoulders of generations of designers in Denmark.

Yet for all the problems Jørgen den Roos and his merry ilk have caused design in Denmark, the most destructive, most hideous, affliction to befall furniture, lighting, textile and accessory design in post-Viking Denmark is and was the dreaded Hygge. A condition so awful many ancient sages refer to it as H**** to protect the innocent form its full horror.

Whereby there isn’t, or shouldn’t be, anything to fear.

For centuries hygge was a word used by Danish speakers in their daily life as they would use any other; a word describing a certain conviviality, cosiness and comfort, physical and spiritual, in domestic arrangements; a word whose meaning was no less exceptional, problematic or terrifying than a great many similar words in a great many dissimilar languages. And a word forces outwith Denmark hijacked, a word they twisted and turned and forged beyond all recognition, disconnecting its use from the context in which it found itself and making it a definitive, contriving to transform the innocent, benign, hygge into the very essence of Danish society and culture, something exclusively and inherently Danish, that which made Danes the beautiful, sophisticated, elegant, enviable peoples they are, that which made Denmark a synonym for fulfilment and harmony, that which made Danish interiors the quintessence of comfort and well-being… all of which the fabricated Hygge maliciously promised non-Danes access to.

And non-Danes wanted the well-being and comfort of a Danish interior Hygge promised, wanted the meaningfulness and ease of a Danish life Hygge promised; and thus a collective mania broke out in the known lands of that period as people frantically sought to become imbued with the ways of Hygge, just as centuries earlier they had frantically sought to become imbued with the teachings of the eastern mystic Feng Shui, who promised a home every bit as personal and rewarding and enviable as Hygge now promised.

A collective mania fed by the all-powerful Influencers of Instagram, who while not primarily responsible for the genesis of Hygge, were very quick to realise its potential, and their incessant dissemination of Hygge amongst non-Danes not only fed Hygge but slowly began to infect Danes, for all members of the Han Del tribe, an ancient trading people who ever since the reign of King Mark Edsføring have been particularly sensitive to influences from outwith Denmark, and a people whom the nefarious, underhand, deceitful Hygge convinced that if an object, a location, a foodstuff, a colour, a material, a whatever couldn’t be defined in context of Hygge it wasn’t Danish. And no-one outwith Denmark would ever take any interest in it. And thus the Han Del of Denmark sought to out do one another with the amount of Hygge they promised was contained within, was inherent within, was the raison d’être of, their objects, locations, foodstuffs, colours, materials, whatevers….

A self-fulfilling Archimedean spiral was set in motion, spinning ever faster around its axis as global society sought ever more Hygge and the Han Del of Denmark sought to surpass that which it had previously supplied, the Influencers of Instagram were overjoyed and Hygge became ever larger, ever more monstrous.

And thus, as is recorded in the Caves of Lego, furniture, lighting, textile and accessory design in Denmark increasingly shifted from something focussed on contemporary Danish society to that which the Influencers of Instagram and the incessant hunger of Hygge demanded; increasingly became a static, idealised image of Denmark rather an active response to Danish realities against the background of global realities; increasingly became generalised narrative versions of a perceived Danishness, rather than something arising within Denmark. And ultimately became a generalised narrative version of a perceived Scandinavianness as the Influencers of Instagram increasingly blurred the borders of northern Europe, increasingly incorporated words such as lagom, koselig or fika, words every bit as innocuous and innocent as hygge, into Hygge, and in doing so denied the numerous tribes of northern Europe their independence and created a homogenous, easily definable, freely re-creatable, mass. The fabled land of Scandi that had been called into existence by King Mark Edsføring was born again on the mania of Hygge.

Yet despite the bleakness of the situation, despite the apparent invincibility of Hygge, as the sacred scrolls of Andersen’s Bøger record there were to be found pockets of resistance, were to be found voices who understood design as a cultural good not as a commercial resource; voices who understood the difference between the personal, subjective, hygge and the universal, definitive, Hygge; understood that hygge is a natural consequence of inter-related contexts at a given time in a give place, not a definable goal; understood that while Hygge is something you consume, hygge is something that develops organically and in connection with your individual needs, requirements, traditions, rituals, tastes and is certainly not something dependent on possession of the correct blanket, candlestick, sofa or sock, or indeed the possession any blankets, candlesticks, sofas or socks, that the key to any feeling of conviviality and comfort at home isn’t objects but emotions, not just emotions between the animals who occupy the space but between the animals and their objects, the emotional patina that develops from time spent together with animals and objects and spaces and which can’t be reproduced through purchasing something new. Nor through formulas. Voices who understood only an honest space can give rise to hygge.

Voices who understood that while hygge is something to be embraced, it is a Danish (and Norwegian) word to be used by Danish (and Norwegian) speakers, other languages have their own words for exactly the same concept. And every individual has their own understanding of the definition of whatever that word is, and can only understand that definition ipso facto, in the moment they discover it. A moment which can never be recreated post factum. But which can be rediscovered.

And voices who took encouragement from the great many Scandinavian creatives recorded in Andersen’s Bøger who bravely resisted Hygge, who openly challenged the tenets on which those outside forces had built their hideous Hygge, creatives such as Verner på Ton who asked, is design today art or styling? Do you want more individualism [in interiors] or is it about business or fashion? When you talk about a harmonious home, do you mean the interior design or the occupants? Why do people with so-called “good taste” agree so much about what is good?; creatives such L.N. Key who admonished that “nothing could be more unwise than to remodel my home according to any presumed “rules for beauty””, that “a room does not have a soul until someone’s soul is revealed in it, until it shows us what that someone remembers and loves, and how this person lives and works every day” and that it would “be as tasteless as it would be foolish to imitate the old cottages at Skansen”, regardless of how charming one finds them; creatives such as Et-lille Barn who bravely pronounced, “But he has nothing on”.

Creatives whose fight against Hygge is both ongoing and increasingly being taken up by younger generations of Scandinavian designers who slowly but surely are re-asserting the independence of design within the independent lands of Scandinavia, and giving local dialects to global positions and thereby encouraging design in Scandinavia to naturally evolve, as it must, if it is to remain relevant for future generations and not become a parody of what it once was.

And a fight aided and abetted in recent years through the development of numerous antidotes to Hygge, the most effective to date being Kalsarikännit, a Finnish discovery which reveals truths about the lands of Scandinavia, truths about Scandinavian lifestyles and domestic arrangements within Scandinavia the Influencers of Instagram would rather you didn’t know, and which through being as personal and non-monetisable as hygge in its natural form, but at much more extreme levels, allows for deeper appreciations of the difference between hygge and Hygge, and thus the chance to further combat the ravages of that most pestilent of conditions…….

…….à suivre

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