Want to live the hygge life? A couple in Vail, Colorado, can show you the ropes of this thoughtful lifestyle built around comfort, contentment, and conviviality.
Turns out, the American West is no stranger to the long-beloved Danish philosophy of hygge: the intentional creation of cozy and comfortable, very social surroundings for a well-lived life. As the Oxford English Dictionary describes it: “(from Danish) the quality of being warm and comfortable that gives a feeling of happiness.” But better than running to the dictionary, though, is a conversation with Alexandra Gove and Koen van Renswoude, the founders of Hygge Life in Vail, Colorado.
It all started in Vail, where Gove and van Renswoude first met in 2011. Despite their different upbringings and different cultures — she from Colorado, he from the Netherlands — the pair quickly found a shared desire to pursue a happy, intentional, slow lifestyle. Their mountain-town romance led to a move overseas, where they discovered their own talent for creating hygge environments and experiences.
Back in the States, devoted to each other and their shared passion for the hygge life, the idea for a home goods store was born. They opened the Hygge Life showroom in 2017 in its original Vail Valley location built around the realization that well-designed, grounded spaces and thoughtful objects could help cultivate that hygge feeling. They have since become nationally recognized experts in this design and lifestyle movement and have been covered by The New York Times, Dwell, Modern Luxury, goop, Real Simple, Forbes, and more. In 2019, Alexandra published Dwell, Gather, Be: Design for Moments, which chronicles the couple’s daily practice of hygge and their thoughtful home design practices.
C&I talked to Gove about the love story that led to the simple but revelatory lifestyle that begat a shop and café, blog and book, and, dare we say, happiness.
C&I: In a nutshell, what is hygge? And, please, how do you pronounce it?
Gove: In Danish, hygge (hoo-ga) is an adjective, a noun, and a verb — both a state of contentment and the opportunity to invite small moments of comfort and connection into your day. Rather than the common translation of “coziness,” we view it as a larger appreciation of the people and places that make us feel grounded, content, and at ease. Hygge design is not about perfection — it’s about creating a space that engages your senses and fosters a feeling of intimacy and warmth. Fun fact: Hygge is a verb in the Danish language, so you can actively pursue these cozy, warm moments. Invite your friends over to drink wine by the fire and hygge!
C&I: How did you arrive at hygge as a concept/philosophy to center your life, style, and business around?
Gove: After Koen and I met in Vail, we moved to his hometown of Amsterdam, where I first encountered the Northern European way of slow, intentional, thoughtful living — what the Dutch call gezelligheid. People were sitting down to drink their coffee! When I travelled to Copenhagen, I found hygge, and it quickly became clear that this way of life was needed back home in the U.S. — hence, Hygge Life was born.
Then in 2013, I traveled to Copenhagen with a dear friend in search of Danish design and inspiration. There were candles everywhere — in windows, cafes, and on every table; nooks with comfy pillows; timeless chairs; plenty of good food and wine; and genuinely happy people. First I felt hygge without knowing that the word existed, and then I discovered the word hygge, which sent sparks flying.
In Denmark, something as simple as a coffee or tea mug can make you smile. Things are made and spaces are designed thoughtfully yet simply and with hygge in mind. I became obsessed with hygge spaces and the moments and good feelings these spaces provided for people. I was completely fascinated by the warm hospitality and cozy intimacy of Northern European homes, restaurants, and shops. That discovery was the early inspiration for Hygge Life, though I didn’t yet know what form it would eventually take.
After Koen’s graduation from Hotelschool, we went on a three-month-long road-trip throughout France, Spain, and Switzerland in a vintage camper van we called the Hygge Bus. To pay for our trip we baked poffertjes (mini Dutch pancakes) and sold them at markets along the way. This trip conjures up all sorts of happy memories that will be with us forever, and it gave us so many ideas and so much inspiration for a future devoted to a simple, slow, intentional life.
Hygge is about designing for moments with quality and comfort in mind. Gove's and van Renswoude's Hygge Life showroom and cafe exemplify the philosophy in everything from the Tired Man Chair to lighting elements to the pastries they serve.
C&I: Some studies show that the happiest cultures are the ones that have learned to make the indoors cozy during cold winters and to enjoy the great outdoors in just about any weather. How do you bring hygge west?
Gove: There is a saying “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” The Danish (and Dutch) fully live by this. Bad weather doesn’t stop them from getting outdoors or hopping on their bikes. They are much more open to being uncomfortable for a small period of time and embracing bad weather to live healthy lives and continue a social life. While living in Amsterdam and visiting Copenhagen, I quickly noticed that even on cold days, as long as there was no rain, café patios were filled with people dressed in long jackets and thick scarves. And most were biking to and fro! They dressed for the weather and continued enjoying the outdoors no matter what the temperature.
Denmark and other Scandinavian countries are often rated the happiest countries in the world despite their long, dark winters. Meik Wiking, the author of The Little Book of Hygge, attributes some of this happiness to the practice of hygge. They create cozy, comfortable, warm spaces for themselves as a way to cope with the dark days. They light candles, drape sheepskins on their dining chairs, and indulge in comforting food and wine.
In the Western U.S., we are blessed with beautiful nature, mountains, sunshine, and wide-open skies. We don’t’ have as many dark, dreary days as Scandinavia, but we still need and appreciate cozy spaces. We have the ability to spend time outdoors comfortably most of the year, although we may need to build a fire and sit under a blanket. And there is nothing cozier than a night in by the fire on a snowy winter day. Most of us have been practicing hygge for all our lives but just didn’t have a word for it!
C&I: So hygge has already gone West!
Gove: Since we started Hygge Life and we began explaining hygge to our visitors, we hear again and again, “I’ve been practicing hygge my whole life — I just didn’t have a word for it!” Most of us have experienced and can appreciate these cozy moments, but the English language just hasn’t equipped us with the vocabulary to describe it, and our culture doesn’t necessarily value this art of slowing down.
Danish hygge may be sitting on a café terrace enjoying a glass of wine and pickled fish with your loved ones or having friends over for a candlelit feast during the cold, dark winter months. Hygge in the West could be sitting around a campfire with friends and making s’mores or taking a hike and bringing lunch for a mountaintop picnic. We all experience hygge in different ways around the world. It simply helps to have a word for it, so you intentionally appreciate and pursue these moments.
In America, we move fast, work long hours, and take our coffees to go. In Denmark, their workdays are short, and they enjoy their coffees “for here” in a café. Now that hygge has been added to the English Oxford Dictionary, we can start to use it! It’s helpful to have a word to describe a contented moment and to be able to reflect on a moment that already happened, or to plan a hygge meeting in the future — “Come over to my place tonight for a glass of wine and let’s hygge.”
C&I: How do you hygge in Colorado?
Gove: We live in the Rocky Mountains and are lucky to be surrounded by beautiful nature and 300 days of sunshine each year. In the summer, our hygge is going on hikes and bringing a picnic or sitting in the sun on our mountain-facing patio with a bottle of wine. In the winter months, snowy walks and days spent lounging or reading by the fire are some of our favorite (and most hyggelig) ways to spend the weekend. Nature has a way of fulfilling you just by witnessing its beauty.
Light — natural, electric, candle, fire — is central to the feel of hygge. Sheepskin and comfy textile throws add to the inviting atmosphere. "Slow," well-made furniture lends a timeless element. Incorporating nature inside and taking gatherings outside are other hallmarks. Shop the Hygge Life collection online at hyggelife.com.
C&I: Your hygge styling principles include timelessness, good quality, a human-centered focus, inviting lighting, designing for moments, and the use of natural materials. Tell use more about that.
Gove: It is not about decorating your home to perfection, but instead about finding things that speak to you, inspire you, remind you of wonderful moments and that you can share with all the people you love in your life. A hygge home is not about having a perfect home — it is about finding the home décor that speaks to you personally and creating a space that cultivates hygge.
We believe that a fulfilled life is made up of meaningful moments and that moments can be cultivated by spaces and by the company we keep. By creating hygge spaces — which takes time, intention, and thought—we can set the stage for hygge moments. Spaces come alive with intentional, soulful products that are thoughtfully designed and purposefully produced.
We carefully curate the brands and products based on the same principles. Our collection of home décor and furnishings is soulful, timeless, thoughtful, and tells a story. We value the relationships we have made with makers and vendors around the world.
C&I: Tell us about your book, Dwell, Gather, Be: Design for Moments. First, your choice of title is so fitting. Tell us about the meaning of that and what’s in the book.
Gove: I have always enjoyed reflecting on hygge, thoughtful home design, genuine connection, and differences in culture. Dwell, Gather, Be is all of this rolled into one. The first section, Dwell, is about how our homes fulfill our basic, everyday needs and how to make life’s everyday moments more special. The Gather section demonstrates the importance of connection with others and how to cultivate more of these meaningful moments at home. Finally, Be explores how to practice self-care at home and find presence of mind to be able to actually enjoy these moments. In each section, there are personal vignettes from my own life and experiences as well as thoughtful, intentional home design tips.
C&I: We’d love to visit you in Vail. Tell us about your showroom and café.
Gove: We opened the showroom in 2017 with a collection of furniture, lighting, home décor, and gifts from designers and makers across Scandinavia, Europe, and the U.S. We are honored to carry some of the most prominent Danish furniture brands, including PP Mobler, Finn Juhl, Carl Hansen & Son, GUBI, and Frederica. We started with just the shop and felt that something was missing. We created the café for our visitors to slow down, soak in the space, and experience a hygge moment. We encourage guests to come by to shop and to make time to sit down with a coffee or tea, whether alone or with a friend. One intentional decision to set the stage for those moments was to not offer Wi-Fi. The Café is a place to take a break from your screens.
C&I: Tell us about Hygge Life’s communal events. What does hygge have to do with a sense of community?
Gove: We started hosting Hygge Dinners before we even opened the store or the café. We created special hygge experiences along with amazing collaborators — chefs, musicians, florists, and bartenders. We love bringing people together around the dinner table, to connect and enjoy. Ultimately our goal is to help people experience hygge. And the dinners are a way to show how it might be done. We hope people will continue doing so at home with their loved ones. Beyond our Vail showroom, we also invite guests to join us at our café and seasonal dinners. These gatherings are an opportunity for us to create an immersive hygge experience, and to share simple ways that our guests can re-create that feeling in their own celebrations with family and friends. We would like to continue serving the community, through the showroom, events, and the café. We hope Hygge Life can really become a destination for people from all over Colorado and beyond.
Photography: Courtesy of Karen Mitchell
Want to hygge-ify your home and life? Here are some easy ways to get started.
Hygge is not about decorating your home to perfection, says Alexandra Gove of Hygge Life in Vail, Colorado. Instead, it’s about “finding things that speak to you, inspire you, remind you of wonderful moments, and that you can share with all the people you love in your life. A hygge home is not about having a perfect home — it is about finding the home decor that speaks to you personally and creating a space that cultivates hygge.”
Here’s Gove’s advice for getting hygge with it.
FOCUS ON LIGHTING. Lighting — particularly candlight — is a key element of hygge. Scandinavians use the most candles per capita in the world, so it’s clear they have mastered the art of hygge. The dim glow of candlelight or a fire immediately creates a hygge ambience and brings people into the present moment. Dimming the light also provides a beautiful and cozy warmth to any room.
ADD TEXTILES. During the winter months, add more textiles to your space. Warm up your home with soft, wooly textiles and sheepskins. Place these around your home for easy access — in a basket in the living room, on your favorite patio chair, and at the end of your bed. This way you are ready for a comforting, warm hygge moment whenever the need arises.
BRING THE OUTDOORS IN. Open your windows often. Freshen your space with freshly cut flowers or branches and fresh fruit and produce in the kitchen.
BE THOUGHTFUL/INTENTIONAL. Think about what you’re bringing into your home. Is it timeless? Do you really love it? Is it functional or does it serve a purpose? Will you want this in your home for years to come?
Want more Hygge Life fun? Get the official Hygge Poffertjes recipe, and shop hygge for your home.
This article appears in our January 2023 issue.
Showroom Photography: Courtesy of Lauren Defillipo
Dining Room Image: Courtesy of Paula Bartosiewicz