Let’s start with the etymology. What do the words themselves teach us about how to make a room cozy?
There is a connection to the Norwegian words kose seg, meaning “to bask, to enjoy oneself, to be cozy”, and koselig, which loosely translates to “coziness.” The OED doesn’t recognize this connection, however. It says that the word came through Scots Gaelic, colsie. It may also have connections with cosh, which meant “quiet, snug, comfortable,” or in noun form “a cottage or hovel.” (Source: wordnik.com)
So, a cottage (shoutout to #cottagecore), a small and snug one, in which one basks and enjoys oneself.
You may have noticed that it’s sometimes spelled “cosy.” For a long time, I thought that the version with an s was the noun — that it referred to the thing you put around a teapot to keep it warm. This usage, in fact, underlines the use of “cozy” to mean “close-fitting.” The platonic cozy room is not spacious. It closes in around you like a hug.
Anyway, it turns out that this is just a British (s version) vs American (z version) variant. They have been different since about 1830, but the American usage really took off in 1970. What happened then that made us concerned with coziness?
I might have thought that it had to do with decorating trends — which is certainly true today, as we will see with hygge — but long before that, in 1876, the OED recognized a cosy seat as “a canopied seat for two, occupying a corner of a room”; and in 1894, a cosy corner was “an upholstered seat which fits into the corner of a room” or “such a corner, cosily furnished.” Sounds like today’s reading nooks!
The Latin word for “cosy” was *commodus*: accommodating, convenient, comfortable. A related word is *promptus*, meaning “ready.” Do we think of a cozy room as one which is ready for us? Perhaps it is ready to receive us after a long day, ready for us to relax in it.
We can also cozy up to someone, meaning to become socially close or intimate with them, sometimes with ulterior motives.
From Old Danish snøg, meaning “neat, tidy.” Certainly an important component in cozy decorating!
Snug in English was originally a nautical term, and it meant that a boat was “compact, trim,” and “protected from the weather.” A cozy space is definitely small, compact, and being protected from the weather — literal and metaphorical — is essential.
Eventually, in British English, there evolved a snuggery, which was, according to the OED, a warm, comfortable place or position; a small and cozy room, “into which a person retires for seclusion or quiet; a bachelor’s den.” Another meaning is “the bar-parlour of an inn or public-house.”
Before the idiom snug as a bug in a rug came about, you would have been snug as a bee in a box (hat tip to wordnik.com again).
This one is easy to track; it comes straight from Latin. But the connection between the old and modern meanings is interesting. Fortis means “strong”; com or con was a prefix intensifying a word. So that which is comfortable gives you strength. How did it evolve into meaning soft, well-fitting, and so on? Does it make you feel stronger after you spend time in a cozy space or when you wear clothes that fit?
“Comfort” doesn’t just mean physical pleasantries, as in the comforts of your lifestyle. You can also comfort a grieving friend and give them strength to get through their troubles. Can your furnishings and surroundings alleviate your emotional pains?
In Old Danish, this actually meant “to think, consider.” Perhaps this connected to a place where one is safe and warm and can take a moment to think!
Today, as a noun, it means “coziness” — although not just coziness, as any Google search will be happy to tell you. As a verb, it means to enjoy oneself, just like kose seg above; in fact, in modern Danish, koselig is used more often.
Hyggelig can be part of a greeting. Hyggeligt at møde dig means “nice to meet you.” In this phrase, hyggeligt means “nice, cozy, pleasant, friendly”, even “awesome”.
Hygge may have a linguistic connection to “hug” (Old English hugge) but we aren’t sure. It can have a connotation of “closed in, even to the point of excluding others.” Think of yourself in your warm, cozy home, excluding the dark Scandinavian winter.
So, what do we get from these various histories and definitions?
- Safety; a sense of being sheltered, insulated from weather or bad things; warmth, physically and emotionally
- Intimacy; closeness of the area around you and with people; cuddling
- Happiness; cheerfulness, conviviality, contentment; hedonism but in a sort of quiet way
- Ease; mellowness, convenience, relaxing
- Ordinariness; the everyday, but charming
Coziness in Your Decor
We have, as humans, evolved some deep associations with “safety” and “comfort.” For example, we may feel more comfortable when surrounded by natural textures, such as wood and fur. Fur is also soft and warm, as are wool and cashmere. You might try some blankets or soft rugs, or perhaps some plush pillows.
The place where you sit should envelop you; you should be sinking into your couch and able to pull a blanket around you. Keep a basket of blankets and thick socks nearby, if your climate permits it. Consider flannel sheets for your bed.
None of this means that you are stuck with the “natural neutrals” palette, though! If bright colors are comforting to you, go all-out! Try not to get too hectic, as it’s easy for colors to get overwhelming. But if you love a good teal or yellow, bring it in!
Fire counts as a “natural texture.” It’s warm, of course; you can also use it to make your surroundings smell nice — that is, you can light a candle. Baking or plant-based scents would be my go-to, but you may have your own preferences.
In general, firelight is the effect to go for in lighting: many small, yellow-toned lights, rather than one bright blue one. So string lights, a few small directional lamps.
In the daytime, natural lighting via a window is nice, as long as your view is not stressful. Having the window open is even better: you get a nice scent that way, too. A reading chair by a window is ideal.
Speaking of reading: make sure you have easy access to things like your books, the things you want to use often. Don’t put a lot of clutter in front of them; don’t put your TV at a weird angle from your couch. And have those books organized, so that you don’t waste time looking for the one you want when you could be reading!
Layers are important. It’s the easiest way to give your space the lived-in, cozy look we want, as if you’ve been occupying this little cottage for years and built up your nest around you, layer by layer. Blankets are the fastest way to layer — drape them at different angles over your couch and chair — and area rugs are another good option, and you can even use tapestries and woven wall-hangings. These help with literal insulation against cold and noise, too!
You can also layer accessories. I’m not saying make it crowded and cluttered, though. Remember: it’s not clutter if you love it. By “accessories” I mean objects that remind you of people and places that you love. Handmade stuff carries the most meaning, of course, but any gifts or souvenirs will work.
“Clutter” would mean extraneous things. There should be nothing that exists in your house just because Pottery Barn or Pinterest said it should. Chairs are for sitting in, shelves are to show off your collections, and tables are for setting warm drinks (and maybe feet!) on.
Flower arrangements are also good touches. You can also have houseplants, if you feel up to caring for them. You can use dried flowers in arrangements — I’m not a fan of “silks” or artificial flowers, but if you like them, please use them. And don’t forget that you can use some flowers even in winter! Look for ones that have “winter interest” such as seed pods and so on.
Warm drinks! It counts as “decor” if it sets the mood. I would suggest tea, hot chocolate, or soup for this function; caffeinated drinks will make you anxious and want to move around, and alcohol has . What we want here is a slow, almost decadent effect. So drink your drink slowly, too!
It’s good to have seating (and drinks) for multiple people, but I don’t mean a huge sectional. Just enough chairs for a few people, however many you feel comfortable with at one time. Try to angle them so that you could all watch a movie, but also you should all be able to talk, or do something together like a game or a craft. Coziness is manifested in real physical objects like games and making things, not in digital media.
Notes for Spoonies and Other Considerations
There is an emphasis in “hygge culture” on being with your loved ones. And I’m not saying it’s not pleasant or important to be in good company.
But you can be in a cozy comfy room while you’re online with your friends who live far away. You can have a cozy room to read in by yourself, and insulate yourself from the noise (literal and emotional) of the world.
Also, your pets count. It’s about “connection” but you can connect to yourself or your world.
For spoonies: that big house sweater and your ”no one’s going to see me” hoodie and your soft socks? Perfect. Get those flannel sheets and the good jammies. If you’re always cold, know that just making your surroundings “warmer” as in colors and lighting and mood will help you feel warmer in your body also.
And don’t worry about pressuring yourself to get all this redecorating done fast: coziness involves slowing down, specifically resting and NOT hustling. Do it as you feel it.
Don’t Just Decorate It — Feel It
Think of this as your ideal: Go outside into a bitter cold winter day, and then come back inside. Get into thick dry socks and a blanket, and get a warm drink to wrap your hands around. Feel your body as your temperature rises, the warmth in your toes and cheeks and nose.
Take a deep breath and relax your shoulders. Look around and think, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
That’s coziness. If you can’t take that slow moment and that deep breath, it’s not cozy; it’s just stifling.
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