Cozy Spaces and Nordic Design Find a Home in the Vail Valley
When the term hygge—a Danish word (pronounced hoo-ga) that roughly translates as "cozy"—first started trending across the cyber world about two years ago (with magazines like The New Yorker and Country Living publishing articles on the Scandinavian lifestyle movement) Alexandra Gove and Koen Van Renswoude took notice. After all, the two—Gove, a born-and-raised Coloradan, and Van Renswoude, a native of the Netherlands—had already spent time a few years back traversing Europe in a 1971 Opel Blitz branded with "Hygge Life" on its side panels, dishing up miniature Dutch pancakes from their hatchback, blogging about their adventure, and brainstorming what would come of their fledgling business. The central philosophy behind hygge had been magnetic for Gove since the couple had relocated from Vail (where they met in 2012) to Van Renswoude's Amsterdam hometown, where the Dutch have their own word—gezelligheid—to describe the same idea for cultivating coziness and contentedness. "Living in Europe, I noticed and appreciated the way everyone would slow things down and have real moments," she explains. "They'd linger at the table or at a café having coffee, and family and friends were more important than, 'go, go, go!' It was having a moment—being really comfortable either by yourself or with friends and family, and all these countries had words for it."
Around the same time, Gove was starting to feed her budding interest in interior design, traveling to trade shows in Denmark, collecting textiles in Turkey, and scouring flea markets around Europe, exporting her finds to Colorado and selling (and selling out of) them at venues like the Denver Flea, and the online shop that had blossomed from their Hygge Life blog. "I always had an appreciation for spaces and design," says Gove. "And whenever I walked into a space that made me feel comfortable and at home—not just brand new furniture out of a magazine, but a space that feels curated, and filled with things that fulfilled a need and a purpose—it just felt so much more intentional. It was more things that I loved and saw in Europe that we just didn’t have at home, and I wanted to bring it back."
It was around then (in late 2016) that Gove and Van Renswoude noticed that hits on their site were spiking as people searched for "hygge," with a writer from The New York Times even stumbling across their blog and shop in a trend piece about an American infatuation with the cozy contentedness that people like Gove and Van Renswoude were selling (although, the couple is quick to point out that you can't really sell hygge, but you can cultivate a space around it). The material side of things might have driven a flurry of sales (one that wiped them out of inventory in a matter of days after the Times article was published), but according to Gove, the interest all stemmed from what first drew her to the underlying philosophy behind the term. "Between 2016 and 2017, something like 20-plus books were published on 'hygge'," she says. "Scandinavian countries are always rated some of the happiest in the world, and I think countries like the US and the UK have a very fast-paced culture, and it was more people starting to look for ways to get back what was really important, and hygge was kind of an answer to that."
With online sales surging, last summer the two decided to return to Vail, where they spent the last two summers tending a booth at the Vail Farmers' Market and Art Show, and establish a bricks-and-mortar storefront along Highway 6 in Eagle-Vail, where big, bright windows (complemented by Van Renswoude's sketches of Copenhagen's canal-front row homes) open on a showroom packed with soft-colored throws, plush sheepskins, salt rock candle holders, clay teapots, and other handmade gifts. "I think one of the major elements of a hygge product for us is the natural element of it," says Gove. "There’s not thousands of the exact same thing, everything is a little different because it's a natural material, or handmade, so every one is just a little different and you feel like this is my special piece."
The two have bigger plans for bringing hygge to the Vail Valley, including a coffee nook they hope to open by this coming winter to their retail space, and a series of pop-up Hygge Dinners, where they'll work with local restaurants to plan multi-course meals in intimate settings for hygge neophytes to experience what it's like to really slow down for an evening (they teased their dinner series this past March to a sold-out venue at The Rose in Edwards). Gove and Van Renswoude explain that simple things—like finding a favorite mug to fill with that morning cup of coffee, lighting a candle when you settle in for the night, or taking the time to set the table before dinner—helps cultivate an at-home sense of hygge. But to really understand what that means, you have to experience it. "We don’t have a direct translation to hygge, cozy comes close but it doesn’t really capture it. For us, it means those moments that you’re just really content, you don’t want to be anywhere else, you’re just in the moment enjoying it," says Gove from a knit blanket-covered corner of the store as shoppers filter in and out. "When’s the last time you’ve had a moment like that, truly?" 41149 Highway 6, Avon, 303-725-0431; hyggelife.com