Is Lagom the New Hygge? Why the Swedish Concept of “Perfect-Simple” Is a Design Strategy to Live By
Ojai-based Swedish designer Isabelle Dahlin shares her secrets for creating a perfectly balanced “lagom” home.
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It’s been a while since hygge, the Scandinavian word for warm and cozy, seeped into our lexicon, and anyone familiar with the term can hardly look at a sheepskin or a handmade ceramic cup of hot cocoa without trying to pronounce the word. But to designer Isabelle Dahlin, interior designer and owner of three Dekor shops (in Los Angeles, Ojai, and New York) the term from her childhood in Sweden that best communicates the timeless appeal of Northern European design is lagom, which translates to “just enough,” “balanced,” or “perfect-simple.”
“It’s not just a design word,” Dahlin explains. “When you order a coffee, for example, and they ask how much milk you’d like, you can say lagom, or just enough. If someone asks you how you’re feeling, you can say lagom, too, meaning just right, balanced.”
Dahlin, who now calls Ojai, CA home, has taken many of the principles of Swedish country living and incorporated them into her design practice. Her eye is drawn to simple, useful things, matte surfaces (nothing glossy or shiny), and vintage items that have a well-worn patina.
“I’m not big on material things, but if you wake up in the morning in a room you love, you’re going to have a better day,” says Dahlin. “I want a house to feel like it has harmony and balance, that there isn’t too much clutter and that the color palette is simple.”
A collection of spindle-back dining chairs around a second-hand table is lagom. Clean, white-oak floors with vintage rugs is subtle colors scattered around is lagom. Finding some chipped metal outdoor chairs and resisting the urge to paint them is very lagom. You can incorporate color and pattern and still feel very lagom, as long as you use them in a restrained way.
“A bunch of different patterns competing for your attention isn’t calming,” says Dahlin. “I like to keep a color palette simple, painting walls with Benjamin Moore White Dove, and using shades of soft blue and gray as accents.”
Swedish rag rugs, handmade from worn-out clothing, vintage wooden bread boards, chunky handmade ceramics, an old butcher block, modern art with a folksy touch, blue and white tile—all of these things make it onto Dahlin’s hit list.
“If you’re thinking about re-doing your living room, the lagom thing to do would be to keep harmony in mind, not to much or too little, and choose things that feel clean, calm, relaxing, and balanced,” she says. “Think about how much you need and don’t buy more. I don’t like perfection. Nothing in life is perfect. Embrace that and you’ll have a happier home.”
Dahlin at home in Ojai