It's easy to be charmed and intrigued by Scandinavian terms and concepts such as "hygge" and Swedish Death Cleaning. If you've yet to be introduced to lagom, another buzzy word on the block, today's the day. Lagom is one of Sweden's philosophical contributions that works just as wonderfully in homes as it does in other aspects of life.
But simply knowing these terms (or only vaguely hearing them in passing) isn't super helpful when it comes to actually applying them to your living spaces. To get a better understanding of what lagom is, and how it can be worked into your home this year, we spoke with Niki Brantmark, an expert on the subject and the author of "Lagom: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life."
Meet the Expert
Niki Brantmark is a writer and interior stylist. She is the author of "Lagom, The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life."
What Is Lagom and Where Does It Come From?
While Google Translate might tell you differently, it's hard to define lagom in one word in English. "Lagom is a Swedish word that can loosely be translated as ‘not too much and not too little,'" explains Brantmark. "It’s about finding a balance that’s just right for you."
Think of it as the happy medium between minimalism and cluttered spaces. Extreme organization and disordered spaces can both be overwhelming, and for many, it's unrealistic that a neat and tidy system is always doable. Lagom appreciates the items you value without letting them become messy or restrict you too tightly. This perfect share or "helping" of things didn't just randomly appear in pop culture terminology—it goes way back.
Brantmark notes it may be connected to the term "laget om" (which translates to "around the team") and dates back to the era of Vikings. "It’s said a bowl of mead would be passed around in a circle and it was important that everyone only sipped their fair share so there was enough to go around," she says. "Today the word lagom is heavily ingrained in Swedish society."
Hygge vs. Lagom
One of the biggest misconceptions that comes up about lagom is its frequent mix-up with hygge. "Lagom is not to be confused with the Danish word hygge—which means coziness and comfortable conviviality," says Brantmark.
Hygge is a Danish word, and it relates more to the feeling and atmosphere one would receive in a blanket-laden room, filled with candles and cozy objects (and possibly a cameo from a blazing fireplace). That's not to say a space that applies lagom can't be cozy, but the words don't mean the same thing. Lagom focuses more on finding equilibrium in a space.
Bringing Lagom Into Your Home
Lagom isn't a restrictive concept, therefore it can be used in homes of many different design styles. There are no hard and fast rules, but the overarching goal is to create a space you feel good in that isn't full of stuff that will both literally and figuratively cramp your living areas.
"Start with looking at your possessions—do you have items that you neither use nor like?" says Brantmark. "If so, eliminate those so you can focus on the pieces that help to make your home a comfortable, practical, and pleasing place to be. Think about the areas in your home you love to be in and those you don’t and then carefully audit the latter."
She suggests simple tasks like rethinking the layout of a room, adjusting where furniture is placed, and refreshing the colors you decorate with, all of which can transform "unused corners of your home into your favorite spots."
Lagom in Palettes and Decor
"The beauty of lagom is that it’s truly personal—what might be too much for some, might be just right for others," says Brantmark. "Our Scandinavian friends tend to exercise a huge amount of restraint."
She emphasizes what many know to be true of Scandinavian design favorites: white, light, and neutral, earthy palettes and curated decorative items and furniture are all of high importance. A combination of these leads to homes that feel well-styled but neat and add to "a serene feel and brighten up the dark winters."
That being said, if a more eclectic look resonates best with you or you can't bear to part with all your favorite books, don't worry. It's still possible to create a cohesive, lagom-friendly space that still feels true to you. Lagom may be a big part of Scandinavian-inspired designs, but it can make an appearance in homes that aren't minimalist-focused or don quiet hues, too.
Brantmark's suggestions are perfect jumping-off points for creating a room that encapsulates lagom, and it really comes down to making a space look balanced in your eyes. If you're searching for things that may be worth steering clear of, Brantmark has tips covering that topic, too.
"Nothing is superfluous, with no frills or over-the-top designs," explains Brantmark. "Shelves aren’t overcrowded. Instead, single items are given breathing space so you can see the beauty of every piece. As a result, Scandinavian homes tend to be a wonderful oasis of calm!"
As lagom describes best, homes are a balancing act. These tips and the general meaning behind the Swedish word will help you navigate decorating a space that embraces these ideas.