Brontë Aurell left Denmark years ago to explore the world, but throughout her travels, she has remained fascinated with her kinfolk. Brontë’s fourth book, North: How to Live Scandinavian, is a humorous but incisive look at what it means to be Scandinavian. She is a food writer, and television and radio guest chef, as well as the co-founder of ScandiKitchen, a café, grocery shop, online store and wholesale business. We sit down with the author to discuss the concept of ‘hygge’ and what we can learn from the Scandinavian way of life.

What was the inspiration behind the book?

For ten years I’ve been writing our blog posts for ScandiKitchen – all about how to be more Scandinavian in your everyday life. It became so popular that we decided to write it all in a book. Then Anna Jacobsen came onboard to take the photos, and the result is a beautiful book that hopefully gives people a sense of what we Scandis are really like, both visually and culturally. It even has a chapter on how we slice cheese and how to annoy us.

What is Hygge?

Hygge is the state of mind that you can find when you are with people you love (or even alone) – a space where time doesn’t matter, where there are no outside disruptions from phones or internet. Where you can just ‘be’ and feel content. It costs nothing, it requires nothing – except your presence and your appreciation of it as it happens.

In three easy steps, how can we feel more Hygge in our lives?

Hygge cannot be forced, but it can be encouraged. Switching off your phone, creating a comfortable atmosphere and maybe adding some snacks or treats all help. Anything that sets a scene for a nice, comfortable time. On a winter’s evening, perhaps this is a few candles and a glass of wine with friends. Maybe it’s ‘Netflix and chill’ with a bowl of candy and your best mate. Or alone. Maybe it’s wrapping up in a nice blanket or even going camping and sitting in the rain in a tent sharing a packet of biscuits with your kids. There are no phones, no outside influences – just appreciating the moment while you’re in it. That’s hygge.

Hygge is about appreciating the moment while you are in while you are in it.

How would you describe the Scandinavian sense of style?

In one word: Lagom. Lagom is Swedish for not too much, not too little – just right. It is an undefinable amount, but it is very important. It resonates in everything Scandinavians do. Lagom is not having two cinnamon buns but stopping at one. Lagom is pizza for lunch, salad for dinner – it’s all about balance. Lagom is a practical car. Lagom is functional design (from a Danish designer table to Ikea – it’s all lagom, because there are no unnecessary ‘extras’ and it fits the purpose). Our fashion is definitely lagom too because our style is never excessive – we like practical and stylish. Our houses are practical and not cluttered. We rarely do ornaments, because they rarely serve a purpose.

Tell us more about the art of fika.

Fika means to meet up for a cup of coffee and a snack, often a cinnamon bun or similar. It can be both a verb and a noun – you can fika with someone or meet for a fika. You can fika with your best friend, your mum or even go on a fika date (very casual). You fika twice a day with colleagues, too.

What is the best advice you’ve been given?

“Keep the main thing as the main thing”. My old boss used to say this over and over. I get distracted easily, so I hear these words in my head a lot! And “if you’re more than 70% sure, go for it”. Risks are good, but I prefer somewhat calculated ones with a bit of gut-feel thrown in.

I was never one to parade around in shoes that didn’t fit just because they were the right colour. I am absolutely all about feeling happy in my clothes.

Do you have a go-to outfit that always makes you feel confident?

I do! I’m quite a casual person – my favourite pair of jeans, my favourite boots, a nice blazer and a scarf and I’m ready for the day. I feel confident when I feel relaxed.

Can you describe a time when you have felt empowered?

There’s a few… the publication day of my first book, when I stood up in front of 500 people as a founding member of the Women’s Equality party, and the moment I set up my own little t-shirt ‘label’ called #ProudImmigrant almost by accident – we have sold over 500 t-shirts so far just by wearing them (they were never made to be sold, it just happened organically and because people asked).

I’m an immigrant and I am proud of it. I still wear those #ProudImmigrant t-shirts every week and I get hugs from strangers (and questions, too). It’s a good dialogue.

Author portrait by Etienne Photography
All other photography by Anna Jacobsen