Life’s most precious moments are spent in the company of people you cherish. Most will confidently agree that life is richer and more fulfilling when it is shared with others; in fact, a number of studies show that our deep, meaningful connection with others make us happier people. No matter the culture, the level of formality, or the setting of the gathering, it is apparent that it is a human need to find ways to connect and gather with others. In your own home, you can thoughtfully design spaces to encourage opportunities to gather and facilitate moments of connection with family, friends, and neighbors.
Whenever I visited my grandmother’s home, she always offered me a cup of tea immediately upon my arrival. I thought this gesture was unique to my grandmother, but when I lived in Europe, I quickly realized that this cultural gesture of hospitality was universally embraced. I learned to accept a beverage whether I was thirsty or not, because to accept was as much a part of the gesture as the offer. To accept the drink was to allow the host to welcome me into his or her space; it marked the beginning of our time together. As the teacup or wine glass passed from the host’s hands to my own, I found that anything I was doing or thinking beforehand would evaporate and I would find myself present and ready to enter into a new moment of connection.
Consider offering a welcome drink whenever you have guests in your home. Over the holidays, create a household signature holiday cocktail and offer this to your guests as they arrive. On especially cold days, this could be a cup of cider or cocoa with a splash of schnapps or baileys or it could be a refreshing gin cocktail with wintry herbs and berry grannies. And a glass of champagne is sure to get everyone into a celebratory mood.
The dining table—whether found in a formal dining room or a cozy kitchen nook—is where we find nourishment. It is where we spend time each day to fuel our bodies, where we break bread together, feeding ourselves both literally and also in how we find togetherness and a sense of community. Koen and I love to spend time together with our family and friends, as most people do, and we find that our most enjoyable times together usually take place inside a home, gathered around a dining table. When we bring guests to the table in our own home, we strive to incorporate many of the elements from our Hygge Table dinners. Whether it’s your immediate family gathering for a weeknight meal or a larger gathering of extended friends and family, it is surely worthwhile to make your dining space comfortable and inviting, conducive to enjoy the time spent at the table and with one another. Such a space gently encourages those gathered to be present in the moment, focused on each other, engaged in sharing their thoughts through conversation.
While Koen loves to cook, my favorite part of preparing for a meal is setting the table. I relish creating an atmosphere suitable for the type of food that will be served, who will be sitting around the table, and what the occasion or season is. We have a tucked-away kitchen cabinet filled with tablecloths, cloth napkins, candleholders, and other special pieces like antique silver spoons, cheese knives, and so on. Our collection continues to grow as we fall in love with special pieces on our travels, items almost always found while perusing flea market stands or shopping in small, local boutiques. While certain items—like Koen’s grandmother’s crystal champagne couples—are kept for truly special celebrations, I try to use the items in this cabinet as often as possible, even when it’s just a weeknight meal with the two of us. The table isn’t decked out with décor for every meal but taking the time to intentionally create an atmosphere is incredibly satisfying, even if as simple as a casual home meal where everyone fills a big ceramic bowl with a hearty soup from the stove and sits around the table sharing a bottle of red wine with big, sturdy spoons and a single lit candle.
Seating around the dining table should be comfortable enough to allow for long conversations and lingering at the table. Chairs needn’t be upholstered to be comfortable, in fact, bench seating creates a feeling of togetherness and is an easy way to make a table feel cozier.
Whether a table has chairs or benches, we often like to add sheepskin rugs to our seating. The padding and softness increase the cozy factor even more and add a feeling of casual luxury to the dining experience.
For us, the best dining table lighting is candlelight. In our home, a meal doesn’t go by without a candle being lit. Our table invariably features some combination of taper candles, pillar candles, or even tealights in tiny holders. Lighting a candle marks a moment—in means that you will be there, in that particular space, for a length of time. This acknowledgment prompts you to slow down and enjoy that time. We find that the act of lighting a candle helps us to release any preoccupations and let go of distractions and focus on enjoying a meal together.
When we are expecting friends for dinner, we invariably use the last minutes before they arrive to make sure that everything is ready: the bathroom is clean, the temperature is comfortable, hors d'oeuvres are prepared, the table is prepped, and wine glasses are ready. It can be tempting to seek perfection, to “entertain,” but we try to not put this pressure on ourselves. More often than not, we find that the personal details—the imperfections that show our home is lived in—are what make our guests feel truly at home and comfortable.
Have you ever been a guest in a home where absolutely nothing is out of place? Although you might feel a little envious if you’re drawing a comparison to your own lived-in space, a “perfect” home can feel intimidating, even sterile. This may even inhibit your ability to truly connect—after all, who identifies with perfect? On the other hand, a pair of shoes tossed in a corner or a stack of newspaper near an armchair will show that your home is alive, in use.
Inviting others into your home requires a certain level of vulnerability. After all, your home reflects so many aspects of you – your tastes, interests, values, even your financial status. If home is where the heart is, then to open your home to someone is to open your heart to them. Allowing people into your space is one way to forge meaningful connections and ultimately, fulfilling relationships.
Some excerpts from my book: Dwell, Gather, Be: Design for Moments.