Life in Denmark

Danish lighting

Lena Hunter
September 6th, 2023

How Danish are you? Do you have a Poul Henningsen lamp or not?

Photo: Conrad Molden

One culture shock one always gets when leaving Denmark, is just how poorly lit the rest of the world really can be.

It’s the much overlooked aspect of any interior design, except when it comes to the Danes. This country has built a philosophy around lighting and hygge candles are the tip of the iceberg.

Poul Henningsen, Arne Jacobsen and Vernon Panton have become household names in Denmark by illuminating an often dark and dreary country with a world of light from their lamps.

Their creations have been making the houses here extremely hyggelig for over a hundred years. And somehow, magically, everyone from bedstemor all the way down to SU student Rasmus, has at least one of their majestic works in their lejlighed.

You’ll first experience these lamps when your Danish friends invite you over for dinner. (As an international this will take anywhere between 3 and 5 years of being in the country.) Once welcomed into the home, having taken off your shoes and given a stuetemperatur can of Tuborg Classic you’ll see the lamps.

Around the apartment different lamps at different heights will be defining the vibes in all areas. The general vibe will be: extremely hyggelig (except right next to the cooker where the light source is coming from the emhætte; not Danish design but very necessary – a rare example of function over form.)

A very hyggelig afdeling will be the dining table. Here, designer lamps will be so low they’re actually blocking your view of the food. Sometimes so low that their dome-like shapes will actually almost cover the plates like a silver serving tray from a Michelin-star restaurant. Don’t say anything. You may soon find out that your host is in-fact a Michelin-star restaurateur.

Of course, it’s Denmark, so you won’t be told by them (they’re so humble you thought they were on A-kasse) but by their friend Signe, in a private, well-lit corner.

If they aren’t a Michelin-star chef the lighting will thankfully serve a secondary purpose: making traditional Danish food appear edible. Tak for mad.

You can see why lighting is so important when you spend a solar calendar year in Denmark. Despite orbiting around the sun, Denmark somehow has a blanket of cloud orbiting directly between it and any kind of light penetration.

Of course there is a good day here and there (sometimes called “summer”) but generally the inhabitants get used to a type of weather know simply as: the grey. And that’s where designer lighting comes in to save the day. One isn’t at home, in the dark, weeping. No, no. They’re sitting in a hyggekrog under warm orange light with a kop kaffe having a cosy time.

These hyggekrogs, little nooks for sitting with a book (stereotypically a book about the royal family, rye bread or just farming) are absolutely everywhere because of low light temperature lamps.

As you look away from the dinner table you’ll spot them all around their apartment. They’ll each be decorated with an iconic designer lamp (and too often an IKEA rip-off) which call one to come over and just start hyggeing.

If your bank account is drained but you do need to invite your Danish friends over for your dinner party (be sure to organise this in advance, their first free in week 29, 2024) don’t despair.

No need to visit the auction house; use the well-trodden path of candles. Any dreary international’s apartment can be transformed by lighting a few of them and turning off the big lights.

Despite the darkness the philosophy of hyggelig lighting will grow upon anyone who stays here long enough. Without it we’d all be weeping with rain outside the window, rather than tucked up in a blanket with Kim Larsen playing on Spotify.


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