The Idealist

Idealist Hot Topic: Lagom

Scandinavia leads the world when it comes to quality of living. The relaxed kingdom of Sweden, and its closest neighbours Denmark, Norway and Finland, have much to teach the world about living in balance with the environment, the self and each other.

In recent years those lessons have found expression in the Danish concept of hygge, which has taken the design and lifestyle sectors by storm. Loosely translated as “cosy”, as in we all need a little bit more of knitted socks, cushioned surfaces and warm lighting to brighten the dark days of winter, it’s been all over the high street lately. Another warming idea that has gained traction in the English-speaking world is fika, a Swedish term for a twice daily communal coffee and cake break.

For 2017, both of these ideas are being overshadowed by another typically Nordic idea – lagom.

The word itself is Swedish, but the concept is universal. It means not too much, not too little – just right. And it applies to all aspects of daily living, from food preparation to working out to clothing to the car and the weather. The word derives from the phrase “laget om”, which literally means “around the team”. Lagom represents moderation, the middle way, what’s appropriate, what’s sustainable. It also suggests that contentment derives from a sense that things are sufficient just as they are.

What does it mean for design and interiors?

In the absence of lagom to guide us, many of us have already been striving for a more sustainable approach to interior design. That objective takes shape in looking closely at the component parts and provenance of the objects and furnishings we choose. There is a new interest in furniture built from reclaimed or salvaged materials, or renewable wood products such as cork, bamboo, and acacia. Re-purposed scraps from the great age of manufacturing has even driven entire trends such as industrial chic. Rough edges and natural surfaces have never been more popular. Minimalism never really went out of style, but it is back with a vengeance under lagom’s influence.

The lagom idea also challenges how architecture and built spaces address human scale and basic needs. Could a multi-use living or dining small space serve our family better than grand single purpose rooms? Can rooms be designed to use less energy to heat and light? Can they be constructed from environmentally friendly products that are easier on both the planet and our personal health?

Lagom finds virtue in more mindful behaviours. What is this chair made of and who made it? Why have five chairs when one perfect, just right chair will do? Does what I’m wearing or where I live make me happy? These questions are not new but they are still very worth the asking. Perhaps the most challenging and useful aspect of the lagom philosophy is its insistence on self reflective thinking about everyday objects and habits. We’re looking forward to seeing all the beauty and comfort and innovation that will result as designers take the idea and run with it.

Top Five Tips for Living with Lagom

  1. Get rid of what you don’t use or need. Baroque excess has been out for awhile, but lagom really lays that aesthetic to rest in favour of minimalism, everything in its place, and an ethos of quality over quantity.
  2. Find new ways of doing things. Share. Lagom finds contemporary expression in the barter system, book, instrument, or tool libraries, and the so-called sharing economy, which has disrupted everything from taxi service to the hotel business.
  3. Source sustainably to reduce footprints and minimize energy consumption. In the home that translates to choices like switching from incandescent to energy conserving LED lightbulbs, turning down the heat and piling on the blankets, growing vegetables on the balcony, and similar eco-friendly initiatives.
  4. What would IKEA do? IKEA launched their Live Lagom campaign back in 2014 and their furniture and interiors designs reflect that ethos on a global scale with flat-packing, democratic pricing, and the use of sustainable materials. Look to the Swedish housewares chain as they partner with the University of Surrey’s centre for environment and sustainability, and Hubbub, an educational charity, to get the word out.
  5. Make it a daily practice. Because, at its heart, it’s about moderation and balance, lagom makes no bold claims or immediate demands. Doing something small, every day, to de-clutter, consume responsibly and mindfully, or live well is all that’s required.

Lagom is not an exotic or utopian objective – it’s really and sensibly about living in moderation and in harmony with the world around us. And it dovetails neatly with a rising awareness of climate change and the consequences of unfettered consumerism. Smartly Nordic yes, but there’s a little lagom already in all of us. It’s the stuff of fairy stories and children’s cautionary tales everywhere: when you surround yourself with just enough, when things are just right, contentment follows.

  • Joan is an interior design project planner and freelance writer from Boston Massachusetts who lives with her husband and two bulldog terriers outside Wellfleet on Cape Cod.

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