Aimee Lagos and Christiana Coop have had entrepreneurial instincts since the early years of their lifelong friendship. After attending separate law schools, the two ended up at the same law firm in Chicago. After a while, they were looking for a change. With Lagos moving to Minneapolis and Coop in the Bay Area, the duo began building a detailed marketing and distribution plan for Danish home brand Ferm Living. In 2008, they branched out on their own and started Hygge & West based on the Danish concept of hygge (pronounced “HUE-guh”).
Out later this month, Hygge & West Home: Design for a Cozy Life highlights how people build special homes in different ways — from dwellings big and small, urban and rural. The book also offers tips for designing the comfortable, personal space of home. We caught up with cofounder and Minnesota local Aimee Lagos, who gave us a sneak peek.
How did Hygge & West begin?
We’d been working with Ferm Living for a little over a year when the economy started to sputter, and it became increasingly difficult to run the distributorship profitably. We’d also realized that the work wasn’t as creative as we’d initially hoped it would be. We were essentially salespeople, and the majority of our time was spent dealing with overseas shipping companies and figuring out how long shipments would be stuck in customs.
We started to discuss what our next step might look like. Our time with Ferm Living had taught us so much and had also given us solid connections within the interior-design industry. We’d fallen in love with wallpaper during this time, and we saw an unexplored niche in the industry. Wallpaper was just starting to see a resurgence as a design trend. As a product, it was neither very accessible nor affordable. We thought that we could offer a high-quality, well-designed and reasonably priced product direct to the consumer, and the idea of starting our own wallpaper company was born.
We discovered artist and illustrator Julia Rothman around this same time, when Christiana had used one of her patterns — a charming bird flying among the clouds — to test a custom wallpaper service that Ferm Living had been trying to launch. We fell in love with it and chose it as our first pattern. We decided that our model would be to partner with artists and designers whose work we loved to develop collections of wallpaper.
We met with Julia and asked her to create additional designs for us, and she graciously agreed. At the same time, we started searching for a wallpaper printer and began building our brand.
Our close connection to Danish design started with Ferm Living, and through it, we came across a simple but powerful word: hygge. It perfectly captured what we were trying to emulate in our own lives, and we both became obsessed with it. The notion of appreciating small moments, recognizing the specialness of everyday activities, and creating a warm, welcoming space for yourself, family and friends to enjoy resonated with changes we had recently made in our own lives. We just couldn’t get it out of our heads, and even though we knew that we’d have to pronounce, spell and explain it countless times over the lifespan of our business, we decided that it needed to be part of our company name. We added “& West” because our goal was — and still is — to bring an Americanized twist to the concept of hygge. Hygge & West officially launched in the fall of 2008.
You grew up in New Mexico, live in Minnesota and have a lake home in Wisconsin. What are the similarities and differences between life in these places?
Growing up in New Mexico gave me an appreciation of the outdoors, which is something that I really wanted to pass on to our boys. They don’t have the same opportunities to just wander around in nature like I did when I was young because they’re growing up in a city, so we’re really lucky to be able to give them that with our cabin.
Having a cabin is a very Minnesotan thing to do. Our cabin neighbors are all Minnesotans, so it doesn’t necessarily feel like there’s a separation between Minnesota and that part of Wisconsin. I tease my husband, who grew up in St. Paul, that I’m becoming much more Minnesotan than he is because I’ve wholeheartedly embraced this aspect of Minnesota culture.
How would you describe your personal style and aesthetic?
Chaos chic? Durable-hemian? Maybe I should just go with eclectic. I don’t necessarily subscribe to a specific style or aesthetic; I look for things that I connect with in some way. I’m really intentional about what I bring into our home because I tend to get attached to things and keep them forever. And, of course, with two teenage boys, three dogs and a cat, I also need things that are going to stand up to plenty of wear and tear. I learned long ago that I could either obsess about keeping things clean and making sure nothing ever got broken, or I could lower my expectations a bit and be a whole lot happier. It’s important to me that I feel that our home reflects our style and personality, but life is just way too short to be overly precious about things.
How do you spend your time at the cabin? What is your favorite part of escaping there?
It depends on the season. In the summer, we are in the water as much as possible — either on the boat, on the dock or floating around on an inflatable raft. The lake we live on is unbelievably clear, and the water is just right for swimming. We grill, eat outside, play washers and kick a soccer ball around.
In the winter, we hunker down a bit more. I read while the boys go out on the frozen lake and skate or icefish. I take a lot of naps and cook long, complicated recipes. We all pile on the sofa beneath cozy blankets and watch movies.
The one thing that we always do for fun, no matter the season, is play cards. I make breakfast burritos in the mornings as a nod to my New Mexican roots. We sit around the table and enjoy our meals and talk, as opposed to at home where we’re usually going in four different directions while shoving food down our throats because someone is late for something. I love it. I wish our day-to-day life was more like our life up north.
What was it like to design and decorate your cabin?
First and foremost, we wanted the cabin to be a happy, comfortable place where we could relax and connect with family and friends. I intentionally set a smaller budget to see what we could do with less, so I’ve been designing in phases. The cabin still isn’t completely done, but it’s at a point where I can look at it and feel content, rather than just seeing all the things that I want to change. When you have a weekend/vacation home, you don’t want to be doing home-improvement projects all the time; you want to enjoy yourself. As a result, things took longer than usual, and I had to be patient, which isn’t one of my strong suits.
I think our biggest success was finding the right place. We looked at probably 10 cabins, and this was the first one we saw. We just knew it was the right one, and none of the others compared. We have enough room to have a bunch of people come stay with us, but the space is divided up well and the cabin doesn’t feel too big. We love the way it sits above the lake so we have a beautiful view, and the lake itself is really clean and clear. Plus, we’re only a two-hour drive from home, so if we want to come up for just a night, we can.
What do you think pattern — and wallpaper in particular — brings to a home that other design elements can’t?
At Hygge & West, we have always tried to create wallpaper that felt like art, but on a larger scale. So our patterns tend to add a noticeable layer to a room. I love interesting spaces where there is juxtaposition or tension between elements. Wallpaper creates a strong base for building such a space in a way that paint and color alone can’t. And even though wallpaper is much more common in homes than it used to be, it still feels different and special; people always notice it and comment on it. I’ve found that people who use wallpaper tend to take other interesting risks in their interior-design choices, so you rarely see a boring room when wallpaper is part of the equation.
How does your decorating style differ between the cabin and the city? Does either place influence the other?
Our home in Minneapolis is a 1908 foursquare, so the contemporary lines of the cabin allowed us to have a more modern decor scheme than we do at home. I like that the cabin is much cleaner and minimal; it’s a nice contrast to have two homes with such different personalities. At home, we constantly struggle with having too much stuff, so we’ve been very intentional in keeping the cabin as free of clutter as possible. At home, we have a tiny backyard, and the dogs destroyed the grass long ago, so we put in a patio and pea gravel. At the cabin, the woods and the lake are our yard, and we spend a lot of time out on the deck or around a fire in the evenings. In many ways, the cabin feels like the counterbalance to the house, or the response to it.
What can readers look forward to inside this beautiful book?
Readers can look forward to 20 features of lovely spaces accompanied by interviews with the very gracious, very interesting homeowners. Everyone has created a thoughtful, beautiful home that perfectly reflects their design aesthetic, personality and lifestyle. We intentionally chose homes from a wide variety of decor schemes to show all the different ways cozy design can come to life. We hope that readers will see and read things that inspire them to create their own personal haven.