When the air outside gets chilly (or, depending on where you live, downright frigid), there’s nothing better than retreating into the comforts of home. Happily, whether you live in a condo or a country cottage, a few small tweaks are all it takes to give a space some serious coziness.
1. Kindle a Flame
Curling up by a crackling fire is a guaranteed way to create instant coziness—but even if you live in a city apartment and not a country cottage, you can still get a little of that warm hearth glow, says Massachusetts-based designer Kylie Bodiya.
The key: Get creative with scale. “If a fireplace isn’t in the picture, try playing around with clusters of candles instead,” she says. “And while you’re at it, engage all the senses by picking ones that smell the part too.” Scents of piñon and juniper will evoke campfires in the high desert, while undertones of vanilla and leather lend an old-fashioned homey vibe.
2. Play Pastry Chef
Feeling tense? Time to break out your rolling pin. Stress-baking isn’t just a distraction: Studies show that taking time out to immerse yourself in cooking (and other hands-on creative activities) can bolster your sense of well-being and calm. Researchers have also found that the scent of vanilla makes people feel relaxed and happy. Keeping a well-stocked cookie jar suddenly seems like a brilliant act of self-care!
3. Hog the Blanket
When it comes to getting comfy in the bedroom, there’s no such thing as too many blankets. That’s why Dallas-based designer Eddie Maestri is a big fan of the so-called Scandinavian sleep method, which layers two separate duvets on a shared bed. (Yup, no fighting!) “The concept started in Europe, but now you see it popping up more and more in the U.S., especially in new luxury hotels,” he explains. “It’s comfy and genius.” No surprise: This is the part of the world that gave us hygge!
4. Rug the Right Way
Does your place lack the proportions (or budget) for a thick-pile room-size rug? Just think smaller. Almost every maker carries petite area rugs (we especially like the new Nook Collection from sustainable Aussie brand Armadillo), a great way to layer on some luxury in little spaces, from vestibules to powder rooms. Wool is especially welcoming and wears exceptionally well.
“Wool is a near-perfect natural, sustainable material, and it warms up hard surfaces instantly,” says designer Amanda Thompson of New York City’s ALine Studio. Seek out floor coverings with round or concentric motifs because, says Ms. Thompson, those patterns naturally draw your eye to the center, encouraging people to gather.
5. Find a “Refuge”
Ever notice how booths are always the most popular seats in a restaurant? According to Catie Ryan, director of projects at the biophilic (a.k.a. nature-based) design firm Terrapin Bright Green and coauthor of the new book Nature Inside, there’s evolutionary science that makes us hardwired for that choice. “In biophilia,” she says, “we call those kinds of cozy corners ‘refuge’ spaces”—and they’re one of the key elements designers can use to create a feeling of comfort and well-being.
But that doesn’t mean you have to pop a banquette in your living room. “If you were out in nature, you might lean up against a tree and hide under the canopy to get out of the rain or sun. At home a refuge can be anything that gives you the sense of being tucked away, such as a window seat, a reading nook, or even just a high-backed chair,” Ryan explains. “The idea is to make you feel restful and protected.”
6. Introduce Antiques
It’s hard to get that cozy vibe from a big-box store. Don’t have a great-aunt waiting in the wings to pass down some personal pieces? Check out auction and estate-sale websites like Everything But The House, Chairish, and Auction Ninja for vintage pieces and one-of-a-kind accessories. “Having a style that feels collected lends a room an element of comfort,” says designer Lance Thomas of Thomas Guy Interiors. “There’s a je ne sais quoi that antiques and family heirlooms have that just warms up a space. I think of them as the feel-good love stories of a home.”
7. Cue Up a Soothing Soundtrack
For years, psychologists, musicologists, and neuroscientists have been researching the ways that music can help reduce cortisol (stress hormone) in the body and boost levels of feel-good dopamine. Try your own experiment by curating a homey personalized playlist. Need inspiration? Spotify features an entire genre of playlists labeled “cozy,” including Warm Fuzzy Feeling, Sweater Weather Instrumentals, and our personal favorite, Lazy Jazz Cat.
8. Embrace Organic
“Living” materials made from organic sources—like unlacquered copper and brass, wood, stone, and linen—tend to age beautifully, last longer, and bring a natural coziness to any space. “Incorporating these elements into a home creates comfort and provides the kind of warmth that just can’t be imitated,” says Austin-based designer Stephanie Lindsey, of Etch Design Group. Want to start small? Think: live-edge wood coffee tables, copper table lamps, leather drawer pulls, and linen drapes.
9. Bring the Outside In
“I truly think the key to bringing life to a space—other than filling it with your loved ones—is adding potted plants, garlands, wreaths—just bringing nature inside,” writes Michigan-based design blogger (and O.G. cottagecore influencer) Liz Marie Galvan in her book Cozy White Cottage. Fragrant, fresh eucalyptus boughs last for weeks and look stylish and sculptural stashed in a large vase. And there’s no reason wreaths need to be just a holiday thing: Try making your own with dried stems of sage, rosemary, and thyme—then keep it in the kitchen, where you can snip from it all year long.
10. Cut the Clutter
Stark, minimalist rooms can feel chilly—but don’t mistake clutter for coziness. “A well-organized home is always comfortable,” says Mia Jung, interiors director at Ike Kligerman Barkley. Her go-to solutions for keeping things in their place? Simple, functional designs from the Japanese housewares brand Yamazaki, which specializes in chic, zen-like organization and storage pieces for the stuff we use every day.
11. Slip Into Some Slippers
Germophobes, take note: Studies have shown that the average shoe sole is covered with hundreds of thousands of bacteria—and many of those baddies transfer directly to your floor with each footstep. But do you even need a scientist to tell you that “house shoes” are a good idea? Whether you’re a plush bootie fan or the classic moccasin type, nothing feels better after a long day than sliding on a warm and welcoming pair of slippers. Want to go the extra mile? Buy an inexpensive pack of terry hotel-style slippers and stash them in the spare bedroom as a treat for guests.
12. Warm Up the Walls
When you want to give a room an instant patina and sense of warmth, North Carolina–based designer Bryan Costello suggests trying a textured paint. At the newly opened Heights House Hotel in Raleigh, he used limewash paint by Portola to give the Italianate mansion’s interior a lived-in, vintage vibe. “It’s a great way to soften a space and make the walls feel kinder,” he explains. You may want to hire a painter to do the honors, though, he says. “It can take a skilled hand to pull it off.”
13. Splurge on Snuggly Pillows
When all else fails, put a pillow on it! “Adding one or two textured throw pillows in nubbly bouclé, woolly cable knit, or rich velvet to your seating—or just changing the covers on your existing pillows—is a low-effort, high-impact way to make any space look and feel cozier,” says Toronto-based designer Rebecca Hay. “It’s also a perfect excuse to splurge on one of those big furry pillows!”
14. Turn Off the Overhead Lights
Nothing kills a positive vibe faster than harsh lighting. But thanks to new bulb technology, it’s easier than ever to play lighting designer at home. “I’ve always been a fan of using an array of lamps instead of overhead lighting, but lately I’m especially obsessed with smart bulbs,” says Maestri. “They let you adjust the color—and the ambience—all from your smartphone. It can transform the mood of your space in an instant.”
15. Book a Spa Day—in Your Bathroom
You don’t have to install a sauna to make your bathroom feel like a retreat. Instead, try treating yourself with little touches, like calming rosemary and citrus bath salts, a new robe, or a fresh floor mat. “I recently upgraded my bathrobe, towels, mats, and accessories to a warm neutral palette, and it made everything feel so cozy and spa-like,” says Los Angeles designer Lisa Queen. “I love Matouk for luxury towels, but even Bed Bath & Beyond has good options: Check out their Haven collection.”
16. Pick the Right Palette
White walls can be a great blank canvas, but make sure you don’t go overboard. After all, you want your space to feel like a home, not a hospital. “The color palette of your home is key to creating a tranquil environment,” says Nicole Gibbons, founder of Clare paints. Her recommendation: Start with a base of neutral, calming colors, then subtly weave in accents around the house to set a mood. We like a warm, pale blush like Clare’s Meet Cute for a sweet, sunrise glow—or, for drama, Goodnight Moon, a deep, dark midnight blue.
17. Pour a Cuppa
Anyone who’s ever slurped a fluffy marshmallow from a steaming mug of hot chocolate knows it’s a surefire way to get warm and toasty! In fact, in writing The Little Book of Hygge, happiness researcher Meik Wiking discovered that the thing Danish people most associate with coziness isn’t twinkling candles or woolly blankets, but hot drinks. And their Scandi neighbors, the Swedes, even take an afternoon break for coffee and sweets—fika in Swedish. Why not grab a page out of their playbook?
18. Put Memories on Display
Do you have thousands of cherished snapshots…stuck on your phone? It’s time to start printing and invest in some frames. “Art and photos are one of my go-to ways to turn a house into a home,” says Hay. “They won’t technically make your space warmer, but a mantel full of family pictures, collected pieces, and mementos will keep your hearth filled with warm memories.”
19. Go Round
After years of hard, modern furniture designs dominating the conversation, rounder, gentler styles in plush fabrics like mohair, merino wool, bouclé, and velvet are having a moment. “We’ve been seeing soft, sculptural shapes and curved statement pieces,” says Nidhi Kapur, founder of Maiden Home, where the newest collection includes the Bond chair, an unstructured seat that calls to mind a grown-up bean bag, and the Perry, an armchair covered in deep-pile New Zealand shearling. “Curves soften any aesthetic, offer sculptural appeal, and beckon you to relax,” she says. Who wouldn’t want a couch that feels like a hug?
20. Put Your Feet Up
Cozy is all about comfort. That’s why Jung often uses an oversize upholstered ottoman in place of a conventional coffee table. “That way you can have your feet up and relax—and still have ample space for a tray for drinks and snacks!” she says. How big is big enough? Most designers agree that the ideal ottoman should be at least one inch lower than your sofa’s seating height and one-half to two-thirds of its length.
By Sarah Karnasiewicz | Illustrations by Monica Garwood