Cozy Contemplations

150 150 Frances
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Dear Kristin,

As you know, I like to overthink things, and today, the sky outside overcast, the trees shedding their yellow and red leaves, I want to contemplate coziness. Is cozy a cool weather phenomenon? Is it a state of mind or a state of being? Why do we love it so?

Of course, not everyone loves it. I’m thinking about my grad school friend Chris, a lovely, friendly guy who had the least cozy apartment I’ve ever been in. It was stylish, but everything was black, gray and chrome. That prompts the question: Is cozy a girl thing? I don’t know. I have memories of Will wrapping himself up in a quilt in front of the fireplace while he watched NFL football on Sundays. He could have watched the game in another room, but no–he wanted the fire, he wanted to wrap up in that quilt, he wanted the dog by his side and a cup of hot chocolate at the ready. What’s cozier than that?

I just remembered something: My old friend Chris now makes his home in Australia, where he and his long-time love live with a couple of cats in a house by the sea. His job? Coffee roaster. It all sounds sorta cozy to me. Maybe he converted! Or, here’s a thought: Maybe the current widespread love of cozy is a new thing. It’s just that some of us were cozy before cozy was cool.

The front porch at our Ocracoke Island summer rental is always a cozy place to read.

One of my favorite writers on the topic of domestic life–or more to the point, on the topic of domestic imaginaries brought to us by social media “Mom Influencers”–is Kathryn Jezer-Morton, who writes a column called “Brooding: Deep Thoughts on Modern Family Life” for The Cut (she used to publish the same work on a Substack newsletter called Moms Under the Influence, a much better title). Here’s what she’s wondering about coziness:

What if our obsession with coziness has grown in step with our growing feeling of collective precariousness — economic, environmental, social? My bed is beside a window and we keep the window cracked at night well into the fall so as to heighten the feeling of being cozy in bed. You can’t really get that feeling of being safe and warm without the awareness that out there it’s cold. Likewise, the colder and more brutal it is in the outside world of work, social interactions, success and failure, fear and dread, the more it feels precious and delicious to be inside our lil homes.

I think she’s onto something here. The world is a hard place, and for a lot of us these days it seems harder than ever. Why wouldn’t we react by making our homes not only comfortable spaces, but also spaces that feel completely set apart from what lies outside the front door? When I’m out and about, I’m very careful about where I go and when, and I keep an eye on people who strike me as potentially dangerous (that guy who’s angling his way across the parking lot toward me, for instance). I’m also careful in casual conversations about offering my opinions on–well, almost anything, and I’m doubly careful about this online. At home, I can say whatever comes to mind, and I can say it while I’m stretched out on the couch eating chocolate chip cookies and watching Season One of Downton Abbey for the thirty-seventh time. It’s truly a safe space. I want it to feel that way for everyone in my family.

Travis is the King of Cozy!

I do think there’s a way in which cozy is a state of mind as much as a comfortable room. For some people, all it takes to feel cozy is a desk drawer filled with sharpened pencils. They open the drawer and smell that pencil smell (which is a truly wonderful smell), and it makes them feel–safe. At home. Happy. There are also ideas or images that can make you feel cozy. The idea of fall, especially when I’m sweating my way through an unbearably humid August, brings out my inner cozy–or at the very least, it offers the promise of future coziness, which is almost as good.

Is it easier to create a cozy space when the kids are still at home? Or is it in fact much more difficult? There are more messes and the smelly shoes, and there’s the real-life daily drama and worries that respect no boundaries. It’s hard to feel cozy when one of your kids stomps into the house after a bad call on the soccer field, or another kid is being very vocal about your less than stellar parenting skills. But there are also more Sunday dinners and chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven. When the boys were little, I spent a lot of time reading to them as we snuggled up on the couch. What’s more cozy than that?

I’d love to talk more about domestic imaginaries–the way we set up our houses to reflect our values, dreams and desires. Maybe we will. But for now, I’ll just say this: I think making a cozy space–whether in a room or a desk drawer–is a creative act. It’s a way of imagining the kind of life we wish for ourselves and our families, a life where everyone always feels welcome and right at home.

P.S. Here’s a great book to read if you want to think more about what cozy is:

Dear Frances,

There is nothing I’d rather contemplate than coziness!

One of the most important things that I’ve aspired to as a wife, mom, and homemaker is for our home to be a retreat – a safe place in the world to relax and just be yourself. I’d like to think that means cozy, but I think that word means different things to different people.

For me, it’s definitely a feeling evoked by my surroundings. I want to surround myself with beautiful things that inspire creative living. I need a little bit of order – I can’t relax in a dirty, cluttered house. But creative clutter doesn’t bother me – a pile of books or sheet music on the coffee table, quilts strewn over sofas and chairs, a sewing or knitting project on the end table.

I want someone to be able to walk into a room, pick up some sewing or knitting and place a hot cup of tea on a handmade coaster, or grab a quilt from the basket and settle into the big chair in the corner with the good light and read. (Obviously, this person is me.) For other members of my family, they might put a beer or some kombucha on that handmade coaster, pick up a guitar from the corner and some music from the basket under the end table and make some music. Or even grab a quilt and the video game controller – I’m not judging.

Some ingredients for a cozy home, at least for me, include things that reflect who we are. There is no shortage of quilts, candles, and knitted blankets in our family room. But I also enjoy decorating with stacks of books, plants, and baskets to create a cozy atmosphere.

This scene is Peak Cozy for me!

You know that I’m a bit of a minimalist, but I admire rooms that are bursting with color, books, and artwork tacked up on every surface (Chloe excels at this sort of cozy decorating). You know what I’m talking about – the Angelina Ballerina or the Wind in the Willows aesthetic. It’s not in my nature to create a space like that, but I do admire it! Maybe I need to loosen up about the clutter a bit…

I think that a lot of people think about visual aesthetics when contemplating cozy, but I believe it’s more than that. I think that cozy is achieved with all of our senses – what we hear, smell, taste, and touch as well. I’ve learned a lot about decorating Myquillin Smith (aka The Nester), who talks about these things in her books Cozy Minimalist Home and Welcome Home. My decorating taste is actually nothing like hers, but the guidelines work regardless. She talks a lot about decorating with all your senses. This could include music played at dinner, soup bubbling on the stove, and fuzzy pillows on the sofa. A lot goes into the cozy equation. (Myquillin has created seasonal music playlists, and her autumn playlist is one of my favorites.)

Dogs always add to the cozy equation. That’s Ollie on the left, and Bailey on the right.

Creating cozy as an empty nester is a little different (maybe that’s why we got two dogs after the kids moved out?). Even though the kids aren’t here, I still want it to be cozy. In some ways, it’s easier, because things stay cleaner, but I really do miss the elementary school artwork on the walls of the kitchen, the backpacks by the door, and the family dinners. I guess I’m still finding my way here, as I reimagine how to best use the space in our house as the need for year-round bedrooms has diminished.

Ben was just home from college for the weekend, I have found that when he comes home, I really want to make sure that home feels like a haven. That means clean sheets on the bed, chocolate chip cookie bars fresh from the oven, and a full weekend of dinner favorites. Piles of quilts certainly help, but really, for the kids, it’s all about the food.

Readers- what does cozy mean to you?

We love to hear from you! You can leave a comment at the bottom of the page here.

  • Wendy

    I don’t do “beautiful cozy” well. In my home, it is lived in and comfortable, but it is cozy to us. I want friends and family to be able to come in, kick off their shoes, put their feet up and relax. Interestingly, now that the kids are out of the house, it is harder for me to be motivated to change out the decor for the seasons like I used to when they were here. However, we are making more soups and foods we enjoy now, so that’s a new part of cozy for us, I think! (By the way, the link in your email takes readers to an early October post).

  • Vicki Holloway

    Cozy, wasn’t something I ever considered for my house until recently. I just wanted it to have what we needed and be clean. But instinctively , I have filled my house with hand made items from day 1. All kinds of handmade items to keep warm, handmade curtains and pillow , stitched items for my walls. Whwn the kids were hime there were handmade toys, clothes and quilts strewn all over. I have tried to be a minimalist but let’s be honest I am a maximalist and I love all of the color texture and items I can fit in my house. We are cozy in our small space much like the little mouse picture. I get seasonal items out and replace or add with what I am making each year. My very quorky vintage home is very lived in , in fact if we want to have a tea or coffee at the table I will need to clear off my sewing project and machine. We are comfy, cozy and find it a very safe place from the chaos of the world and adult responsibilities.

  • Robin Leftwich

    Cozy to me is Big Bear smell”, that smell of cold and campfires and Jeffrey pines that is in the air where our mountain house is. We smelled it last night at our “regular” house. Wonderful! It’s also the overwhelming urge to bake, which I’ve been indulging in lately. And I love to be outside and see lighted rooms.. I might be selfish but cozy to me doesn’t require other people, although it’s nice to share! Kristen, your house looks sweet and cozy, but I want to live at Francis’s cabin! Essence of cozy! And thanks for sharing the pictures of your dogs!

  • Tracie

    I loved reading your thoughts about keeping a cozy home! Francis, I haven’t thought of the concept of cozy being seasonal; however, it is in some ways. During the heat and humidity of summer, I don’t want to feel cozy — that sounds smothering. I’d rather feel refreshed. That reminds me of what Melissa Michael’s write about home: “Our home should inspire us to go out into the world and do great things and then welcome us back for refreshment.” So I do associate “cozy” with cooler weather. Like Kristin, The Cozy Minimalist helped me realize that a cozy feeling includes all my senses: the aroma of food baking in the oven, candles glowing, a feather pillow on the couch, and a quilt to cuddle with. And my dog! Like Kristin, within a week of our kids going to college, we brought home a puppy. Twelve years later, the empty nest needed a new fur baby to make it feel like home. Our kids grew up with dogs, and they told us that our house doesn’t feel like home unless they can come back to the family dog. I think Wally, our doodle, is the one who adds that special welcome at the door for everyone who enters. That wagging tail says, “You belong here, and I’ve been waiting for you.”

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