Institute of Cosiness

Why being snug and cosy is so irresistible

Cosiness is the antithesis of cool, but that might be what makes it so irresistible, says Ella Risbridger

As I write this, there’s a pie in the oven. It is a chicken pie, and I poached the chicken yesterday, in housewifely readiness. The house smells of butter and nutmeg, and behind the drawn curtains the soft pepper-scented steam condenses on the cold windows. The candles are lit. The heating is on. The wind is howling down the flue. There are fluffy blankets. There are velvet cushions. My flatmate, under the golden glow of the lamp, is reading a thriller. I am alternating between writing this and reading a big book of ghost stories.

I am indoors and the dark is outdoors, the nights are drawing in, there’s a pie in the oven and this – I feel entirely confident in saying – is exactly what cosy is supposed to feel like. I live for this dark time of year. I am the queen of cosy.

Cosy winter scene

“I live for this dark time of year. I am the queen of cosy.”

I don’t say this lightly, because cosy is the opposite, in every conceivable way, of cool. The dictionary says that a cosy (the noun) is “a soft covering for a teapot, boiled egg, etc, to keep it warm”. Have you ever read a sentence so gentle? Have you ever read a sentence less cool?

To admit to liking cosiness is to confess that you’re a bit of a square: it’s a stay-at-home, pyjamas-on declaration that you’ve not got any plans. You can be cosy outside, if you’re wearing enough clothes, but you have to be doing something like singing in a community choir.

You have to be doing it wholeheartedly, too. There’s nothing arch about cosy. You can’t do cosy in an ironic way. Think of onesies: adults in large, fleecy animal suits look like warm, safe losers no matter how many drugs they take.

Fleece is the least cool fabric. It’s also, arguably, the most cosy. You see what I’m saying here?

To overcome this lack of cool, every so often society has to make a new effort to convince us that cosy is worth having. Usually they do this by translating it into some “untranslatable” word like, say, gemütlichkeit, the German word to convey the feeling of warmth and good cheer, and selling it back to us. “It means being warm and happy indoors!” they tell us. Or, “It means having tea and cake with your friends under a blanket by a big fire. We have no word for this in English!” But we do. They just don’t want to say “cosy” because they think that “cosy” is embarrassing.

Well, we can stuff it into Uggs or strip it back to the chic Scandi greys of hygge and coffee-cardamom scented fika, but however you dress it up: we are small animals in a big world and when it gets dark we like to be inside and when it gets cold we like to be warm. This is universal, and the urge for cosy is universal.

Your definition of cosy will differ, obviously – “cosy” has a lot to do with where you grew up, how you grew up and what you grew up thinking of as comfort food. Cosiness has a lot to do with eating: the little animal longs to be fat and happy and hibernating. I cannot speak of the cosiness of other cultures and other countries, but the rules, as I know them, go like this:

Cocoa is the ultimate in cosy. Coffee is not cosy unless (unless!) maybe if you are from continental Europe. Tea in a pot is cosy, especially if it has an actual cosy over it. But not in a mug. If tea is in a mug it’s more soothing, like, “It’s going to be OK”. A cafe is only cosy if the windows are steamed up. I’ve even heard of cafes that steam the windows on purpose for “maximum coze”.

“Spices are cosy, but different spices are cosy for different people.”

Candles, velvet and roaring fires seem like they should be universally cosy, but get co-opted by villains often enough that you can’t have a blanket rule. Alcohol in general is not cosy, unless it’s a weird spirit (Cointreau, maybe?) or is in some way warmed. Witness: mulled wine. The feeling you get when you step out of the bath into a fluffy towel? That is cosy. Central heating is cosy. Decorating cupcakes is one of the cosiest activities. Pies are always cosy, however you swing it. Toast is cosy. Butter is cosy, specifically when melted and oozy. Crumpets, especially with cheese, are top-level cosy. Cream on a hot pudding? So cosy. The only uncosy dairy product is cottage cheese. Carbs are always cosy. Spices are cosy, but different spices are cosy for different people. Cumin is my top cosy spice, but my grandparents’ house smelled like cumin and Imperial Leather, and a big part of cosy is safety. You have to feel safe to be this soft.

But here’s the thing: to feel safe you have to know there’s something out there to be scared of. There’s a reason there’s no joy in being cosy in the summer. Without wanting to put too fine a moral point on it, you need the dark to understand why the light is so good. You need the thrillers and the ghost stories the way you need a pinch of salt in baking. You need the howling wind and the relentless rain and cold. There’s a dark edge to cosy that stops it being unbearably saccharine: something a little bit conspiratorial.

There’s something about being just us against the world that’s at the heart of cosiness, and there’s something irresistibly joyful about being the lit window shining out soft and golden against the night.

Images: Unsplash


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