Category: feeling of home

Humanistic approach to spatial design

I’ve always been fascinated by how you can transform spaces, create an atmosphere and especially not letting yourself be restricted or limited by what you have to work with. I caught up with Spatial Designer Owain Caruana-Davies, to reflect on what meaning space has.

The sea, castles, fortresses and abandoned steel works in Wales sparked creativity in Owain and became as much part of his work, as his identity. Moving between nine different homes and growing up with parents who constantly took on new projects to redesign, led Owain to a native and inborn instinct to practice design and craft from early years. The fortresses he admired as a child and the majestic sea, took him on an inquisitive path, not only to become a designer but also to further discover his practice as a Creative. He is now on a mission to turn a retired cruise ship in Dubai into a inhabitable space once again.

What made you decide to not pursue a career as an architect but to turn to spatial design instead?

I studied Architecture in Oxford and realised that I didn’t want be an architect after all. I wanted to have more creative freedom and discover my practice as an artist and designer. You don’t have to be an architect to design good buildings that can change how people live. Anyone can do it.

I think that the more diverse backgrounds, the better the designs will be, rather than everyone coming from the same path and designing in the same way.

What is spatial design?

As a spatial designer you usually come in at the end of life of a space and you’re looking to have the space transformed into something else. This is where you decide which parts you keep, which parts you change, by constantly asking questions such as – how can we improve quality of this space?

It always feels such a shame when a building is knocked down completely, because so much time, energy and design goes into these projects. There is also the sentimental value, thinking about the many different people who have lived in it, used the space, made it their home and I see their stories getting combined and going into the brick work. The worn bits always tell a story of how people have used the space that stand out to me. It is a documentation of the use of space that raises questions such as; how can that be brought forward and used again? How can the stories of its previous inhabitants live on?

Which building in the world is your favourite?
Neues museum in Berlin. The museum was originally built from between 1843 and 1855 and was closed at the beginning of World War II in 1939 since it was heavily damaged during the bombing of Berlin. It reopened again 2009 and it had taken the English architect David Chipperfield twelve years to redesign this neoclassical building. It’s basically a curating exercise.

Your master’s research project was about post-industrial obsolescence through intervention and inhabitation. Tell me about your project.

I wanted to look at spaces that have reached the end of life and see how they can be brought forward and used again with a new purpose. I knew about the ship Queen Elizabeth II through some architectural drawings that I had found. Ships are built so solidly to withstand the forces of the sea with incredibly strong structures but the average lifespan of a ship on the sea is twenty-six years. The structural integrity can allow them to last a lot longer than this. At the same time you think, can places that have been in the water and the darkness for years be exposed to light again? I wanted to look at how retired ships could be reused and re-inhabited again, to form new spaces for people to use.

The ship Queen Elizabeth II had been transported to Dubai ten years ago whilst waiting to be repurposed or scrapped. It is deteriorating quite quickly now, as it was designed for weather conditions to sail across the Atlantic. Cruise ships such as Queen Elizabeth II are huge, basically floating cities that can hold thousands of people and the project scale was both incredibly exciting but also quite daunting.

There are usually plans for turning retired ships into hotels or shopping centres but often since its not done quickly enough, they end up being scrapped. Often they’re taken to Alang in India or Bangladesh and demolished in quite brutal ways by being driven full speed into the beaches. As the tide goes back the workers start dismantling the ship bit by bit with gas blowtorches. Some of the parts are being reused but it is neither sustainable nor a safe or healthy process for the workers.


Photography: Owain Caruana-Davies,

In my endeavour to find a new purpose for previously obsolete spaces to live, I wanted to understand what would happen if you could cut the ship into smaller fragments that then could be transported and potentially used again. I found out that ships are actually being divided into smaller parts, sometimes by using diamonds wire. They’re cut through like cheese and you can see all of the incredible cross sections through the inside and how the ship works.

My idea is to take these fragments and make them into spaces people could use, in new locations. One Idea is based on a tilted section of the ship, so the floors become the walls and this would be used as vertical garden. The bottom layers would be sandy, gradually changing with the height of the installation. Different plants would inhabit the garden and people passing by could go in there to enjoy the yellow stair intervention that playfully cuts through the garden spaces.

My motivation is for people to experience space differently and to think: I’ve never been to a space like this.


Photography:skrinda.com

See more of Owain’s work OCD Architecture

Embracing the everyday moments

On a rainy and dark February evening, I’m on my way down to the store to get some candles after finishing work. One of my colleagues catches up with me and we chat about our evening plans. I say I’m going to get some candles, and she asks me “Is there a special occasion?” I get a bit puzzled. I’ve never thought about it that way. Why would it be a special occasion? Running out on candles is like running out on milk for a Scandi, we use more candles than anywhere else in the world. The Scandinavian countries are ranked as the happiest people in the world’s year on year, so is there more meaning to the flick of a candle flame than we might first think?

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Everywhere in the world people light candles to create a warm, intimate ambience. It’s the sort of atmosphere that provides safety and shielding from the world. In Sweden this cosiness is called “mys”, in Norway “cos” and in Denmark “hygge”. Swedes have turned cosiness into nearly a religion. Every Friday families around Sweden huddle up to make time for “fredags mys’” which would translate into “Friday cosiness”, where you have something simple to cook, preferably a meal where everyone can help out. Tacos is the main thing, followed by watching a film or playing games together. This has moved beyond being a trend and is more of a cultural tradition, as important to Swedes as Lucia or cinnamon buns. The Danes are also really good to learn from and they’re probably more known for creating atmosphere in a spontaneous way. Hygge is so much more than candles and sitting in front of a fireplace. Hygge is essentially a way of creating an ambiance in the everyday moments.

Grit Tind Mikkelsen, a Danish documentary filmmaker based in Copenhagen, describes hygge as an action, event or a sublime feeling. Hygge is a moment that appears naturally and is a state of being. “It could mean a simple moment for myself, drinking tea, or sitting together with a friend under the same blanket, whilst I’m reading and she’s watching tv. Together we would hygge.”

Hygge book

The Scandinavians’ ability to create this sort of intimacy, might come from the history of many long, dark winters where making a mundane moment into something more than just prevailing winter. That sort of simplicity, in turning a functional need into an almost spiritual one, might be what makes the Nordic countries unique. It’s about enjoying every moment, the way it is.

“Essentially hygge is an atmosphere and an experience; it’s not about physical objects”

Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, is coming out with ‘The little book of Hygge, the Danish way to live well’ in September. According to Meik, “hygge has been called everything from the art of creating intimacy and togetherness, cosiness for the soul to absence of annoyances. Essentially hygge is an atmosphere and an experience; it’s not about physical objects.

“I think the essence of hygge can best be describe as the pursuit of everyday happiness.”

Hygge is a feeling of home, being in the company of the people we love and where we feel safe and shielded from the world. Here we allow ourselves to let our guard down and take pleasure from soothing things. My personal favourite is a Cocoa scented candlelight. I think the essence of hygge can best be describe as the pursuit of everyday happiness.”

Hygge blomma

How does this translate into the British culture of creating a similar kind of cosiness? What are the typically British ways and expressions of the “hygge atmosphere”?

Helen Russell, the British author behind the book “The Year of Living Danishly – Uncovering The Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country”, moved to Denmark together with her partner. In her book she unpicks the cultural traits behind the essence of Danish culture. I asked her to share her view on what the equivalent of hygge is to British people.

“In the UK, we’ve forgotten how to celebrate the simple things and be kind to ourselves, something I think the Danes are pretty good at.”

“I think that Brits already get hygge to an extent, look at the number of log fires in every house, obsessions with country walks and pub lunches. However we don’t prioritise it like the Danes do. In the UK, we’ve forgotten how to celebrate the simple things and be kind to ourselves, something I think the Danes are pretty good at.”

Something I’ve picked up on and that I think a lot of people would describe as utterly British is the relationship with drinking tea. When entering a home in the UK, you will probably be asked the question, “Shall I put the kettle on/shall I make you a cup of tea”? Then you’ll sit down and have a chat while drinking your tea, which to me is the essence of hygge. The rituals of making tea, or a toast for that matter, is very important to British people, and there seems to be a certain way of making a cup of tea that people hold dear to their heart. I think also this shows an intention of enjoying the everyday moments.

We are now approaching autumn both in Scandinavia and in the UK. Our seasons are fairly similar, with many opportunities to create an everyday atmosphere that feels nurturing and meaningful just the way it is. Let’s not wish our days away but practice a mindful approach in our life and let’s hygge!

More about:
Meik Wiking – Little book of Hygge
Helen Russell

The Swedish summer house

People in Sweden love their summer houses. Many enjoy them all year around as a city escape in the weekends. There’s nothing better than going out to the summer house on a raw, rainy autumn day. Go for a long walk, winter bathing in the almost freezing water and then enjoy a game dinner with some red wine in front of the fireplace.

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My parents in law live in a city but also have a summerhouse on an island just thirty minutes away, which means that they can use the house all year around. On Midsummers day, every year since more than twenty years, they move out for a couple of months to fully embrace the long summer days in the north. To me this is the perfect seasonal mix and quality of life.

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Some people close down their summer house for the winter and come Easter they return to open it up for the season. That usually means turning water and heating on, airing out after the long winter, making the beds with fresh linen and bringing in some new plants. If the soil has been released from the ground frost, it’s usually time to take care of the garden, cut down some trees, take away the branches fallen from storms and making it tidy and planting new seeds. Finally after a day of hard work the earning comes in a relaxing evening indoors, hopefully in a setting surrounded by nature and silence, making wishes and plans for the summer days ahead.

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Where the heart is…

After a couple years of moving around, living in temporary spaces and even hotels, I think the sense of belonging and to value the place I call home grew stronger in me. Ever since I can remember, having a place of my own has been important to me, probably to some extent a cultural trait from growing up in Sweden. The home is truly the centre point of a Scandinavian life. Like most Swedes I quite like to spend a lot of time at home. Not that I don’t enjoy being out and about, but it just makes it even better to come home.

When thinking about what makes a home a home, I think for me it’s the place where I feel completely at peace and deeply rooted. As long as the setting I’m in feels right to me and I’m with the people I love, it could be just anywhere. What makes your home – a home to you? What is the one thing you can’t live without?

There are so many sides to that small (or large) box with four walls, where we place all our loved belongings, design the space to work for us; with everything that happens from getting up in the morning until turning the lights off before going to bed. Sometimes the space might be all yours, and you can therefore set all the rules and even accommodate your childhood dreams, like having dessert first or ignoring the dishes for days. Or perhaps you are living with someone who makes you aware of all the quirky habits you have (or that he/she has)? You probably make small changes, hopefully for the better, to find the harmony of twosomes.

Whatever your situation is, I’m sure you have a thing or two that reminds you of the fact that this is your small corner in the world. I would love to know what that is.